The Twenty-Five Year Backyard Blitz

Backyards were big in Broken Hill
where I grew up -- half-acre blocks
of fine red dirt that flew into a choking cloud
every time the hot north wind barged in
to drop a fresh supply of flies.

This grit could claw and blast its way
through every microscopic crack,
through tight-closed doors and windows,
under eaves, even through the corrugated iron
of walls and roof, and make our house
a dustbowl overnight --
and so my Dad set out to tame the desert,
reclaim the land for living.

He was built for the fight: a barrel-chested
heavy-handed bloke of compact height
and solid stance with weighty limbs
and scars of war, fine lines
across the brow where rival bulls
had tried to split his thick young skull
in stony wastes that passed for parks.

War service helped him plan
a long campaign:
first build a path of hand-laid concrete
to lay the dust between the kitchen door
and wilder parts beneath the clothesline

then take a leaf from Bible lands and raise
a shady space to cool the house,
a canopy of hardy vines that did the job
and later made the world's worst wine
that only Dad could drink.

He spent a solid year or four
cementing his supply lines:
laid yards of drains in bone-dry soil,
poured tons of concrete bricks
by hand, piled them into fences first,
then stands that nested red-back spiders
nicely; they also raised up
water tanks, to supplement
the mineral-laden liquid gold
our grasping local council sold
in lieu of water.

Next stage: he grasped a battered spade,
planted such trees as seemed good
for fruit and cover, better far
than farming prickles --
oranges, lemons, figs and almonds,
peaches, apricots, grapefruit, pears...

His chosen species throve
in close-packed groves,
stunted perhaps, slow-growing,
but sturdy as the man himself.

And when a patch of straggly lawn,
the Grail of local gardeners,
grew amid the yard at last,
like a stubborn weed at war
with herbicides on every flank,
and covered twelve square yards
of desert dirt,

Dad smiled, and saw
that it was good.


First published in Loch Raven Review, 2006 


© David Nourse 2010


Return to Dave's poems