Tunneling through the night, the trains pass
in a splendour of power, with a sound like thunder
shaking the orchards, waking,
the young from a dream, scattering like glass
the old men's sleep; laying
a black trail over the still bloom of the orchards.
The trains go north with guns.
Strange primitive piece of flesh, a heart laid quiet
hearing their cry pierce through its thin-walled cave
recalls the forgotten tiger
and leaps awake in its old panic riot;
and how shall mine be sober,
since blood's red thread still binds us fast in history?
Tiger, you walk through all our past and future,
troubling the children's sleep; laying
a reeking trail across our dream of orchards.
Racing on iron errands, the trains go by,
and over the white acres of our orchards
hurl their wild summoning cry, their animal cry . . .
the trains go north with guns.
Night after night the rounding moon
rose like a bushfire through the air.
Night after night the swans came in --
the lake at morning rocked them there.
The inland fired the western wind
from plains bared by a year-long drought.
Only the coastal lakes were kind
until that bitter year ran out.
Black swans shadowed the blaze of moon
as they came curving down the sky.
On hills of night the red stars burned
like sparks blown where the wind is high.
On rushing wings the black swans turned
sounding aloud their desolate cry.
To see them go by drowning in the river --
soldiers and elders drowning in the river,
the pitiful women drowning in the river,
the children's faces staring from the river --
that was his cross, and not the cross they gave him.
To hold the invisible wand, and not to save them --
to know them turned to death, and yet not save them;
only to cry to them and not to save them
knowing that no one but themselves could save them --
this was the wound, more than the wound they dealt him.
To hold out love and know they would not take it,
to hold out faith and know they dared not take it --
the invisible wand, and none would see or take it --
all he could give, and there was none to take it --
thus they betrayed him, not with the tongue's betrayal.
He watched, and they were drowning in the river;
faces like sodden flowers in the river
faces of children moving in the river;
and ll the while, he knew there was no river.
But now Mr Ferritt
with his troublesome nose,
with his shaven chin
and his voice like a grief
that grates in dark corners,
moves in his house
and scrapes his dry skin
and sees it is morning.
O day, you sly thief,
now what have you taken
of all the small things
I tie on my life?
The radio serial
whines in the kitchen,
caught in a box,
and cannot get out.
The finch in his cage,
the border of phlox
as straight as a string
drawn up in my garden,
the potted geranium,
all are there.
But day from his cranium
twitches one hair;
and never again
will a hair grow there.
--O day, you sly thief,
how you pluck at my life,
frets Mr. Ferritt;
but there, he must bear it.
Outside the fence
the wattle-tree grows.
It tosses; it shines;
it speaks its one word.
Mr. Ferritt has heard.
--What are axes for?
What are fences for?
Who planted that wattle-tree
right at my door?
God only knowss.
All over the garden
its dust is shaken.
No wonder I sneeze
as soon as I waken.
O world, you sly thief;
my youth you have taken,
and what have you given
who promised me heaven,
but a nagging wife
with a chronic catarrh,
and a blonde on the pictures
as far as a star?
And wild and gold
as a film-star's hair
that tree stands there,
blocking the view
from my twenty-perch block.
What are axes for,
what are fences for
but to keep this tree
away from my door?
And down came the tree.
But poor Mr. Ferritt
still has hay-fever.
Nothing will cure it.
Poems from Judith Wright, 1978, The Double Tree: Selected Poems, 1942-1976 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin): 7-8 (for "The Trains), 81 (for "Black Swans"), 26 (for "Eli, Eli"), 67-68 (for "and Mr. Ferritt").