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2018 Traditional Verse

2nd Prize

2nd Prize

Two Families Who Never Met
Robyn Sykes

Binalong, NSW

The siren screams curses, my lungs gasp for air:
my wife has been struck by a truck.
Hail Mary, Our Father, which way is she? Where?
Oh Suzie my mind’s come unstuck.

Our son lies still, fatigued and yellow, poisoned liver battle-
scarred, but Mike still smiles each day.
His skin is paper, arms are needles, breath a wheezy rattle-
rasp. The rector comes to pray.

I smell antiseptic and taste it as fear;
my voice squeaks like shoes on the floor.
A white-lipped young doctor draws awkwardly near.
Our kids arrive, creaming the door.

The homestead’s now a clinic ward, its brick walls are a prison
cell. Our friends all rally round
with casseroles and roasted lamb and sponge cakes light and risen
high. His mates bring laughter’s sound.

“She’s not going to make it,” I hear through my trance.
My ears close, I don’t want to know.
“Her organs perhaps could give others a chance.”
He’s wrong. No, I won’t let her go.

Thank God the season stuck with us, the sheep and cattle flourished
well. A neighbour sowed the wheat.
Mike’s lucerne pastures, wind-break trees and dreams he daily nourished
stand neglected, incomplete.

My knuckles turn white. I forget to exhale.
How peaceful she looks, sound asleep.
For time is the lace in a treacherous veil:
what’s missing can make us all weep.

By day we talk of transplants, but at night, when faith is shimmer-
thin, I nag my hubby dumb.
We check the phone, recheck it, for the dial tone gives a glimmer-
hope. Mike’s bag is packed. I’m numb.

I think of our home on the cliff by the sea;
our wedding day framed on the wall;
her perfumed pink roses, the gulls she sets free;
the chatter when chums come to call.

Old Tiger’s kennel’s empty: as I watched his eyes grow older-
sad, I let him in the house.
An armchair by the bedside and a thin hand on his shoulder-
blade: I never have to rouse.

My daughter says “Dad, we all know what Mum said:
‘It’s better to give than receive’.
We’ve one final option to see her love spread.
Six people could gain a reprieve.”

“Hello. I’m from St Vincent’s. Can you come? We’ve got a donor
ready.” Time’s on ice. I freeze.
My throat’s the Simpson Desert… Mike is saved … the liver’s owner…
How? What pain resolves my pleas?

I can’t bear the emptiness yawning like tar.
I can’t bear the Suzie-sized hole.
I can’t bear the shreds of my life and the scar.
Don’t tell me the gifts soothe my soul.

Old Tiger woofs and wags his tail, the wind-break’s gold with wattle-
dust. Mike’s baling lucerne hay.
His face is pink, his shoulders strong, his future planned full throttle-
blast. Each day, in thanks, I pray.

O Suzie, I’ll never forget how we lay
entwined like wisteria vines;
the smell of your hair, how we’d laugh and we’d play.
You shine now in six breathing shrines.

Judge's Comment

This is another poem that deals with death, but death balanced by the corresponding gift of life. Again the layout is unusual, with alternate stanzas following a different story, each with its own particular structure, but always with the poet’s steady hand in control. And at the end the two stories come together in a thought-provoking yet satisfying conclusion.

Author's Comment

I’m delighted to be placed second in such a prestigious competition. Thank you to the people of Sutherland for your support of literary endeavours. The Sutherland Shire Literary Competition burst onto the literary calendar this year, offering a terrific opportunity for poets to test their skills. All credit to the organisers for their vision.

This competition would not have been possible without the generous support of our sponsors