The Stockman’s Loss

© Catherine Lee

Winner 2020 Inaugural King of the Ranges written competition, serious section, Murrurundi, NSW.

The wind was attacking the branches of formerly flowering trees
that lined the distorted back fences, fragmented and brought to their knees.
Charred leaves rose and whirled in the dust storm, bleak sorrow and ruin now loomed,
and the curlews commenced with their crying
to warn in a way mystifying
of future destruction and chaos – a portent of everything doomed.

Akubra in shreds on his forehead, a sweat-ridden shirt round his neck,
the stockman attempted to whistle to keep his emotions in check,
consumed the remains of his damper, drank weak billy tea as he cried
to witness complete devastation
produced by intense conflagration
consuming the work of a lifetime—despairing at stock that had died.

“No more, please, no more!” Had God heard him? He howled at oblivious night.
“Have pity!” he roared to the distance, and cursed the malevolent blight.
His fingers caressing a trigger, but loath to abandon his dreams,
he sat all alone and surrounded
by carnage and wreckage unbounded,
reflecting upon the grim prospect, whilst plagued by those spine-chilling screams.

But hope did not come in the dawning, nor yet with the afternoon sun,
which burned with a merciless fury that no-one could try to outrun;
and into a smoke-clouded sunset, outlining the smouldering land,
heat bled with unending oppression
to add to his helpless depression;
intense, uncontrollable torment – no sign of respite near at hand.

He scanned the remains of his homestead and mourned the inferno’s cruel trick,
the wasted results of his labour wrought hard with his shovel and pick.
He’d fought but now knew he was beaten, and lifting blank, desolate eyes
conceded defeat – first suppliant,
then suddenly, wildly defiant
began to sing out in his anger, Matilda, aloud to the skies.

Way out in the darkening bushland, the shortest of silences fell
as briefly some startled wild creatures paid heed to the depth of his hell.
His voice became stronger with passion, till finally hopelessness passed.
As curlews resumed their commotion,
with anguish as vast as the ocean
he fell to the ground spent and shattered – lay tragically breathing his last.

But still during dusk in the springtime, when copious flowering trees
are vibrant and verdant in moonlight, their blooms tossed about in the breeze,
renewal has come to the landscape and seasons have balanced the pain,
they say he is witnessed sojourning,
to celebrate lushness returning—
the stockman rides onto his station, applauding the coming of rain.

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