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Sport 42: 2014

Virginia Were — Watching a Horse Eat Weeds

page 180

Virginia Were

Watching a Horse Eat Weeds

Down by the dam, where a duck shepherds her single
surviving duckling, you’re watching a horse eat weeds.
A faint peppery smell hangs in the air as she munches
and tears, cleverly using her front foot to anchor
the plant. Her head is low, eyes dreamy, tail swinging
lazily from side to side like a limp banner in
the midday heat.

First to disappear into her whiskery mouth is the pale
yellow root—about the same size as a small carrot.
Then she works her way along the narrow stem,
inching toward the filmy spray of white flowers.
The crunch and snap of cellulose being destroyed
joins the sleepy chorus of frogs whose emerald bodies
pop up above the clotted skin of the dam.

You’re watching a horse eat weeds when you could be
reading William Dalrymple’s book Nine Lives
In Search of the Sacred in Modern India, or visiting
your frail parents in their new white shoebox
at the retirement village.

You go there often, bringing news of the outside world
—the death of Nelson Mandela, your brother’s visit
from Tasmania, a Mughal recipe with pomegranate seeds,
a photograph of your Indian boyfriend.
There they are—your beloved parents—perched on the
postage stamp balcony with the potted blue hydrangeas
—one small pleasure in a garden-less life.

page 181 Meanwhile their suburban garden has gone to seed.
When you called in to the old house your heart stood still
as you caught sight of the waist-high spinach.
Over-ripe lemons lay on the ground and a bird
stabbed the flesh of an espaliered peach.

Watching a horse eat weeds is to experience ecstasy
—not unlike the states of religious rapture in Nine Lives.
It’s a distraction from the mammoth task of clearing out
the family home—the rising tide of possessions amassed
during 40 years of family life.

Perhaps being confined in a small apartment is not
so bad after all? You can watch the white nylon curtains
ripple and curl, the westerly sun turn the walls pink,
the lights in the Albany Basin flick on like stars.
Best of all is the sight of the portly chef in the hospital
kitchen across the way, his hair neatly stashed
in a white hairnet.