Rebuilding the Rock


By Robyn Sykes

Winner, Nandewar Poetry Prize 2018


Her body is paper, the scissors are drugs.

Her strength – once a rock – now is sand.

“I need some more tablets.” The doctor just shrugs

as Lorraine lifts a vibrating hand.


“Oh life in town suits you,” he says. It’s a lie.

The air in her cottage is stale:

her armchair, TV, daytime soaps, volume high.

Mike and Joy bring the milk, eggs and mail.


Lorraine tells her children: “You don’t understand.

You’re busy with lambs on the farm.

The Mogadon, Endone and mum’s helping hand,

good old Valium, won’t do me harm.”


But injury masked is not injury healed.

The drugs are a stern CEO.

With profits, not people, the deal is soon sealed;

and Lorraine is the last one to know.


Repeated repeats. Get your fix in a script!

The doctor’s mouse clicks, ups the dose.

The end is in sight. Yes, a crib in a crypt.

She pulls back, but she’s bub-to-breast close.


The memories flood of big musters on plains;

the shimmer of heat-dust on sheep;

the pulse of the hoof-beats, the slap of the reins;

and the husband for whom they still weep.


The nausea grabs, hot and cold, wet and dry.

Her mind does the carousel waltz,

with mirrors and whistles and horses that fly.

Sweet relief is a pill. She defaults.


A rock is eroded by water and wind,

the storm-surge from cloudbanks of pain.

A brain is a hostage to pills when they’re pinned

to mad dreams of unlocking the chain.


Her wounds – are they physical, mental or both?

What matter? They stab the same sting.

Alone in her bedroom, she’s tempted. She’s loath

to go on, but her children both ring.


“I’m coming to town in the morning,” says Mike.

“We’ve shorn all the wool from each ewe.

We’ll go out for coffee or lunch if you like.”

What he meant was, I’m thinking of you.


“Oh Mum, we’re beside you, keep fighting,” says Joy.

“Come live with us out on Kildare.

“There’s plenty of room and we’ll never annoy

you. Our Grandies are gems we can share.”


To reconstruct rock from the sand of her strength

is harder than water to wine.

Is such a force found in the galaxy’s length?

She embraces the foot of the shrine.


Her body is paper, the scissors are drugs.

There’s progress rebuilding the rock,

one grain at a time, with her family’s hugs,

as Lorraine finds the key to the lock.