Six poems by William Hart-Smith
2. “Willy Willies”
4. “A Tank Man Remembers Horses”
Behold! wood into bird and bird to wood again.
A brown-winged bird from the hand of a brown man.
Elbow of wood from flexed elbow of bone
to a swift hawk has amazingly grown
that mounts the sky, sun in its wing,
up, up, over the far tree fluttering
where it turns as if seized with doubt in the air.
Looks back down to the man carved there
and, afraid of the gift of sudden blood,
beats back to his hand and melts once more to wood.
Willy willies are spirit trees
made of dust and sand
Tall trunks they have
They are always searching for somewhere to stand and grow
They spin like the shaft of a fire-stick
in a man’s hands
but the point skids
on the hardwood surface
unable to bite
to find a groove
sucking up leaves
making the sky rain sticks
They snatch a man’s hearth from between his knees
They eat up his wurley and spit out the bits
They fill his mouth with sand
and make of his eyes hot stones
When the women see
a willy willy coming
they can hear the spirit-children
crying inside them
looking for mothers in order to be born
on the horizon
there walks a tall red tree
Brown out of the brown tussock a darker brown
head rises as if thrust up cautiously on a pole.
A green bird on a feathering grass-stem
that bends under its weight, flutters
and sinks out of sight. It is the only disturbance
except for the reiterated clicking of castanets
and the fife-notes of insects.
One notices the head gone,
pulled down out of sight, like the vanished bird,
but all over the unfurled
map of the landscape minute brown
figures, dots, jump, all diminishing, yet
lines that intersect, making a maze
of crazy map-lines, meaningless angles.
The skin of the land is a deep fur
maddeningly come alive
with deliberate great fleas.
A Tank Man Remembers Horses
Quite suddenly I noticed horses
cropping the grass, standing head down,
one foot forward. They had always been there,
but quite suddenly I noticed them.
That night I went out to look
with a lantern. It was the same thing
all over again, only this time
repeated colourlessly in black and white
and cold, the whole thing repeated over again
according to the night,
horses standing up, heads down,
long necks arched out and down,
cropping the grass.
I liked the entire absorption, the quick tearing
as the head is tugged sideways,
and the crisp sound of chewing,
leisurely, rhythmic chewing,
tearing the grass.
I suppose all night long I heard the noise,
the thud of a hoof put down,
the great rippling nostril-belch of a horse,
because very early in the morning I woke,
and I remembered fumbling at drum-tight canvas
and stiff clips,
remembered a dark bulk looming closely,
almost at touching distance.
I could feel the warmth of its body
a horse, standing there
feeding in the rain
head down to the grass, head down,
still feeding in the night,
in the pouring rain.
There are about fifty of them
on the stony ground,
some standing still,
some moving about.
Nothing much of pink
breast or lighter-hued crest
shows in the twilight
among the stones.
They are standing about
like little grey-coated aldermen
talking in undertones.
The windmill by the water-tank
with his see-through face
and base of latticed iron bars
reminds me of a fisherman
standing ankle-deep in the shallows
of a lake full of minnows
featureless horizon to horizon—
who suddenly enmeshes the water
with a throwing-net of galahs.