Title: Sport 33

Editor: Fergus Barrowman

Publication details: Fergus Barrowman, 2005

Part of: Sport

Conditions of use



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Sport 33: Spring 2005

Cliff Fell

page 166

Cliff Fell

Cowboy Time Blues

for Hannah and Amber

The song, and how the song holds on to us:
the computer's undertow, the white noise
of morning as the data starts to flow;
or the creek after rain, shifting its gravel—
these sounds that almost seem to belong.

Evening, late, the music's now a western theme—
I'll take it as my own. A dust cloud rises
on a cowboy road—a white Chrysler powers north
and yessir, yessir, you hang a right, sir, right outta
Truth or Consequences, soon's you leave the trailer park

—only to find it's Rossini in my mind,
the William Tell, of course, and all our clocks are tuned
to it, to cowboy time, so that day and night at ten to ten—
the digital bleep and tone of watches and cellphones
all going off, their plaintive chorus.

It was the girls who brought the song,
their trick—flying in from Auckland and LA,
to sing me back to cowboy time, to Oxhey Lane,
a wet grey pavement—and I am three years old again.
My hand is in my mother's as we reach

the Lubbocks' gate, and the only TV
on our street. We're there for Hi-yo Silver away,
the Lone Ranger in his mask, and Tonto on his pinto
close behind, we're there to dream of
the America to come.

page 167

So let's hear it folks, it's dreamtime once again—
all together now, it's time to sing along:

ten to ten ten to ten ten to ten (ten-ten!)
ten to ten ten to ten ten to ten (ten-ten!)
ten to ten ten to ten ten to ten (ten-ten!)
   ¡ten to ten!
         ten to ten      ten to ten

Long Acre Blues

   A summer so dry
the cattle are grazing the long acre.
Trees slump low in the midday sun

   while someone says on
the radio that someone will soon die
from taking the abortion pill.

   And this is my life.
I'm driving in a long black car
over the Rosedale saddle.

   I'm following a trail
of dust—my child and my wife
way up there on the hill.

page 168

Woolshed Blues

Tally-marks on

the woolshed door—

the stuff that can't be said,

he said—

the things we can't undo:

when the shearer sliced
the hamstring
of my wife's angora goat

he said—

I blazed my knife
across its throat

and swore
it wasn't true

page 169

Going Bush Blues

All that spring it hung in my head like a dream,
the shape of the phrase on his delicate lips.

One of the housetruck kids, a young man with
a wisp of young man's beard,
who came to the farm
one half-grey morning, wanting to borrow a horse.

He was going bush, he said, up into Kahurangi,
over Spooners and Buller. He was on a mission—
to sow the hills and valleys thick with marijuana.
He needed the horse to carry the seed,
and stay ahead of the law.

No, we had to say, the great god No—
the only spare horse was a mare in foal.

Someone saw him a few days later, walking upriver,
a lopsided rucksack on his back.


That was the week the towers fell.

My thoughts turned to New York, to the city in dust—
as all thoughts did—
as the crucifix of the second plane,
made its endless fights across our TV screen;

and I thought of that housetruck kid
out there in the bush,
and the tarot he'd produced, offering the future to us;

page 170

and how one card, the Tower,
those broken falling people in flames,
had slipped from his long, thin fingers,
onto our kitchen floor.


And I thought of my father's first cousin,
Matt Wilson, brother of Pat and Dooley—
how he'd gone bush in '62,
and wasn't found for ten more years, his white bones
in a creek-bed, somewhere in Taupo.

And how Dooley had told me this
in Tauranga, as he opened a door,
thirty-five years on.

The door gave onto a wardrobe
filled with nautilus shells, the loot of
a lifetime's diving—the glow of their undulating light
seemed to halo his pale head.


But I mostly thought of this:
of a clip I saw, flashed on the six o'clock news,
and never saw again—

old footage of Osama on a horse.

He's taken to the hills, the news anchor said,
and the White House sending a posse out there,
to ride him down,
the army on horseback again, he said,
with the slightest flick of a grin—

as though it were his to be telling us

when the end of the world would begin.