Old Ron's house by Quandong Creek
with a cockatoo shriek and a pop of sinews snapping
(loud reports lost under a barrage of rain on tin)
fell down one night.
Flung down its useless arms, popped hips to flop
and in one last bony sag died cursing
bloody oath! surrenderless
But this was no surprise.
For years there, at the tendrilled valley's end
it listed, crouched in a rhomboidal sway,
gazed at its nail-stubbled often-streaming face,
in ever-nearness peered in that trick mirror of jokey waters.
Stubborn, but pushed and jerked in play -
the windswirl devils had their way with it,
their whistling joys.
. . . and those few nails as possible bought in 1938
didn't help to pin the joints.
Ron's house kept company with its own reflection,
watched vines grow over bones of wood and other.
Lived through the end of claps of axemen, crashing
death replies. Saw bullocks strain till sold, or dead.
Ron's house watched Ron sprout grey.
Watched Ron just lately hold his own
in house-like dignity, at people-devils.
Young costumed "hippies" now swirl naked,
joyful on their stage - this tangled creek
to the huffing, twisting stare of Ron
who always fills his electric kettle there
to make his tea and dinner on the fire he will make
from the cast-off limbs of eucalypts.
Ron's cows drink from the creek there, too.
Old Crooked Horn, their queen, and all the rest
who spend hot days hock-cooled in contemplation,
chewing cuds, plops counterpointing
Ron's cat Witchy kept the house rat-free,
but as for the tree that overhangs the house
those mangoes have a siren-scent so loud
that nightly drop-plops split the scurried air -
added to indignities of age and buffeting.
Bombing mangoes dropped upon the roof
hit bang all night on headached windpushed tin
and the frame did more collapsing with each bash
like a face its teeth deserting.
Happily for Ron,
too many bushrats for Witchy-cat,
too many mangoes for the rats,
so Ron always gets a few.
He shares them with Ruby,
the dog who also eats his stew.
That was the second of Ron's houses to collapse,
and there's one more to go.
All built to the jangle of empty pockets -
"goat farmers" everyone called the scoop-eyed vets
who vanished rent-unpaid from dreamless rooms
whose footprints melted under other trampings
who traded their present for parcels of
flyblown white elephants!
Say that again, mate, and . . .
High and wild, the hills and vines.
Hack a new life - the fixed-jaw assertions.
Amateurs at farming, experts at the hard life
the hardest men of all then,
too spare to shed a tear, to whinge at fate,
to mourn the friends who'd "fallen"
men who hacked their rusty laughs at euphemisms
led their straw-haired cow-eyed families
with no sweet homilies, but a harvest-full
of heavy open-handers
to the not-much-promised land.
their best hopes rose of pasts just burned;
they put no faith in this poppycock of Maker.
With those few nails, and his kin all hanging
like a swag of ticks on the jerking wagon's hide,
Ron's father's long tongue-lashings and rougher whip
tore strips off the new-bought bullocks, who mild as milk,
forever uncomplaining, pulled the family up and up and
through the new man-dwarfing tunnels of lantana -
that carnivale-coloured migrant then making rampant
pinkflowering mountains in those hills
in those hills
where lovely lawyer vine that grabs and rips
tall rappling liana rope
slow-clutching strangler fig pouring its suffocation from the treetops
and leeches clinging fat, making sores hard-put to heal
and false valentine leaves earning axes for the giant stinging tree
and fat harmless pythons curling sleepy on the river stones
where buttresses of trees and roots turning under humus
caught your feet at every step and made your ankles burn
as men called its alienness then
jungle smug as gravity,
old as wind
as forest fire
crouched in waiting
as a hibernating fern.
Jungle, stoic as the bullocks
Jungle, displaced and something to be
as Ron's own Pa had sat
Jungle just sat beside itself, its soul unbent
just hunkered down to watch men's follies fall upon
themselves, as nail bites into wood, and rust in nail,
to earn its place again
winding its wildness on the never-settled earth.
Today, vines twist around the dreams of '38.
There's one house left, and one old man, old cows,
and a flock of parrot-people in full flightiness -
but all that's only a crack in the wood in time
house and nails and plans and flings of wailing winds
and skins of dreams all rotted by the damp.
Jungle doesn't care, indelible as fate. It crouches in no
cramp. It staked its claim long before the bullocks and
the nails, before lantana tried to be conquistador.
This jungle that was here before is sure, and knows its
primacy. It hunkers, like the last house shoved.
It doesn't need to wait and see.
One house to go.
For the playful windswirl devils,
a too-short game.
But the jungle,
used to lying low
in a bullock-patient