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The last talker after Mass


Dog walkers

I walk the dog to discover
where I'm meant to be.

I recognise aloneness
in other dog walkers,

the bliss of being pulled along
to the same park, same footpath

where just enough chaos lives.

I think of the old man who used to stop me:
I hate this area, I grew up in Geelong West.

The way he waited at the picket fence,
his discontent at 93.

Bare carport, blinds drawn
his liver brown brick veneer

caught in the creep of McMansions.
How did we wash up here?

Bins out, porch light as our blankey,
bats circle and squeal round a fig tree.

Somebody flattens it down South Valley Road.
Wild, resolute, drawn to what seems

the way bats hunt by sonar,
dog walkers sniff by routine.


Sign of peace

When my uncle was dying
he suddenly wanted to shake hands.
My father drove three hours
along chipped country roads to see him.
All my uncle wanted to do
was grunt and shake his hand.
Most of his life, he had lived alone
had never really had the need to shake hands,
unlike my father who has had six sons
thrusting their right hand at him for seventy years.

Reclusive, unmarried, exiled to Murtoa,
the uncle who lived as an unanswered question
until I saw his photo on the funeral service pamphlet.
He might have been happy with the cigarettes,
the friend down to take care of the belongings
after the funeral. Perhaps other people too,
reach a point when they are ready to shake hands,
to touch another person's skin
like the sign of peace before Communion,
when people turn to shake hands
with strangers, those nearest, brothers.


The last talker after Mass

He belts his trousers with baling twine,
parks a mud-splattered ute outside the Bank
when there's a shift in percentage rates.

The straggly lines of his arguments follow cow paths,
every useless huar wants to run this country.

He laughs as much as he spits.

Veins in his cheeks, grey hair testament
to frosty mornings, a bull bowling his wife over in the yard.
Their days in mud at the foot of a mountain.

The smartest man in the district
talking his way through a church crowd.
Farmers fell away when they saw him coming.

My father had developed a bad habit of listening.
My mother sat in the car putting up with us kids.
We were always the last to leave after Mass. 

Brendan Ryan headshotBrendan Ryan lives in Geelong. His most recent collection of poems is Travelling Through the Family. He teaches at a secondary college in Geelong.  

Topic tags: new australian poems, Brendan Ryan



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Existing comments

"Sign of Peace" - our allegiance lying, finally, with peace.

Pam | 08 April 2013  

Loved your poems Brendan! I've known men like your father, and your uncle! :)

KAM | 09 April 2013  

Thanks Brendan, reminds me of my Dad! Your students are very lucky!

Robert O'Brien | 09 April 2013  

Simple and beautiful - reminds me of Seamus Heaney.

Annie | 09 April 2013  

Brendan and I are probably distantly related, but I do admire his salt-of-the-earth, Irish-Oz poetry...He now lives in Geelong,by the way and shares his love of English with the lucky girls he teaches at one of our Catholic girls' colleges. Bernard P Ryan [ Host,"The Blurb", 2-4pm Tuesdays on Geelong's 94.7fm THE PULSE;streaming at www.947thepulse.com]

bernard ryan | 09 April 2013  

Brendan and I live in Brisbane We probably not related . As we found when we visited Ireland the Ryans are numerous around Borrisholeigh. If you are not a Ryan, you are married to a Ryan, your mother was a Ryan, your sister or daughter married a Ryan to say nothing of the Grandmothers who were Ryans Some it would seem can claim most of the above! Loved your poems Brendan and will see if I can get them out of our library. God bless.

Brendan Ryan (3) | 09 April 2013  

'We'll all be rooned' cried Hanrahan. The folk at our little bush church still stand around after Mass on Sundays - in circles to discuss the crops, the rain (or lack of it). Sometimes it's the 'best part' of going to Mass!

glen avard | 10 April 2013  

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