Judith Beveridge is one of the most celebrated and loved poets in Australia, and the poem Rory proves why. Published in Cordite Poetry Review in the issue of Toil, edited by Carol Jenkins, Rory stands out for its compassion and straightforwardness. The measured narrative, in one of those twists that makes words so powerful, shudders with emotion. The vernacular makes it authentic, and conveys so much about the narrator and their family, the reader feels as if they might have read a novel-length story about their lives; quite a feat. Take a moment to enjoy it.

Rory

We’d often see Rory outside the shed trying to classify

the clouds coming in on the evening wind — clouds

he thought were the farm’s clip of fine-grained wool.

On clear blue days he’d strike match after match

and try to class the smoke. My Aunt would say,

‘There’s Rory again, tricking ghosts.’ She’d told

me years ago, anthrax had turned his arms and legs

black as land stubbed with fire — wool-sorter’s disease

they called it then. These days he’ll look up, sigh,

walk as if he’s about to carry a bale’s weight of wool

towards a skirting table, his fingers feeling air

as if he were testing the wool fat, the tightness

of the crimp, inspecting it for burr and frib.

The shearers tease him, say his mind’s turned soft

as felt. Some days when the sky is full of wispy,

teased-out cirrus, Rory will say that some new shed-hand

has forgotten to sweep away the britch wool

left from the shearing. Sometimes you can hear him

auctioning off his bales, his prices unyielding, his tone

as twangy as a ring of blowflies. Winter mornings

he’s out with his arms raised up into a dense batting of fog.

On summer days he’ll be reaching towards a haze,

even bushfire smoke, or looking into the distance

for stray clouds, ready to coax them towards him

like orphaned lambs. Once one of the shearers stuck

a mess of dags and cotted wool to Rory’s head,

then took to him with rusty shears to do some wigging.

My Uncle punched the man so hard he reeled

round the yard like a whether with the ryegrass staggers.

Sometimes — when we catch Rory looking up

at the sky at a line of cumulus coming in — we smile

and say, ‘There’s Rory wool gathering again.’

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