© V.P. Read, 2009

Winner, 2009 ‘Arts Festival Bush Poetry Competition’, Cervantes WA.

The church stands in its weedy plot beneath a sighing gum;
its wooden doors are falling off and no repentants come.
The corrugated-iron roof is rusted full of holes,
and yellowed gravestones stand around the oleander boles.
Their epitaph’s no longer clear; erased by wind and time,
so no one knows who’s lying there or reads the shattered rhyme.

The once bright-painted window panes erased beneath the dust,
all rattle with a rasping cough whenever hot winds gust.
The portico is falling down; the steps are crumbling stone,
and when dust devil’s spiral past it gives a doleful moan.
The sign out front is sad to see; it’s message hard to read:
‘Have faith in Jesus,’ it proclaims.  ‘He will fulfil your need’.

The mining town’s deserted now; the gold has petered out;
there’s no-one there to tend the church; just lonely ghosts about.
Old shades still toiling in the shafts; still hoping for a find;
the knowledge that they’re dead and gone has long escaped their mind.
And out upon the mullock heaps gaunt spirits still abound,
all searching for gold nuggets hidden deep beneath the ground.

They’d lost all faith when fortune frowned on all who laboured there,
and they ignored the old brass bell that beckoned them to prayer.
All hope had died and trust in God was lost in bitter toil;
their only creed was endless slog in sterile, rocky soil.
At night they wandered to their tents and fell to slumber deep
to dream about their wasted lives; to mourn their loss and weep.

The women who passed through this town were far beyond all care.
They sold their souls for money with a hard and bitter stare.
There was no warmth in their embrace; no kindness in their smile;
their price was one gold nugget to add to their paltry pile.
They never donned a bonnet or spent Sundays at the church;
they went from tent to tattered tent in aimless, hopeless search.

I grieve to see this grand old church in mis’ery and despair,
and always, when I’m passing through, I spend a few hours there.
I feel at peace upon the bench beneath a Norfolk pine,
and also feel a presence there that’s definitely divine.
I know, without a doubt at all, God’s blessed its weary throng,
and let them stay to dig for gold, right here where they belong.

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