Russell Erwin


Bottoming each dip my headlights plunge as into a vat of milk.

Then surfacing, flung out beyond the gravel’s spatter, is a starched linen.


Sometimes, on the horizon, chips of light, like watchful eyes,

before they turn into the scrub. And then: nothing.


And the wind and the engine roaring.

Over farmhouse windows, buttery-fat or dull with a dead fish-eyed glaze


the moon squats, bloated and imperturbable and unsettling.

While those pale yellow squares at a distance are lonely as a train battling the dark.


Along the sides of moonlit sheds there’s a frosted sheen,

with growth at their edges, lipped like coral.


Inside, a stuttering blue flashes up shadows of a man

as though a menacing giant in the retelling of a legend.


He is welding the small hours into something the farm needs,

straining days together the way he fences the unruly, pointless acres,


wearing silence like a work-hardened coat as he fashions a gift

he wants to place into the hands of his son.


The son, who wants a life, not a way of life, not a weight,

who wants things and is not here


‘Not here, not here’ drips at a pin-hole weeping from the tank,

with cold pearls soldered around each rung, encrusted with its sad lustre


The cold is as solid as the purlins and rafters

as he stoops, then rises, unbends, and steps around in his own illumination.


Two weeks ago all across the district light trailed behind tractors

like the train of a wedding gown. Everywhere small satellites


were working paddocks, blips across a monitor. Light fell

under tyres and combed like seed into the clods and the dark.


Next day: acres rigid as if sheeted under rusted corrugated iron,

stiff and salted with this, the first frost. Starched neat as a 1950s school uniform, they shimmer.


And magpies caroling, fling choirs of sound, liquid and quarrelling, up and dissolving

across a white world, into the unstained blue, as if here, at last, were our golden home


Now, though, to my right—the one light

that seems the most intimate—red towels of it, tortured


and whipped by gusts of its making. From a piled windrow

twisted flags and flung boulders of heat, which punch and gape and devour.


I want to stop and standing there, be folded into this—

the gift, like love, of heat but how could you explain yourself?


Smoke though, finds a way into the cabin. It catches me,

like yellow-box honey—that immediate harsh, sweet fullness—


with that day we picked sticks for a bonfire and I smelt blue smoke in your hair.

And I smelled it again and again as if it were something I knew


I would need to keep.


The road keeps falling under like a crop being headed.

The miles coil, uncoil, entangle in dust


And each light, a pin-prick in a sparse constellation: some puny as an anxious parent calling

into the unanswering dark, some burning cold their disinterested, electric way,


courted by the attention of moths until a dog barks, headlights flood the drive, and die.

Then maybe voices. Maybe.


Too late for fires to be lit, when I get there my house, the stars swimming in its windows,

will simply show me to my bed and I will sleep in my clothes,


with smoke creased in them from that blaze back there,

those fires which surely must have died down by now.