Not yet thirteen, nor five feet tall,
he plays his first C-grade match
against older men and the better boys.
Everyone bowled fast, he tells me,
I kept getting an edge for quick singles.
Sun, wind, joy, have burnished his skin.
A mini-warrior, he broke his ebay bat,
its snapped handle a review highlight.
Later, he bowled four tight overs.
He went close to a run-out,
his speculative shy missing the stumps
by a narrow gap between index fingers.
He describes the free lunch, party pies
proving the grown-up, privileged milieu
he has glimpsed, grasped, memorised.
Was it better than playing juniors? I ask
like a teacher who knows the answer.
Hell, yes! he says, graduation accomplished.
I recall my boyhood sports debut with men,
the surging pride in my uniform,
its material heavier then, like me now.
Sated, he goes to bed, perchance to dream
of opening the batting, or bowling with pace,
pulling Australia out of its current slump.
Although most are probably long dead
they seem happy, even excited.
Perhaps they will toss triumphant hats.
The wind might favour their team
even steal tossed hats, but not hope
facts that no doubt mattered when
the photographer turned their way.
Passionate voices shook the air
each time their team thrust forward
their breath, hearts, faster. Rapture.
Beyond goals, beyond team uniforms
the future is still composing in the dark
its skies too indistinct to be seen
waiting as this moment waited until
its face appears as the present
leaving after-images like exploded stars.
Post-match, they review tactics, sweating
on crowded trams, or punctual trains
past our streets, these atoms & molecules.
The Great War bled dry, their blind hope
their dream, is that the only damage ahead
is reserved for jousts with local rivals.
I wake late after dream-mad sleep
in this creaking house I know so well
outside, soaked paths, grass glittering.
I realise morning rain's soft drum roll
had granted respite from daily truth
a reminder of our long-ago sleep-ins
naïve security in the future's potential.
Rainwater had spilled through rust holes
in the sagging guttering, run into the shed
below our canoe, for years strung up
now a nest for possums under rafters.
My thoughts flicker to that camping trip
a swift current trapping us against a log
our survival, with the help of friends.
Where ibis roost I discover a fallen limb
a canoe tree, river red gum, ancient
from a different, more innocent time.
Parts of a fence, a gate, lie crushed.
Breathing the heavy scent of eucalyptus
I separate firewood from bonfire fuel
shattered wood buried deep in soft earth.
What if I had walked beneath the limb
at that fickle moment of gravity's power?
A rushing noise, then oblivion.
When I woke, it was from a dream.
You were kissing me. I was breathless.
I chop a V in green wood's pulpy flesh
an old axeman disturbed by dreams.
Drivers slow, stare, as if at an accident.
The limb fell on its forked, thinner ends
its jagged broad end high above ground
a spectral gallows in the grey light.
Insects seek refuge in my jumper's weave
aches, and pain, attend each axe blow.
Your dog remains close, watching me.
I limp through leaves on the old road
where I occasionally hear gunshots
or animal screams in the night.
Fence posts lie like felled warriors
star pickets could mark an old battlefield
where a school bus wound its way
tubers memorials where shops traded.
Neglect has its effect. I spot a fox.
Silence, except for birdsong
time's eroding agents on the loose.
I used to run here with a stopwatch.
It's what you can expect from disuse
grass encroaches, shrinks the shoulders
gravel sparse like an old man's hair.
The road narrows, collapsed in places.
Whatever happened here has receded.
Those bus students' grandchildren
could maximise this road on Google Earth
among all our mapped days branching
like membranes on these fallen leaves.
A crow appraises me with its cold eye.
Ian C. Smith lives in the Gippsland Lakes region of Victoria. His work has appeared in Axon:Creative Explorations,The Best Australian Poetry, Five Poetry Journal, Island, Red Room Company, Southerly, and Westerly. His fifth book is Contains Language.