Doodles in the margin from an artist living and working in the Scottish Borders.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Edge of the Forest.

"From 6 April people in England, Wales and Scotland will be able to work beyond the age of 65, without their employers having the right to force them out of their job." BBC News, 6 April, 2011.


The edge of the forest, hard smoke beyond the paddocks
frays back and is there. Cutters go out through it,
come in again on the ringbarked slopes, down the fence lines.

- You have to send the flooded gum quick. It don't stay flooded -
ironbark's a bugger to bark if it comes dry weather -
the man sitting next to me knows inside the forest.

He has his praise out there. Two taps on a trunk
and he can tell you its life. Steering the chainsaw
he can drop a tree on a cigarette paper. His billets

bumped, loading, ring like gongs; they win prizes.
Tallowwood's lovely: it has a deep like fat.
He has raised trucks out of swamp with his quick chain-cunning.

He loves praise, hoards it. The tic's become hereditary.
His arts are the waltz, cards, company, ripostes:
Easy see you're not two-faced. You wouldn't wear that one.

But at sixty-five, they take your life away.
If work has been shelter, they let in the winter
if work has been drudgery, night mocks the late-freed man
if work has been proof they take the glass away.

At four years old, he was milking easy cows
and was put to the plough at fourteen, the day after school.
Hauling timber with the teams, trusted in cattle dealing

he worked, then and always - long in lieu of pay -
for a sign of love from his irritable father,
the planter of flasks. His nightmare, strawed with praise.

The years hurry by. He was facing the bad birthday.
Neighbours talked heart. They tell you when to die
in a community. Thus when the Company, in person,

told him Stay on: you're our best man, some custom
and cliche were bent. It was a commutation.
Life. Life given back. Almost a father speaking.

He will come and go for years through the edge of the forest.

(Copyright Les Murray, from Lunch and Counter-Lunch, 1974.)

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