Fenton’s Farm

Walnuts and almonds, more shoots than trees

Skinny winter dormants, netted balls of roots

Babes from a nursery to take life’s suck

On the front field’s lean breast.

Fine rain on backache, I dig comfy holes

Claggy boots tamp, cold hands tremble ties

To the boles of bamboo stakes

Award the halo good mulch makes.

Put muddy palm to palm

Bow: To each a tall fruitful life.

An old man not caught in the act of planting.

The ceremony taproots back to Fenton’s farm

Wide Western District plains, Turnered skies

When they fell to him he was muscled, lithe

But the land extenuated, sclerotic

Ringbarked, drained and weary

Fertility gone on the leery Western winds

Unremitting tractor, plough, harrow and hoof

Bequeathed a moribund being

Its yellowed birth certificate a settler’s map.

Beneath cap Fenton had the bornagain eye

Locals reckoned him off his block

Against the grain and stock, he drawled trees

Over decades he planted, by the long thousands

Hand and machine, gully, gulch and flats

Repaid with interest acreage to wetlands

Convincing birds to return their imprimatur

She-oaks became heroines of his breaks

Filtering, slowing. More solid bars

Well, a wind enjoys the polevault

Over a working life, much of it uphill

The farm warped back to beautiful

Seasons yielded better wool, meat, wheat

Silently contradicting the bald set.

It’s nearing thirty years since we met.

Fenton’s way was already jumping his fences

A few in the District sitting up, listening

(His bird-record back then in the hundreds)

The article won a handshake, nice cheque

Awarded by a green branch of government

My editor smiled, though he preferred news

The cash? Who knows, school clothes?

Saxophone to be played only in the garage?

Didn’t the youngest get Donkey Kong?

I do recall going along to buy my own treat

Carbonfibre shaft, red leather grip

To better beat little black ball against white wall

Pores bleeding hot drops of competition.

Out of this rain, postplantial on the porch

Coffeecup thawing nobbed knuckles

I wink paternally to my new descendants

He of the perfectly divided brain, Juglans Regia

She who gives shape to eyes, Prunus Dulcis

Whose 21st birthdays I must decline

Wonder how many of their noble kind

One might have got instead of that racquet?

What sky they would be reaching today!

Thick-trunked, finch-full, magpied mornings …

Ah, but back then I was a newspaper tiger

Mover, shaker. Squasher, if you please

Unlike young John Fenton, shortsighted

Couldn’t see forests, only trees.

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