© 2009 – Max Merckenschlager

Winner, 2009 ABPA Australian Championship, Camp Oven Festival, North Pine Queensland.

I stood in awe as land beneath me trembled
and waited where the furrow-horse would draw my father’s plough,
to watch the finest working team assembled
erupt in bold precision on the green and chocolate brow.

Eight bodies glistened brightly under tension;
with traces taut, their massive pistons drove the mouldboard on.
I stepped aside in trepid apprehension
and passed the midday nosebags up, as eyes of liquid shone…

…that scene from yesteryear is sadly burning;
an adult now, my thankless task awaits me in the shade
of red-gum; seven left won’t be returning –
old veterans, who’ll shuffle as they make their last parade.

With dry and dusty harness from the stable,
I walk the mile to slip their headgear on for one last time.
Five more the team must plod – I pray they’re able –
a distance they’d have swallowed, had they walked it in their prime.

Behind me on their tragic trek they stumble
and pass the heap of ashes where some twenty months before,
old Harry dragged their honest mate and humble,
his death the last surrender, for we had a team no more.

We pensioned off those faithful, ageing horses
to pasture out their final days, so easy at the time,
but found ourselves at odds with other forces;
a lingering and painful death was far the harsher crime.

They lift their heads and look toward the stables,
where father and grandfather swear the years they spent were best;
blue ribbons on the walls of teamster fables,
a place of warmth and harmony, of energy at rest.

Now watching their retreat in silent witness,
the cold blue-metal Fordson stands in passive victory
They had its measure while they passed the fitness,
but time became their nemesis, to snatch supremacy.

It tears at me to see these legends falter,
their idle days and ageing made them limping casualties;
high-steppers during working days in halter,
their nostrils flared and blowing, as they challenged soil and breeze.

The schoolhouse to our right has stopped my dreaming;
ahead a railway loading ramp reminds me why I’m here.
An engine waits, its boiler boxes steaming;
the horses are unsettled and they toss their heads in fear.

I walk them in and stand there looking, checking
and gently stroke their outstretched heads with loving words and pride.
Old Carb is close beside me on the decking;
I slide an arm around his neck – he taught the boy to ride.

The whistle blows and wheels are slowly turning;
with shoo, shoo, shoo and hiss of steam, a farm tradition ends.
I watch them disappear, my stomach churning
and shed a tear for noble hearts of seven, more-than-friends…

…I like to think they’re grazing now in Heaven;
my father wouldn’t cash the cheque for lifetime servants sold.
He passed it on, in memory of seven,
donated to our local home where human friends grow old.

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