States of Poetry Series Two - Victoria | 'A Father's Silences' by Brendan Ryan

Were you with a girl at the footy?
my father asks while weighing down
on a milker. His large, freckled hand
like a stone on the claw of the machines
draining a back quarter of an old Jersey
reluctant to give. I lean against a post
darkened and polished by our shoulders.
No, I was just going for a walk. He looks
at me, adds, I saw you behind the trees.
My mouth begins to dry and my heart
picks up its beat. No, I was just going
for a walk, I repeat. He shakes his head,
turns back to the cow’s flank. I escape
into the holding yard, round up a flighty
heifer for the bail. When our eyes meet
I’m the first to look away.

One afternoon he drove me to Terang
to catch the Melbourne train. Early
and waiting, I was struggling to find
things to say. I looked to the red brick station,
the car park, the dashboard, the radio controls,
the heater, the automatic gear shift lever,
found myself muttering about the weather
while my father looked ahead and sighed.
A familiar, rising dread was catching in my breath.
I’ve got to go, I blurted, unbuckled my belt.
There was five minutes to spare. My father,
looking away, said, no, stay. We faltered
with our talk until a whistle could be heard.
I watched him drive away, slow
as any country father who has dutifully
waited for the train, waited for words
to come between the silences I am learning
to cultivate driving my daughters around
with their friends, accepting my role,
keeping quiet to avoid eye rolls, cutting looks.
Listening to their pauses and laughter
I think of my father – his silences
were paddocks that hadn’t been ploughed before
paddocks I’ve learnt to relax in.

Brendan Ryan

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