Blue Roan

Les Murray

for Philip Hodgins

As usual up the Giro mountain
dozers were shifting the road about
but the big blue ranges looked permanent
and the stinging-trees held no hint of drought.

All the high drill and blanket ridges
were dusty for want of winter rains
but down in the creases of picnic oak
brown water moved like handled chains.

Steak-red Herefords, edged like steaks
with that creamy fat the health trade bars,
nudged, feeding, settling who’d get horned
and who’d horn, in the Wingham abbatoirs,

and men who remembered drought-time grass
like three days’ growth on a stark red face
described farms on the creeks, fruit trees and fun
and how they bought out each little place.

Where farm families once would come just to watch
men knock off work, on the Bulliac line,
the fear of helplessness still burned live brush.
Dirty white smoke sent up its scattered sign

and in at the races and out at home
the pump of morale was primed and bled:
‘Poor Harry in the street, beer running out his eyes,’
As the cousin who married the mailman said.