Vintage Gift

(from Jim to Nicholas)

A friend sent this. It’s late I know.
Your birthday was ten days ago,
but time is on our side in this, I bring
the first instalment of a gift. This thing
has time inside it much like shells
have sea-sounds. Days are in there, waiting. Days
of nothing hurried. Times with people, feet
and gate rails in them, Some begin
in starlight, pause in mountain kitchens, end
in bars and lubricated information. Men
with rheumy stories – relevant again.

“Of course it’s there! The chassis near the bore –
behind the woolshed, western end. I saw
it there the year I came back from the war”.

Beer-maps on the bar and alpine evenings.
Listen now, you’ll hear a winter-leaving.
Towbars checked by torch-light; wives
in curlers, candlewick-indignant, sigh
and wish we’d take up bowls. Tussocks, white
in half-light, stalagmite the paddocks. Then,
at last, the horizontal sunshafts. Steam
from coffee, cracking granite – leprous, grey
with creeping lichen. Warming mornings. Days
when briars bent by feeding lories sway

bird-burdened by the roadside. Ice-blue sky
behind Jerangle. Tops of fogs lie
flat in valleys. Westward, cloud in woolpacks piled

and baled between the ranges. Coming home
in April evenings, sky part-darkened, cones
of poplars autumn-gaudy, rivers lined
with summer-green, late-changing willows. Times
you’ll squander on a rumour driving down
with nothing, empty-trailered. Nothing there
but colour lent by morning lories. Days
escaped to somewhere – traceless. Driving home
with left impressions that the water ran
the skylight down the Eumeralla and,
when stars were feeble, early dark began

in gullies seeping up to ridges. These
are days to save, to set aside, to leave
awhile – they’ll keep. To business now, you’ll need –

five wheels and four more hubcaps; morning tea
on running-boards, sumps. sun on brass-work, leads
that come to nothing, blood on knuckles, friends
with tension wrenches, Easter Meetings, then
you’ll need a chassis – first things first. But keep
those days in mind. Such times are rare
as good magnetos. But enough for now –
it’s early days. Each passing year will bring
some piece you need. And though you’ve still a few
to find you’ve made a start, a good one too,
for someone ten days old. My friend, I envy you.

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