How many names for a woman? Girl, sweetie, whore
wife-before-she-knows-it, mother, crone, missus.
But I called you by your name — Leonora.
Me, the red-bellied black snake.
I know things. Not because I took that dusty old apple
from His garden and brought it to you
but because I have been here forever.
My time is eternal.
My tail is in the mouth of my ancestors swallowing
as I eat them up – I’ve always been and ever will.
I am drawn in oxides and charcoal
on the cliffs above the valley.
I watched his arrival, bride strapped to the horse
like a sack. Watched as he felled and cleared and swore
while you sobbed into your mother’s quilt
You were Leonora of the Waters.
And there being no end to your tears he left,
went droving for a month, a year. Returned
the hero but gone again like a thief in the night.
And you pregnant.
He was solicitous for your first two,
stumbling drunk at your third, and for your fourth
he was gone six-months down the Canning
with a bottle of green ginger wine.
You gave birth in the midnight storm.
Your cries were the thunder’s roar,
the cord in your teeth was the lightning
flash — Leonora the Valkyrie.
So I whispered to you from the shadows.
I unfolded this place: honey tree, water stone
long grass pond, good for frog and brown rat,
the eucalypts’ song on the ridge.
Near the shack, you planted a yellow rose
and daisies and forget-me-nots. I lay there
in the bed you’d made — behold
Moses in the bull-rushes.
I saw you bathing at the river’s bend.
And after, lying on the stones your hair
warmed by the early sun. I tasted
salt on your skin.
I was there in the dark of the house,
I couldn’t stay away. There on your bed.
Fearful your children cried, ‘Come away, ma.’
His dog mad at the chain.
All through the night I waited, watched
from the darkness, the candle done
the fire guttered in the hearth —
Leonora of the Ashes.
Now his dog has torn me but not before I killed it back.
And there you are at the door, eldest at your knees
his short destiny curled within, the old enmity.
It’s your eyes I see even as he says
‘Mother I won’t never go drovin, blarst me if I do.’
Image: by Pearson Scott Foresman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. This is an older piece adapted from Henry Lawson’s iconic short story The Drover’s Wife. And here’s country singer Tex Morton from 1941 for a little yodelling on a Sunday morning.