A school day, normally. He may have thought of that,
missed friends and reading books. Or not. (I never knew
his thoughts nor wanted to.) But still. Nine miles
cutting over frosted fields to the Newtown hiring-fair,
to shiver in a hungry street while meat-fed farmers
peered and poked. A cart rattling him north
to a season’s servitude. He was ten.
I only heard when he was dead, that this occurred.
Old to be a father, when I was young he told us nothing.
Questions were forbidden, no voice permitted
in that small crowded house but his.
We knew nothing of his older sister dead
in the TB ward of Blayney workhouse
in an epidemic year, parents lost without her wages,
glad of the few pounds a child sent home.
Our house was rich with books: piled on a broad shelf
above the kitchen door, on dresser-head and windowsill.
Evenings, done labouring stony fields, he read to us:
cowboy books and Captain Scott, Peary at the Pole,
wolves and pemmican and snowy wastes to dream about.
I never knew that we were poor.