Half a daylight moon
hung over New England
as I drove from Armidale to Jeogla—
just as I did forty years ago
for the first time
to take up an appointment
in a one-teacher school.
Names appeared on signposts
with a familiarity that surprised me—
Commissioners Waters, Gara River,
until I reached the Kempsey turnoff
and Jeogla lay 9 km ahead.
The main building and water tank
of the school were gone.
The shelter shed had been converted
to a cabin and a caravan
was parked next to it.
Incinerator still there; also one toilet block.
The same footpath ran
from the squeaky yellow gate
now replaced by steel fencing posts.
The windbreak of pines cut down,
its burnt-out stumps standing.
Someone had planted saplings
and vines, built trellises and put up tool sheds.
The school yard had a new life.
Further back, towards Oaky River—
where was the house
that I once lived in ?
Where I boarded—slept, ate, wrote poetry
and listened to Willy-wagtails
singing in the pine tree outside my window
in the moonlight ?
An overgrown allotment greeted me—
its rusty fence and wire gate still standing.
A disused water tank lay
under the pine tree.
For a moment I saw my old car
parked beside a weatherboard wall
while water gurgled
into the tank from a downpour.
Only an outhouse
stood at the back of the yard
alongside a row of hawthorns—
before the empty chook-run
where bantams roosted in the trees at night.
On a slope, towards the dam,
a brown kelpie used to run at the end of a long chain.
No timber blocks or logs remained
from what had been a wood heap.
Once I found an axe on top of it
rusting in the rain.
Walking away through grass and dust—
stepping over blackberry canes,
taking photographs of the property
and surrounding paddocks,
I found a row of purple flowers
growing against the wire as if trying to escape.
Rosellas flying across the landscape
broke the silence but gave no joy or solace.
Next day in Armidale,
returning the hire car and talking
to the man behind the counter about the missing house,
he replied, “I knew that family—
me and my dad used to stay with them.
Well, blow me down—how about that !”
I asked what happened to the house.
He said, “the new owner bulldozed it.”
“Because he wanted more space on the land.”
Walking back to the motor inn
across Central Park,
stunned by the coincidence
of what I’d just heard—
I barely understood my luck
in that brief conversation
or what the loss of the house meant.
I remembered the previous
afternoon, driving away, the half-moon
still hanging in the darkening sky like a broken host—
and thinking how, of all the cities in the ancient world,
Juno loved Carthage the most.
Birdsongs over the roar of surf
too numerous to count—
before the sun’s rim breaks
the horizon and the moment lengthens
into a golden hour:
lorikeets, galahs, whipbirds,
each contending for nectar and seeds
to satisfy a lifetime’s hunger
on a cliff top overlooking Hyams Beach.
Try to hear them separately
and what each song
is about—raucous, sweet,
shrill, a series of echoes following
the sound of a lash.
Easier to isolate the grains
of wet sand between your toes
than understand their songs—
here, on this cliff top, where you
keep returning to find peace.