His dreams are fierce and frequent,
alone, cold, keeping his dignity
in his swag,
Having left his lover, Lily, new wife,
she inhabits his memories of embrace.
Seeking a future in Depression's winter,
he roves the country, staying alive,
riding the rattlers day after day,
keeping his poverty under wraps.
Leaving his scruples in the trains,
he begs ashamedly at farm doors.
and some milk, cooked inexpertly on fires,
rough damper, billy boiled on coals.
Seasoned swagmen sit, shadows, staring,
sharing fire and anecdotes
of rail and road,
lean-pickings tales, odd jobs,
and sometimes saintly generosity.
In swag, sleep eluded, he weeps,
longs silently, in camp-fire light, for Lily.
She comes, sweet-faced,
singing melodies of love and better times
but leaves him with his melancholy.
Awake at frost-blanket dawn, away
to jump another rattler, bed of coal,
to possibilities and pastures greener,
with holey shoes, holy hopes.
Hunger gnaws at his resolution,
invades his half-sleep thoughts,
fills his nostrils
with imagined aromas of foods remembered
and scents of home, and hearth.
His day rattles on, rumbling along,
lying low through the towns,
in the black-coal world of the train,
with meagre shelter from the rain.
At dusk, he jumps off awkwardly, riskily,
coal-faced before the last town,
an empty, dusty man in the unlit darkness,
seeking succour, seeking satiety.
Hill-top, flickering farmhouse, dimly lit,
a run-of-the-mill, weathered, country shape,
Rumbling stomach wills him again, swallowing pride,
to beg for food, knock on the door.
Comes a mangy dog, a snotty-nosed kid,
then a kindly man, a welcoming voice,
inviting him in
to a family table, clothed and garnished,
to a kitchen wood stove, bubbling.
Ungainly and spare, grimy and grey
he begs to eat outside, swagman style.
His hosts insist
he sit at table, family-like, their guest,
and share their simple fare.
A gracious 'thank you' prayer begins the feast,
rabbit stew and dumplings, china plate.
He slowly eats,
mellow vegetables, gravy brown,
savouring every banquet bite's delight.
He talks, misty-eyed, of his heart left behind,
with Lily, at her parents' home
while he travels
seeking work, to make a life for them,
for days ahead, for love.
A bread and butter pudding, sweet,
tastes of home and heart. Replete,
he stands to thank
his humble, generous hosts, so grateful
for this hard-times country banquet.
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