by Robyn Sykes
Winner, Silver Brumby Award, The Man From Snowy River Festival 2019; Second, Sutherland Literary Award, 2018; Second, Betty Olle Award, 2017 (title: Treacherous Veil)
The siren screams curses, my lungs gasp for air:
my wife has been struck by a truck.
Hail Mary, Our Father, which way is she? Where?
Oh Suzie my mind’s come unstuck.
Our son lies still, fatigued and yellow, poisoned liver battle-
scarred, but Mike still smiles each day.
His skin is paper, arms are needles, breath a wheezy rattle-
rasp. The rector comes to pray.
I smell antiseptic and taste it as fear;
my voice squeaks like shoes on the floor.
A white-lipped young doctor draws awkwardly near.
Our kids arrive, creaming the door.
The homestead’s now a clinic ward, its brick walls are a prison
cell. Our friends all rally round
with casseroles and roasted lamb and sponge cakes light and risen
high. His mates bring laughter’s sound.
“She’s not going to make it,” I hear through my trance.
My ears close, I don’t want to know.
“Her organs perhaps could give others a chance.”
He’s wrong. No, I won’t let her go.
Thank God the season stuck with us, the sheep and cattle flourished
well. A neighbour sowed the wheat.
Mike’s lucerne pastures, wind-break trees and dreams he daily nourished
stand neglected, incomplete.
My knuckles turn white. I forget to exhale.
How peaceful she looks, sound asleep.
For time is the lace in a treacherous veil:
what’s missing can make us all weep.
By day we talk of transplants, but at night, when faith is shimmer-
thin, I nag my hubby dumb.
We check the phone, recheck it, for the dial tone gives a glimmer-
hope. Mike’s bag is packed. I’m numb.
I think of our home on the cliff by the sea;
our wedding day framed on the wall;
her perfumed pink roses, the gulls she sets free;
the chatter when chums come to call.
Old Tiger’s kennel’s empty: as I watched his eyes grow older-
sad, I let him in the house.
An armchair by the bedside and a thin hand on his shoulder-
blade: I never have to rouse.
My daughter says “Dad, we all know what Mum said:
‘It’s better to give than receive’.
We’ve one final option to see her love spread.
Six people could gain a reprieve.”
“Hello. I’m from St Vincent’s. Can you come? We’ve got a donor
ready.” Time’s on ice. I freeze.
My throat’s the Simpson Desert… Mike is saved … the liver’s owner…
How? What pain resolves my pleas?
I can’t bear the emptiness yawning like tar.
I can’t bear the Suzie-sized hole.
I can’t bear the shreds of my life and the scar.
Don’t tell me the gifts soothe my soul.
Old Tiger woofs and wags his tail, the wind-break’s gold with wattle-
dust. Mike’s baling lucerne hay.
His face is pink, his shoulders strong, his future planned full throttle-
blast. Each day, in thanks, I pray.
O Suzie, I’ll never forget how we lay
entwined like wisteria vines;
the smell of your hair, how we’d laugh and we’d play. You shine now in six breathing shrines.