© Marco Gliori

Winner, 2020  Bronze Swagman Award for Bush Verse, Winton, Queensland.

He rose up from the bushes, resurrected each new day,
I guess it was my job to move him gently on his way,
old mates, we re-connected in a broken sorry scene,
he was Fumbles, I was Andrew, and this was our routine.

Each morning in the Council Shed, I served him cups of tea,
my fellow workers listened as we seized each memory,
cavorting like true locals, Fumbles sober, was on fire,
his long-discarded sporting yarns were something to admire.

He’d earned his clumsy nickname in the Spring of ninety-one.
We both ran in the backline with the final surely won,
a mighty bomb soon beckoned, we collided in the sky,
the ball spilled out, their winger swooped and scored the winning try.

Lamenting in the dressing sheds, regret rose with the steam,
till one of us stood tall, apologizing to the team.
My silence, it was shameful, he was brave to bear the stain,
next day his name was Fumbles, and he never played again.

“He called the ball!” I testified while drowning our defeat,
but Fumbles was an easy mark, grew up on struggle street,
he laughed away the hecklers, said his handle was deserved,
and though I tried to sell his case, each time I did, he swerved.

Next year we went one better, but young Fumbles didn’t play,
he was shearing, some bloke reckoned, out Eromanga way.
and drinking like a shearer too, and fightin’ down the pub,
then with his goon, he’d fade away, tormented, in the scrub.

There, haunted by his demons, horrors nightly came to call,
a good bloke, such potential, did his parents drop the ball?
I pondered this last Spring, when after decades on the booze,
he limped into our Council Park, all bones, and busted shoes.

I offered him a bath, a feed, and as I did, he wept,
when he refused my house, I told the Salvos where he slept.
Each morning we pursued our past, a futile bloody chase,
but Fumbles never once brought up the depths of my disgrace.

Well, now I write this ode to him, for Death has been to call,
it cannot soothe my conscience, but I pledge to tell it all.
Swallowed up by flames he was, now history will decree,
his ‘blaze of glory’ exit, paints him worthier than me.

He was at the Pub last Sunday, from above, there came a boom!
The residents were fleeing, but one Mum, trapped in her room,
was screaming from the window, Fumbles heard it on the breeze,
her baby outstretched in her arms, “Quick! Someone! Help us please!”

Around the corner Fumbles stumbled, pleading from below,
“I hear ya’ love, I hear ya’ love!  I‘ve got him love, let go!”
She closed her eyes as flames rose up behind for one more bid,
then dropped her bundle through the smoke…and Fumbles caught the kid.

He passed the baby over, then took off to help inside,
as minutes passed, the pub went up, but only one soul died.
They found him lying in the hall outside that Mother’s door,
she’d jumped herself, escaped, was safe, but Fumbles was no more.

A nickname so fortuitous that sometimes I do think,
our paths are chiseled out for us before we even blink.
His last breath was a beauty, drawing courage from the air,
a dropped ball in a footy match will never quite compare.

Today I told his story there beside his council grave,
now time alone will designate how folklore should behave.
I suspect it will be kind to him, with my life slowing down,
for those I meet know Fumbles had the safest hands in town.

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