It’s too late to go back to the country, and
to live in the country again,
where once I watched the sun glide up over the green hills. And I
noticed the way the golden light illuminated the cattle
as they thudded along the dirt track that wound to wait the afternoon’s walk to the dairy.
There, in the country, where the crisp air was so clean that the sea sparkled in the distance on a bright day,
and aurora shimmered on the southern horizon on a summer’s night,
it was in the solitude and the subtlety of nature that the fine details sprang into life –
grasshoppers bounding over the corrugated roads and the twisted plum tree standing solitary guard over a long-forgotten paddock.
It’s too late to say something, to somehow grab my own shoulders ten years ago and say,
‘You don’t have to move, you don’t have to leave the hill country you love.’ And still I’m left
wondering where those voices were at the time, the silence of the past still ringing in my ears, with
no one to tell me I had more freedom to choose than I could have imagined,
no one to tell me that God would not be angered if I chose to stay
in the only place that was alive enough to make me think He might be real.
Oh, but think of the souls you could save, the temptation for notoriety and purpose that only the
concrete prison of the city would provide,
as if there were not purpose enough in watching the steady rhythms of the seasons,
the daffodils in spring and the knee high mud in winter,
as if I would have the strength to go on when I could no longer see the sea from the top of the mountain.
For this piece I used the NaPoWriMo prompt based on the avant garde poet Bernadette Mayer’s poem, “I guess it’s too late to live on the farm.” I took that theme and ran with it – in my case I am rural born-and-raised but in my mid-20s was convinced (coerced?) to leave behind the country for the lure and promise of the suburbs, told that I would be a good mother / Christian / wife if I laid aside my own plans and dreams and education and moved to the only church certain influential voices in my life considered to be worth attending (we were expected to make the 150km journey on a frequent basis to attend services there). There’s a certain snobbishness that seems to seep through in big churches, this idea that small town churches are lesser entities. My hometown as a whole has a population less than half the size of the megachurch my husband was raised in. While there are things I appreciate about suburbia (particularly the multi-ethnic diversity that one simply does not find in backwaters Australia), in some ways moving here has felt like a death of the true self. It’s very difficult to explain that to people who don’t sympathise with it, and perhaps there is no rationale to it, but it is my experience and I won’t allow others to reframe my stories for me anymore.
When I look back on that part of my life I do wish that someone had offered me an alternative – that someone had reminded me that I was never one for crowds or for cities or the middle class. My joy was in the silence and solitude of nature, which is not really silence when you learn to listen to the wild itself, and nor is it really solitude when you learn to see animals as fellow beings. Is it too late to go back? I hope not. My heart is in the country and one day I’d like to get it back.
Note: in previous years I’ve found that well-meaning individuals have worried that my poems and short stories are somehow all thinly veiled biography. While this specific piece is most definitely autobiographical, often I do not write from my own view. One of the things I enjoy in creative writing is exploring other peoples’ perspectives and can do so through characters. For example, a short story I wrote in high school literature from the perspective of an Indigenous teenage boy was most definitely not based on my life, though the setting was similar to my hometown; nor was the short story I wrote for my redbubble portfolio from the perspective of a cannibalistic extra terrestrial pondering the human capacity for violence in any way autobiographical. I mention it because as a non-published (and therefore not legitimised) writer, it can be difficult to point out to worried friends and family that I am capable of imagining very different scenarios to my own life.