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.