The Colonist

Finally out of the tangle,
the stubborn undergrowth,
the dripping sky
that descended like subterfuge,
his gentle field,
laid out like a picnic,
emerged.

The forest still
reared its cold, damp mane
at his approach,
but there was something now
he had as reply.
And from the larder,
the woman,

who was no longer
young and gentle,
ferried the raw materials
he tore with calloused thumbs
from the earth
into jars, into cupboards,

sweetening, smoothing,
caramelizing the savage man
that the land was
daily tearing from him,
as if he were his fraying shirt.

She too was part of
his quarrel with the bush.
With her he’d teach it
to part its hair,
to accept the fields,
to accept the basin and the soap,
and above all the harvest.

And the forest reconciled herself
with this man,
for their treaty was neither
wholly hers or the invader’s.

And they were,
in their own ways,
immovable forces, bearing down,
hewing the other
into transformation.

Copyright Ricky Barrow 2014

Margins

There was, even in the earliest arrivals,
that element in their souls
which shrunk from the purely urban,
the pinched living,
the tripping over each other
in the dark courtyards
of old Europe,
from which they had fled.

No, here in this land,
that knew nothing
of cesspools running deep
in the nostrils and the mind,

they pushed the new cities out
to arms length or more,
and kept gardens, rolling lawns,
undies flying like flags of independence
from the line.

This wild land soon enough
de-civilized the new comers,
in the call of the mist,
and the folds of endless ranges
to the vast, un-hedged isolation.

And they grew more reticent,
lost the eloquence of the mother tongue,
steeped in its crushing epochs of speech,
lost in the thick silence,
pierced only by the tui,
a rush of wings from the bush,
untutored voices.

The forests dispossessed them,
those so-called colonizers,
but they gained in return.
On that margin between
the bach and the sea,
the mountain hut and the infinite south,
they pushed out from the pale,
the left behind, walled up centuries.

The threads tore
in the purer, turbulent skies,
while they kept the essentials,
wooley jersey, gumboots,
and tin of beef,
things to take with them
when they went off
to learn from the cataracts of the bush.

Copyright Ricky Barrow 2014

The Diggers

The rush had brought the worst kinds,
drifters, crooks, half-breeds,
men without nations or loyalties.
They’d followed the migrating gold,
the elusive, fast burning phoenix,
crisscrossing the Pacific,
not giving two hoots where they landed,
whose backyard they tore up.

These men, flung together
from a dozen sinking kingdoms,
burned and froze
in the brutal streambeds of the south,
clung to their earth, their rocks,
damned all efforts
to build an orderly colony,

poured their precious stones,
once they had them,
down the gullet of the grog shop,
the whorehouse,
spoke dangerously of rough democracy,
passed their gold
to the resentful patricians
along with their dysentery,
their syphilis,
their infectious social leveling.

And the powers that be,
fearing the civil breakdown
of this happy-go-lucky frontier
of diggers, whores and Chinamen,
imported shiploads of respectable girls,
wives and helpmates,
to entice them back to the farms,
to the serious business
of building a Victorian empire.

But they stayed away
and rode the river steamers
deeper, deeper into the interior,
where they made or lost their fortunes
in the thick silt,
in the muddy streets of the ghost towns.

For they had to take pains,
to be with their loneliness
in the lonely throat of the new country,
had to tear down
the moldered shafts of the old world,
seeking new seams,
cursing, spitting, brawling
with themselves and the earth,
so that something strong,
enduring, infinite,
could be theirs.

Copyright Ricky Barrow 2014