‘Elegy’ by Narena Olliver
Out of the morning light she appeared, suddenly there
On the side of the road, white and clean shorn, she looked
Me straight in the eye, and for a chill moment, unhinged me,
She scared the living daylights out of me, as I drove by.
Just an old ewe, chewing her cud, yellow eyes bold and glassy, defiant,
Head held high, strutting her stuff, there on the side of the road.
“Cheeky bitch”, I could hear some farmer, this farmer, say
Before setting the dogs on her, and for nothing more, for no good reason
Other than for escaping from a paddock bare of grass.
“It had been a hard winter!” but it was always a hard winter
For an old ewe wanting to make milk to feed her lambs,
Twins I knew, tucked carefully away somewhere
Behind a bush out of a bitter cold spring wind
In that paddock bare of grass, of dead and dying lambs and ewes.
“Farming here in this green New Zealand land is just a matter of controlled starvation.”
What can one say about an old ewe, fit for dog tucker.
That she had seen it all, worried by dogs, struck by fly,
nicked in the eye by shearers for kicking back, buggered
and brutalised by farmers, those bush philosophers “Ah well,
she could have lost a tit or been fed alive to the pigs!”
What can one say about this old ewe, defiant still.
That she would escape the butchers, the culling knife
rear her lambs once again, and then leave the flock,
go bush, get through the fence and head for that ridge
that leads deep into that wild and lovely place, Te Urewera,
and there lie down under some noble tree, totara or rimu
and gaze into that far distant place, and quietly leave it all.
© Narena Olliver
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