First light streaks pastel pink.
Mist floats on the river.
Cattle stand quietly
under bamboo clumps.
A willy wagtail flicks and fidgets
on a strand of barbed-wire.
Millet grows in neat rows,
tall and straight, ready for harvest.
Five men gather around their utes,
cane cutters in the off-season.
Laughter. Hard men,
status wrought from endurance.
In the early light we move
backwards through the rows,
then the glint of sharp knives,
chug of tractor, the trailer filling,
sweat, heat, smoko, hot black tea,
colour in the western sky,
and the tired, slow walk at day’s end.
Those men are long gone.
Time took their bodies
and machines their work,
but I see the fields in harvest,
the quiet men gathered
at the long day’s end,
Bull Williams, needing to be fastest,
Carusi with his broken English
dreaming of his own farm
and gentle, generous Mike,
who’d fought at Milne Bay,
now backlit by the fading light
as he moves through the rows
with long, easy strides
towards his waiting ute.
First published at Silver Birch Press.