Pressing the butt of the four-ten
into my shoulder I squint down the barrel,
sighting rabbits grazing beside the creek.
Convincing myself they’re vermin,
ignoring innocence, I pick my target.
As I squeeze the trigger
the rabbit’s guts burst open
splattering the Grassmere paddock
with blood, shit and entrails.
Blood surging, I race to my victim,
stand above its shallow breathing.
Trembling, I bring my Blundstone
down with full force, crunching
life from the soft white head.
The Keating Years
Autumn afternoons browsing in op shops
followed by cappuccinos and coffee scrolls
were the only luxuries we could afford
scraping by on Austudy in a “regional city”
during the Keating years. We lived
in damp ninety-year-old weatherboard
houses shared with uni friends,
ate pasta, porridge and potatoes,
drank five-dollar port and cask wine.
We walked almost everywhere,
took the bus to campus; our parents
were the only people we knew with jobs.
Splurging meant spending ten bucks
on pots of VB, trying our luck
at a club after midnight
and sharing a taxi with mates.
Poverty taught us not to hope
for a better future. We knew the recession
we had to have meant our degrees qualified
us for nothing but the back of the dole queue.
I sip a pint of Hartley’s Cambrian Way
in the Red Dragon in Kirkby Lonsdale
before walking through St. Mary’s graveyard
to Ruskin’s View, painted by Turner and judged
by the critic to be one of the loveliest views
in England, therefore in the world.
Gazing upon the River Lune, stone walls,
meadows, fields, woods, Wharton Farm,
Casterton and High Casterton,
I find it impossible to be unimpressed
and the Anglocentric arrogance
of Ruskin’s proclamation seems forgivable
as time passes like the shadows of clouds
across the peaks of Gragereth and Ingleborough.
Driving along the Dingle peninsula
we turn off the road from Annascaul
to Derrymore, follow a narrow lane
towards the ocean, find ourselves
in a car park in view of the beach
follow a fast-flowing stream down
towards its mouth, where fresh
water meets salt, land meets sea
stepping onto the beach, you run ahead
towards the ocean over sand drifts
seaweed, dune grass and driftwood
arms raised and spread wide with joy
long brown hair blowing eastward
at the water’s edge, you wait for me
to arrive, then together we stand
scanning the horizon, first west
where mountains blend into the sea
beneath blue skies and white clouds
sun shining on the eastern slopes
then straight out to sea, spotting
a freighter nearing the end
of its trans-Atlantic crossing
then east where the bay curves
to the left of our vision and low
hills seem to merge into the horizon
we have the beach all to ourselves
on this late December morning
and the only sounds are breaking waves
the Atlantic wind rustling clothing
and our boots squeaking in the sand
you select shells for your international
collection while I take photographs
as we walk along the water’s edge
through wet sand, dodging inch-high waves
I tell stories about our ancestors
leaving this island on ships long ago
abandoning loved ones and homes
driven by desperation and dreams
until the wind turns our lips blue
and we head back towards the car
but not before you choose the perfect
piece of driftwood, bend towards
the sand, write C + N was here
For David and Gary
On a Saturday afternoon in autumn
we climb The Rock and discuss past lives,
details of shearing, the current price per lamb,
the ten-year drought, virtues of various properties,
the lives of shearers and fruitpickers,
orchards in the Goulburn Valley,
roo-shooting in western New South Wales.
We climb higher through ironbark and cypress
past a Girl Scout troop, fitness-first families,
young couples trying to stay sexy,
higher and higher towards our destination
keeping an eye out for Australian ravens,
bimbins, peewees and the elusive antechinus,
climbing between lichen-encrusted boulders
and sandy red rock, finally reaching the summit
to survey a spine of hills curving south,
green and brown fields, tree-lined roads,
dams, railway lines, the Olympic Highway,
blue skies smeared with vapour trails,
white clouds and distant towns –
Milbrulong, Tootool, Uranquinty,
Yerrong Creek, Mangoplah, Collingullie –
and the Murrumbidgee unfurling
westwards since time immemorial
through Wiradjuri Country.
Students arrive in rainboots,
waterproof jackets, dripping,
tuck wet hair behind ears,
brush strands from mouths,
drape jackets over chairbacks.
Raindrops beat on stained carpet
like the clock’s second hand.
Dark skies outside windows
dull the room’s mood, drain
energy from young brains
like dementors sucking souls.
Thunder vibrates windowpanes,
startles the girl in the corner,
spills Starbucks across her desk,
books, yoga pants and backpack.
Winds force boughs of live oaks
against the glass, scraping
and scratching like Cathy’s nails
while the chapel bell tolls
the hour across glistening lawns
until lightning strikes, cuts power.
Acknowledgements re previous publication: “First Kill” and “The Keating Years” appeared in Distance (Picaro Press, 2014; Ginninderra Press, 2015); “The Keating Years” was first published in Blackmail Press 34 (2013). “Ruskin’s View” and “Beach Bonding” appeared in Preparations for Departure (UWAP, 2017). Many thanks to the editors and publishers.
Nathanael O’Reilly was born in 1973 in Warrnambool and grew up in Ballarat, Brisbane and Shepparton; he moved overseas in 1995, has travelled on five continents, and lived in England, Ireland, Germany, Ukraine and the United States. He is the author of Preparations for Departure (UWAP Poetry, 2017), named one of the “2017 Books of the Year” in Australian Book Review; Distance (Picaro Press, 2014; Ginninderra Press, 2015); and the chapbooks Cult (Ginninderra Press, 2016), Suburban Exile (Picaro Press, 2011) and Symptoms of Homesickness (Picaro Press, 2010). O’Reilly received an Emerging Writers Grant from the Literature Board of the Australia Council for the Arts in 2010 and was writer-in-residence at Booranga Writers’ Centre in May 2017. His poems have appeared in journals and anthologies in twelve countries, including Adelaide Literary Magazine, Antipodes, Australian Love Poems, Backstory, Cordite Poetry Review, FourXFour, FourW, Glasgow Review of Books, Headstuff, Marathon Literary Review, Mascara Literary Review, Other Terrain, Postcolonial Text, Skylight 47, Snorkel, Tincture, Transnational Literature, Verity La and The Newcastle Poetry Prize Anthology 2017. He has given invited readings in Australia, Canada, England, Hungary, Ireland and the United States.
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