We Were Mates
WE WERE MATES won the Tim Borthwick memorial prize in the 2019 Bronze swagman awards and is published in the 48th Edition of the Bronze Swagman Book of Verse 2019.
The poem imagines the story of an old man looking back over the hardships of a long life and the many twists of fate that accompanied it…
WE WERE MATES
I am old and frail and far from home
but my mind is often apt to roam
and I find my thoughts are always drawn
to a country farm one misty morn.
I was just a lad on morning chores
when I found the tracks of dingo paws.
They had hunted long into the night
where the shadows kept them out of sight.
And I searched that ground where nothing grew
and I breathed the swirling dust that blew
while the beaten tears rose in my eyes
and the light grew strong in eastern skies.
It was then I saw the chestnut foal
and a scene that touched my jaded soul
for his shoulder bore the bloodied mark
where the dogs had caught him in the dark.
He was left alone, I knew not why,
for I had not found a mare nearby
and I thought it better, shoot him dead,
for we’d not the means to keep him fed.
So I got the gun and lined my eye
as he stood against the rosy sky
but my finger froze, my vision blurred,
as the kindness in my heart was stirred.
And I put away the readied gun
as the foal, he stood and did not run.
He was young and proud, a Waler born,
and I took him home that misty morn.
Though my father stared, he tipped his head
and he nodded once with nothing said.
So the horse he stayed behind our gates
for I’d saved his life and we were mates.
And he grew up strong but bore that scar
with its colour dark like blackened tar
and it stood out bold against the red
and was shaped a sharpened arrowhead.
But the drought grew worse with little rain
and we worked all year for ruined grain
when the bankers came and lots were drawn
and they took the farm one misty morn.
And the chestnut horse went with it too
but just where that was, I never knew.
So I turned my back and walked away
as the rosy dawn spilled into day.
And I worked for food and board and keep
and I shot my share of withered sheep
‘til I heard of pay for coming wars
and I signed up quick for foreign shores.
And the light-horse corps had called for me
as I sailed across the brimming sea
and I rode the sands on army mounts
and I saw the piling body counts.
And the hail of constant bullets streamed
‘til I found myself alone it seemed.
And I thought my time had come that day
as I waited for the bugle play.
But a chestnut horse appeared instead
and he bore the sharpened arrowhead
though at first I thought this could not be,
just the visions seen that dead men see.
But I felt the scar upon his skin
and I cursed the war we both were in
and I vowed to take my mate with me
when I sailed across the brimming sea.
But they dragged me bleeding from his back
and they shipped me off that desert track
and I can’t accept the reasons why
that our fates should meet to say goodbye.
And I’ve known the pain of guilt since then
and I’ve shunned the words of empty men
for I could not bring him back with me
though I knew of what his fate would be.
And as hard a heart I thought I had,
it’s the thought of him that makes me sad,
for my life has passed, near run its course,
and I could not save that chestnut horse.
For a man grows frail, his body old
and his heart gets soft if truth be told,
and I say the prayers that old men say
that I’m worthy should I die today.
And I hope when life completes its course
that I leave astride that chestnut horse
and together ride the rosy dawn
on a country farm one misty morn.