By a convoluted process of link-surfing, I recently ran into a Les Murray poem – The Mare Out on the Road – that I first came across a couple of years ago in The Biplane Houses (Black Ink, 2006). It’s an interesting poem for a lot of reasons. Structure for one – sort of “pantoum meets fugue, and goes for a wander through the meadows”. Intriguing!
I grew up in the bush, and spent a lot of time in western NSW. One thing that you learn very quickly is that you don’t drive at dusk or dawn if you can help it – that’s when the kangaroos are most active. A male western red roo can stand anywhere up to 2 metres tall. Hit one, and you can write off your car. At the very least you’re going to make your local panel-beater a happy man. So most non-townies are good at trying to avoid collisions, and tend to have a half-expectation that the tree stump just round the corner might not be a tree stump after all.
My grandparents lived on a farm a couple of valleys over from Les Murray’s home at Bunyah. One afternoon, driving back home from a trip into Wauchope, grandpa came around a near-blind corner to see a bullock standing square in the middle of the road. There was no time, and no space, to do anything. He reckoned they owed their lives to the fact that the young mechanic who’d serviced the car a few weeks before, dabbled in motor racing, and had tweaked the brakes so that they held but didn’t lock up (way before the days of ABS). Grandpa was able to almost halve their speed before the impact. Grandma and grandpa survived the crash. The bullock and the car didn’t.
I was competing in an Endurance ride at Wauchope about five or six weeks after they had the crash. Directly across from the starting line was a wrecker’s yard. They were closing the gates for the day, and I glanced across. To see what was left of grandpa’s car …
Methinks a poem is stirring. Similar structure to the Murray poem perhaps – I did a bit of work with the fugue as a form when I was writing my MPhil thesis. It didn’t make the final version, but I enjoyed examining the possibilities. Making it sufficiently different will be the hard part. Hmm.