© Robyn Sykes

Winner, 2013 Henry Lawson Memorial and Literary Society Poetry Competition, Brighton, Victoria.

‘For auction’ said the yellow sign, it hit him in the heart,
his life was on the market, he and ‘Kellidale’ would part.
“For sale: a thousand acres of productive farming land,
ten dams, a flowing river and old red gums in a band.”

The sign proclaimed beyond the fence “potential knows no bounds”;
his home was called “traditional, with spacious, open grounds”.
John bowed his head in anguish as his fingers gripped the wheel.
He’d known the end was imminent; the auction made it real.

Then visions rose of happy children laughing at the creek,
of stolen hours with Jill that made his ligaments go weak,
of thirty years of choosing rams and checking out their fleece,
of talking with the neighbours to negotiate a lease.

Of sowing pasture, checking soil, and micron-testing wool,
improving crop and livestock yields with silos staying full.
As bullets seek a target, so his single aim in life:
to live and work on Kellidale and die there with his wife.

He raised his eyes and in dismay observed his sister’s farm;
her lambs were full of spikey seeds and burrs inflicting harm,
the thistles and the weeds were wreaking havoc on the earth,
the native pastures under strain by rabbits giving birth.

The crescents, like a new-born moon, were carcases of lambs,
the fuller orbs on hills of rock – the footsore, weary rams;
the moonbeams she was chasing, growing money as a game,
exposed by ebbing tides she didn’t see and couldn’t tame.

A farmer learns by farming, not by plaiting ladies’ hair;
the country has a language you can’t learn if you’re not there.
Experience will teach what can’t be found inside a book;
the lessons found in nature for the diligent who look.

His parents tried to wield a scalpel, cut the farm in two,
he staunched the wound as best he could, enlisted expert crew.
He’d tried to put a bandage on, to keep the whole thing sane,
infections kept on growing and were threatening his brain.

His farm was like a wayward wife, intent on skipping town,
the more he tried to cling to it, the more it weighed him down.
A broken ring can spiral so it pierces with a thrust;
depression was a hawker with his luggage full of dust.

A farm is like a body with a heartbeat at its core;
when severed both the halves will spill their lifeblood on the floor.
A mother can’t give half her heart to save her dying child;
a farmer can’t give half his farm so siblings won’t get riled.

He stopped to count his blessings, and his focus was on three,
called Jilly, Ben and Emma, now a family at sea.
The sale would bring the dollars that would finance a new start –
and Jilly would at last have time to concentrate on art.

He liberated from its cage resentment caused by hurt;
his mind was free to soar on wings unshackled by the dirt.
Then sleep became his friend again, and laughter found his side;
he cherished his integrity and never had to hide.

His freedom didn’t signal he’d accepted they were right;
the empty cage no symbol he’d been wrong to stand and fight.
The waving wings left healing, no more nursing angry pain;
he cleaned the cage and closed it, with his spirit free from stain.

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