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Mekong coconut workers


Selected poems


Dark stars

After tea, I'd stand on the gravel lane
beside the farm house, look up to
the scattered arguments of the Milky Way
stretching across our paddocks south towards Naringal.
They were cities in the sky, gatherings of speckled light
giving shape to the dark that was never far from me.

The lights of other houses two paddocks away
reminded me there were other lives caught out by darkness.
When the silence outside the house was infiltrated
by the sound of cows pulling at grass, the heavy plod
of their hooves, or a snort or two
I was reassured.

Yet when the cows weren't near the house
I'd imagine presences, shapes or shadows
appearing from beneath the cypress trees that towered
around our house. I'd turn to the glow of the kitchen
its yellow walls, smell the smoke from the chimney
and consider these paddocks I called home.

Like the stars that have collapsed into Black Holes
the darkness of the country night was always out there.
It lived in my dreams, had become a shadow unfurling
across paddocks. It was the depthless black
I dropped into during those falling dreams. I kept it at bay
with the company of brothers and sisters and later
learnt to accept it as that space between dusk and dawn.

On winter nights, when the world closed down early
the darkness was palpable, close and continuous.
It was the intimacy of a threat, the anger beneath a voice
the place where violence abandons you. Each night
the dark returned I looked up to that spray of light,
those dark stars pulsating like a galaxy taken fright.



Rollo's Road

A holloway into the past
we drove cattle on. A road
that dips into the memory
of a wooden bridge scorched by bushfire.

Sliver of blue sky
narrow strip of patched bitumen
threading a line between towering
eucalypts leaning in to kiss each other.

Either side of the trees
are the damp spaces of dairy paddocks.
Like a lemming, I am pulled
to this tunnel of shade, this stretch

of bush to be held in, wander
amongst the ferns, faded Jack Daniel's can,
pale scimitar of bone. Is there anything
so intoxicating as a quiet road

that makes a racket within me?
Is there anything that a memory
can't hollow, give passage to
moments gone wobbly beneath gum trees.



Coconut workers

Watch the man in his stained shirt
barefoot under the palms.

Adrift from younger workers
he manages a rhythm, a cigarette-

dangling-from-the-lip focus.
His lined face belies the strength

of his forearms, thrusting each coconut
onto a metal spike that is his altar.

Seven days a week he steps up to the spike
splits coconuts with the precision required

to not sever a wrist
in a country with no health insurance.

Upriver, miles from anywhere
in the seamy heat of the Mekong Delta

it could be the 19th century.
I don't know where to look or photograph.

Three elderly women sit cross-legged
in the dirt, cutting and polishing,

woollen gloves protecting
their fingers from a glancing, curved knife.

They smile for my ipad
as though on exhibit in their

daily work space. Nearby, teenage boys
sit on low plastic stools smiling

at the guilt I might feel.
Sweat glistens on their backs

as they ram their feet against
twigs and mud for leverage. Too poor

for an education, they scrape and hack
at their country's fruit for twelve hours a day.

Factory work in the tropics — no different
to a cheese assembly line in Allansford.

Routine, repetition, incentive pay
I was able to walk away from the smell

of cheese off-cuts. Here, a loaded river barge
with two eyes painted on its bow,

finds a rhythm in its twice-daily return,
freighting coconuts to the known world.


Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan is a Geelong poet.

Topic tags: Brendan Ryan, Poetry



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