DRIVING THROUGH SAWMILL TOWNS
In the high cool country, having come from the clouds, down a tilting
into a distant valley,
you drive without haste. Your windscreen parts the forest, swaying and glancing, and jammed
midday brilliance crouches in clearings ...
then you come across them,
the sawmill towns, bare hamlets built of boards with perhaps a store,
perhaps a bridge beyond
and a little sidelong creek alive with pebbles.
The mills are roofed with iron, have no walls:
you look straight in as you pass, see lithe men working,
the swerve of a winch,
dim dazzling blades advancing through a trolley-borne trunk till it
in a manifold sprawl of weatherboards and battens.
The men watch you pass:
when you stop your car and ask them for directions, tall youths look away –
it is the older men who
come out in blue singlets and talk softly to you.
Beside each mill, smoke trickles out of mounds of ash and sawdust.
You glide on through town,
your mudguards damp with cloud.
The houses there wear verandahs out of shyness, all day in calendared kitchens, women listen
for cars on the road,
lost children in the bush,
a cry from the mill, a footstep – nothing happens.
The half-heard radio sings its song of sidewalks.
Sometimes a woman, sweeping her front step,
or a plain young wife at a tankstand fetching water in a metal bucket will turn round and gaze
at the mountains in wonderment, looking for a city.
Evenings are very quiet. All around the forest is there.
As night comes down, the houses watch each other: a light going out in a window here has
You speed away through the upland, glare through towns
and are gone in the forest, glowing on far hills.
On summer nights
ground-crickets sing and pause.
In the dark of winter, tin roofs sough with rain, downpipes chafe in the wind, agog with
Men sit after tea
by the stove while their wives talk, rolling a dead match between their fingers,
thinking of the future.
Collected Poems is avaliable Monday 5 November. Pre-order your copy by clicking here.