A Change of Heart

© Catherine Lee

Winner, Bush Poetry Section, 2023 Laura Literary Awards, Laura, SA.

The Northern Lights shone eerily that bitter, frigid night
and winter winds came blustering to penetrate and bite.
With snow predicted for the tops I wasn’t feeling cheered—
my Doona, Ugg boots, Driz-a-Bone had swiftly reappeared.
The campfire’s merry crackling was at least a heartening sound—
its dancing flames illuminated shadows all around,
creating an enchanting ambience that emphasized
a sense of timeless beauty, whilst the heavens mesmerised.
Reflecting on my sordid task, I skulled another beer—
the job I’d picked up recently with orders crystal clear.

“They’re pests and just destroy the land, it’s true without a doubt.
Just shoot ‘em, mate, don’t muck around - we need to wipe ‘em out!”
The troop would gather in the dawn; for now, was only three—
just Billy Smith and Big Red Murphy, Bob Kincaid and me.
I really hadn’t wanted this repugnant ugly job,
yet needed cash, so grudgingly accepted it from Bob.
My mettle would be tested, I was pushed to see it through—
despite my qualms I braced myself for what I had to do.
Some say they threaten wildlife, wreck the rivers and the plain,
while others say they’re scapegoats, we should let them all remain….

A sudden movement in the trees revealed two eyes of brown!
I reached towards my weapon while I tried to stare him down.
But something stayed my hand because he didn’t try to run,
just held my gaze as if to force my focus from the gun.
Unlikely though it sounds, he seemed perceptive and serene—
most regal and impressive beast I thought I’d ever seen.
Then gradually I realised that he was not alone;
at least six others stood behind, their bodies still as stone.
The brumbies’ hides were coated with a sheen of silver frost.
My finger stayed the trigger as I counted up the cost.

The sight they made was wonderful, held frozen there in time.
Annihilating such a gift of nature seemed a crime!
Big Red was wild. He swore and hissed, “That’s not the way it’s done!
A sitting target! Get your act together - fire that gun!”
I couldn’t do it – sorrow filled my very soul with shame
I’d ever thought to add the act of culling to my name.
I fixed him with defiant stare and knew I’d not obey.
“I tell you I won’t do it mate; I don’t care what you say.
These beasts aren’t hurting anyone, such slaughter can’t be right—
a sanctuary would make a better answer to their plight!”

I held the horse’s eyes in almost mystical commune,
at peace within the moment underneath the gibbous moon.
My choice was made. Some things are worth far more than just a buck.
I held my breath, esteeming his magnificence and pluck.
Then suddenly he dipped his head and shook his silvered mane—
a burst of frosty spray appeared like glistening drops of rain.
He turned towards the others in a signal to retreat—
they followed his command as he exhaled and stamped his feet.
My admiration knew no bounds - this vision so impressed
that deep within my spirit came conviction I‘d been blessed.

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