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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 10, Number 1, March 2016

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Keitha Keyes
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


By Her Hand

The day after my 21st birthday, my father gave me a gift, wrapped in silver paper. Then he spoke of things that happened long ago.

this pen
never filled
with ink
now poised to write
my father’s story

It is 1942 and the family live on a farm 30 miles from the nearest neighbours. It is a hard life. In their 17 years on the farm there have been only two good years with enough rainfall and a good price for the wheat crop. The other years were scarred with drought, plagues of mice, rabbits, kangaroos, locusts and galahs. Or crops killed by frost.

Dad’s 21st birthday party has been cancelled because there is a flu epidemic. His father is in hospital with the flu and his mother seems to be getting sicker and sicker.

The day of his birthday Dad is busy in the paddocks. When he gets home his mother is not there in the kitchen, as usual, to greet him with a cup of tea. An hour later and she still isn’t back. Concerned, Dad goes to look for her.

He finds her under a tree near the shearing shed. Motionless. Evidence of the poison next to her body.

There is nobody to tell. Not today at least.

Later there will be a Coroner’s Report. And the newspaper will say that his mother “wilfully took her own life.”

shame
and red tape . . .
how can he grieve
for his mother, this child
so suddenly a man?

Alone, he finds the present on her dressing table. A blue fountain pen, with a card attached: “To My Dear Son on his 21st, My love always, Mother”

the time it takes
for the ink to dry . . .
I reach back
and offer her the hand
of a grandchild

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