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

Brendan Ryan

Brendan Ryan

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.

Leave a comment

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.

NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.