Don’t know where, don’t know when

There hadn’t been boys

except my daddy.

The house knew only silence, hard work, and the sound of him—

the shouting Scot.

I was always, only, loudly “lassie”.

Sometimes at night he’d bellow Robbie Burns from the kitchen

and I’d whisper along into my pillow in the dark,

rolling my r’s, breathing words and foreign vowels.

Each crease on my hands a dry thin path, dusty,

cow manure mapping where I’d been,

not where I might go. Mapping only what I knew.

The scent was reassuring, the warmth and heaving of their hides—

the slow beasts,

the girls.


Mother was the quiet room,

the inside room—flour-dusted,

kneading dough, kneading the baby’s gas out.

Me out knee-deep in mud, manure. Flies like rain

or rain like ice—I was getting strong.

Times-table chants in my head as I did the milking

or Burns on the tip of my tongue as I scrubbed the slaughter floors

or the imagined hands of children as I tied the fence posts together.

I’d teach or love them and mother and beat them.


Next week the dance,

my brown dress, 1947, the war forgotten.

A young farmer rode past at the corner—a furrowed brow,

yellow hair like finger waves—

focussed his hands on the reins, his eyes on the road.

My eyes on his hands,

his shoulders. A tatty RNZAF uniform.

I cleared the cow dust from the paths on my palms,

watched the man pass,

and saw our fence posts and knew our bonny bairns.