At Englefield


Wind all the way from South Australia
rouses and gathers in blackwoods and old redgums,
     sighing for the parched land.
Here struggle wears patience.  Gnarled trunks
tougher than seasons attest strengths needed
     to wrest sap from the earth;

endurance and that faith espoused by the pioneer
who built this classic homestead on the hillside,
     named it for the angels,
planted fruit trees by the driveway circle,
the tennis court and lawn now languidly guarded
     by tangles of agapanthus.

A wide verandah commands views of the creek course.
From it a settler might plan to subdue nature,
     envision timber as fence posts
if not as paper.  Could any first owner have foreseen,
three generations later, such felicitous teaming
     of tractor and typewriter?

Outside the curtilage like besieging armies
ragged cockatoo hordes flock and shriek,
     hatch treetop conspiracies.
Inside, cool high-ceilinged spaces
resonate with the strains of violins
     giving back Haydn and Mozart.

Host and hostess have changed out of field clothes.
Country greets City with a grace declaratory
     of cheerful chronicles,
yet annals of lean times are scripted in the surfaces
of sheep-shorn paddocks where ground cracks harder
     than a farmer’s handshake.

We who sign the guest book have it easy.
Sundown glints on cut-glass decanters,
     and talk flows like wine,
and as we sit for dinner a harvest moon
joins us from behind the tree-line bestowing
     a tranquil benediction.

© Ian Baillieu, 2012

Image:  Australian Outback Trees, “Hauling Timber, ” painting by Hans Heysen, 1911


Once in awhile I am privileged to read a poem that speaks not just to my heart, but to my very soul and spirit. This is such a poem. I am honored to put a few humble words together to tell you how your poem has affected me. First, I want you to know I have read your words many times over. I find them comforting and somehow inspiring to me to be as courageous as the original settlers must have been. When I read your poem, I felt compelled to look up the types of foliage you described as we do not have these things growing in Texas. The pictures of the trees and the tangles of agapanthus I saw really brought your poem into focus and solidified your skilled use of imagery here.
 I very much appreciated the way you began with the beautiful colors of the plants and fantasies of settlers past which you segued into the reality of the present status of the home. Then you finish with a human scenario that could easily fit into either time period. How delightful! I can imagine the diners in formal attire or perhaps the ladies in light cotton flowing dresses and the gentlemen in crisply pressed chino slacks with sport shirts and open collars – either way entirely appropriate and possible.

On a technical note, I found your line breaks to be perfectly as I would have made them (had I written this poem). This, of course, led to an ease of reading and a comprehension beyond the casual reader’s experience. I found myself wanting to read aloud – and I did. Ultimately my imagination took over and I added a couple of things in my mind’s eye. But, don’t we all do that when we find a poem we fall in love with? I envisioned an aboriginal medicine man, made up to blend into an outcropping of rock near the creek and trees. Finally, I attached the scent of the blooms on the trees and flowers, and, voila! I was there.

I hope to see many more of these poems from you. They are familiar, comforting and homey to me; though, I’ve never lived anywhere like Australia. What excellent imagery writing skills you possess to impart such feelings to a person thousands of miles away in a completely different geographical circumstance! Well done, well done! Encore, please!

Toni Christman