Poem of the Week - 'Outsider Pastoral' by Brendan Ryan

Australian Book Review

Our fourth 'Poem of the Week' is ‘Outsider Pastoral’ by Brendan Ryan. ABR's Poetry Editor, Lisa Gorton, introduces Brendan  who then discusses and reads his poem.


 

 

Outsider Pastoral

Three regulars laugh at their own jokes
sip beers without getting their lips wet.
Hunched shoulders, flannelettes,
two could be mountain men –
quiet, loyal, large, who probably
begin each day with a joint,
work at the abattoir, or swivelling
the Stop/Go sign, whatever they can get.
The small woman between them
has a face stretched by experience.
She knows where the good deer are,
slags off city hunters with their high-powered rifles
wouldn't have a clue how to butcher a beast.
She drinks J.D. The two nod, agree.
On the wall, a poster lists
fifteen ways a beer is better than a woman.

Mostly, they ignore me, are used to
tourists, can keep an eye on me
while watching the trots, shelves of spirits.
Too neat, too quiet, probably votes Green.
I'm just an outsider nursing his beer
who reeks of places anywhere but here.
When I worked in London pubs, there were men
you could set your watch to by the time
they arrived, emptied two pints, turned
with their briefcase for the Tube.

Men who had no need for conversation –
the day was in their heads. All that they had
they would give a good talking to,
eyeing off their reflections in mirrors
and brass railings, smoking John Player
when smoking was still allowed.

The woman behind the bar refills my pot
leans on the taps, chats to the mountain men.
The grins are quick and ready.
The small woman's voice rises
before they disappear to the beer garden.
The unease of remaining begins.
One more pot and the glances will extend
into questions.
Where are you from? What are you doing?
Growing up in the country, I learned
there is a line running like a fuse
between here and away,
between the jokes accepted
and the contentions that hold sway.
Is it better to drink with the locals
or rest your foot on the rail bristling
with accusations?
Where is the man who stuck up the poster?
The trio returns, eyes glazed, smiling.

 

Brendan Ryan grew up on a dairy farm at Panmure in Victoria. His poetry, reviews, and essays have been published in literary journals and newspapers. He has had poems published in The Best Australian Poems series (Black Inc). His second collection of poetry, A Paddock in his Head, was shortlisted for the 2008 ACT Poetry Prize. His most recent collection of poetry, Travelling Through the Family (Hunter Publishers), was published in 2012 and was shortlisted for the 2014 Victorian Premier’s Awards. He lives in Geelong, where he teaches English at a secondary college.

Published in November 2015, no. 376

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