Here are the fields I roamed as a child,
fields wild-flowered and manured where stallions grazed
and goats cropped the seeding tops.
Fields of wheat and oats, rising, falling, the wind oaring
them hard. Here are the paddocks I crossed
to watch girls weave
anklets of dandelion and meadow bane while geese flew
overhead making their own taut skeins.
This chicory, this plantain, this clover,
this foxtail, this creeping buttercup, this patch of purple
sheep’s sorrel is where I’d run, snatching at stalks
and stems, trilling sharp notes
to mimic the furious music of horseflies and bees
swarming over the lush weave of burdock or vetch.
All summer I roamed – a scheming
locust, a small dynast spending my days where spears
and sheathes sifted breezes, grasses so thick they hid
old foes: hares and foxes, snakes and crows.
Many times, across those pastures, I thought I could hear
the breathing of ghost-horses, spirit-mares,
the soft canter of foals –
but it was always just the whisper of wind. Here is the valley
where small fires burned, sheep on the hill’s rise,
patches of snow like roadside
flowers. Here are the mountains, dark smalt against
a magenta dusk with pigeons and parrots, flocks
of starlings and their spiraling
upsweeps, their endlessly reconfigured whereabouts –
and the river, too, pitching into the distance
like the tail of a black horse.
She walks along the pier listening to waves
roll in from a boat’s wash; there’s a clinking
of masts as if champagne flutes were being
tapped, ushering in a day of good cheer.
Perhaps later, after her shift, as she walks
home under the cold eucalypts, she’ll see
that stars have filled the sky like change in a tip-jar,
perhaps remember how out on the bay,
in bright sunshine, windsurfers steered sails
like huge cicada wings and clouds billowed
above the office blocks like rows of chefs’ toques –
or perhaps nothing today will defray
her mood and she’ll think only of the train
clucking across the bridge, how as she turned
to watch, she felt a tightness in her neck.
Perhaps like the night before, unable to sleep
and bitter about everything, she’ll sit with
her knees up, arms folded tightly around them,
repeatedly turning thoughts like pages of a stale menu.
Soon the doors of the café will swing open
to crumbs, a stack of plates, the fast spill of talk,
the manager will leer at her, and again she’ll
wonder if her future will always be bar-coded
to someone else’s price, if her days
will always hustle to cutlery and cups,
the propulsive rhythm of a till. A cruise ship,
vast as a glacier, glints at the terminus,
passengers with dreams as brightly labelled
as their luggage pack the gangway. Perhaps
she could find a job on one – a croupier,
cocktail waitress, spa hostess; see Fiji, Tahiti –
Honolulu – she’s always loved the breezy sway
of that name, but she blows away her dream
with a smoke ring, suddenly sensing
the clock ticking more urgently than her heart,
knowing she’s spent too long on the pier,
that she should be wiping tables, writing
out orders, table-chatter on playback,
coffee and cake on quick rotation. She walks
past the souvenir shops, averting her gaze
from her reflection. She throws her cigarette
into the gutter, scattering pigeons and gulls.
You can read Denise O’Hagan’s interview with Judith Beveridge here