(for Alma McMahon,
who remembers Choc)
He certainly detested George Schell’s dog.
The words ‘where’s Schell’ would catapult him round
the tankstand. Hedgehog-hackled, thyroid-eyed
he’d rumble there, ears sifting wind for sounds
of George’s Chev-four truck that clattered by
on wheezing, steamed excursions into town.
Gates shuddered as he raced towards the road
and as he rasped beneath the bottom rails
he left a fringe of chocolate-coloured hair
along the splintered wood. His bellow trailed
his progress like a shadow pausing where
he scraped against the ring-lock-netting nails.
And so the Chev-led tumult trundled on.
While Schell pawed roaring circles round the tray
Choc barked his hakas from the dust that flowed
around their bawling progress storeward. Waves
of foamed invective faded as George towed
his raucous dustcloud slowly through the haze.
He’d lumber homeward from his mobile war
parched barkless and his back the balder from
one more encounter with the netting-gates.
Back underneath the tankstand he’d lie prone,
eyes beaded roadward, swivel-eared, and wait
for sounds of George’s rattling journey home.
When I returned last year I ran my hand
along a weathered slab of yellow box
that forms a bottom rail. The hair had gone.
But then so had the house and George and Choc –
these forty years and more. One gate alone
remains and rattles in its rusted lock.
But now it’s just the wind.