something old and something new - going to Stockland with him, and ode to his work ethic.
In the cool of the morning, low-hanging lights
brighten the arena spread with fresh sawdust.
Hours later our ears are ringing
with the eternal tide of the auctioneer’s voice,
and flies are slow in the heavy heat.
Throats and eyes feel the sting of air
acid and sweet, rising strong
from darkened sawdust, scuffed and moist
with the manure of hundreds of cows,
horses and sheep, pigs and goats,
and – this morning – an African zebu.
Most of the buyers sit near the ring
in broken auditorium seats,
buying fat calves and long-sided pigs
and horses with skittery eyes
with a nod of the head or flick of fingers;
downing hot dogs, lukewarm fries
from greasy little paper bags,
and cheap coffee in flimsy foam cups.
Men big or thin, pot-belling, hunched,
in suspenders or overalls, or skinny jeans
showing wallets and cans of chew
wearing holes in their back pockets.
Men in baseball caps, flat Austarlian hats,
curved cowboy hats with brims and crowns
bent into peculiar shapes.
Men in dim plaid shirts,
collars slick and grey with sweat,
or old stretched tee shirts
advertising beer or beef (It’s What’s For Dinner).
And the man with one leg shorter than the other
always leans on the gate to the arena,
pointing out bids to the auctioneer
among the red lights of cigarette tips.
He could not stop working
until the last lights were gone from the sky,
the last posts were set and tamped tightly,
the last row of hay perfectly square
and the tarp pulled down firm over it,
the day’s work completely and rightly done.
He wouldn’t quit trying
to make money or just improve things –
carving a smooth road with a bulldozer,
getting the plow truck ready for snow,
making the yard look its best,
teaching us the words to an old gospel hymn,
spicing and stuffing sausage on the kitchen table,
crafting a cradle from long straight wood;
teaching us the value of sweat –
to build even a fort with square corners,
to sand drywall like professionals,
how to rightly spice a beef stew,
to feed the garden with mulch and manure tea,
how to burn a brand on a cow’s flank,
to arc weld a straight silver line,
how to split wood with multiple wedges
and the way to stack a woodpile corner,
how to warm your feet by stamping hard
while you stand in one place cleaning poultry
five long hours after dinner.
He’d keep pushing us forward
into the almost-too-deep of the lake
where he demonstrated treading water,
butterfly, sidestroke, back float,
dead man’s float, scissors kick,
and tossed us, safe in our life-jackets
out where we’d never venture on our own,
and conducted impromptu diving lessons,
calling us off our rough and sandy towels
at the edge of life, where he sits now,
with his joints scraping with every motion he makes
and watches our reluctance
to quit before our works are fully done –
until we can dive smoothly into water
like a blade sharpened by a hard wheel
in constant brisk motion.