A feather in a locket
By Robyn Sykes
Winner of the Bryan Kelleher Literary Award 2013
In the she-oak needles’ rustle and the Willie Wagtails’ bustle;
in the eucalyptus blossom and the wattles’ buzzing band;
in the gurgle of the river and the new-born lambs that quiver
as they suckle; there your spirit’s warm as feathers in the land.
When your ashes kissed the grasses, on our hill where nature’s classes,
in the downy squawks of eaglets, tangled webs of life and death;
tender token of tomorrow floated down to soothe my sorrow
as it fluttered on my face, a feathered emblem of your breath.
I remembered your proposal, all those dreams at our disposal
as Jellarney’s fences ringed your cows, your Angus bull and sheep.
Just a simple country wedding and a room with summer bedding
where a soft and silky feather roused the blood instead of sleep.
I saw picnics by the river and the debt that made me shiver
when the paddocks looked like cardboard, when the bushfire scorched the flat.
How your kelpie, dear old Rusty, worked as green engulfed the dusty
earth! The feather in your hatband danced as Dorset lambs grew fat.
When a room is packed with people or I kneel beneath the steeple;
when the solitude is breathless, leaving night and day both black;
when our grandson mourns his whippet or I read a tasty snippet,
it’s a feather in a locket guides me back towards the track.
Now my lips are loath to mention our three children and the tension
as they rip and pull at title deeds, impatient for their share;
turn a simple draft of cattle to an epic three-way battle.
Weary fingers stroke your feather as they bellow, “It’s not fair!”
I escape the neighbours’ pity, with a smile both fixed and gritty,
for a holiday in Sydney at the Country Women’s Lodge.
Diesel fumes and honking traffic and the language, foul and graphic,
see me clench your feather tightly as I try to weave and dodge
all the Gucci ladies’ purses, the Bandidos with their curses
and the brief-case bearing bankers, steel eyes stapled to the road.
In that crowded isolation, I’ve no friend for consolation,
just a feather in a locket to bear witness to my load.
With a glint of sharpened metal my heart pounds and will not settle.
Tattooed terrors starch my body as my sins blare blazing red.
Jagged fingers, like a sprocket, scratch and snatch your golden locket.
Feather knees begin to buckle as the blood deserts my head.
With a fear I fail to banish, how I wish the world would vanish,
for the sun won’t smile or shine without those links of love to share!
Then I see a brush-tail possum, smell some sweet acacia blossom,
and a feather falls from nowhere, angel answer to my prayer.
Now the pathway looks much brighter and my load feels ever lighter,
and my steps grow strong and sturdy in the golden glow you give.
I see rocky roads I’ll travel, be they city streets or gravel,
will be lined with feather kisses… and I make the choice to live.