By the River by Steven Herrick

By Steven Herrick

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Keith and me would sit under the fig tree and eat two pies each. Our dad’s treat for Monday only, but one day the pieman heaped too much wood, still damp, into the oven. Two hundred children stood at the fence watching the van, smoke black and pungent, while the pieman swore and shouted and swore some more, 30 By the River PAGES 7/7/04 2:50 PM Page 31 until the cleaner soaked the van with the school hose, and Keith and me thought of the useless coins jangling in our pockets. Our stomachs rumbled while the pieman sat in the gutter swearing at the blackened shell of his work gone bad.

By the River PAGES 7/7/04 2:50 PM Page 24 The big river The big river rolls past our town at Hobsons Bend, takes a slow look at the houses on stilts with timber creaking, paint flaking, at the graveyard hushed in the lonely shade, at the fruit bats dropping mango pulp into the undergrowth, at the foundry, and sawmill grinding under a blazing sun, at the pub with welcoming verandahs shaded in wisteria vine, at Durra Creek surrendering to the incessant flow, at Pearce Swamp upstream on the creek among the willows and rivergums, at the storm clouds rumbling over Rookwood Hill, at the two boys casting a line on the crumbling bank, at the cow fields 24 By the River PAGES 7/7/04 2:50 PM Page 25 purple with Paterson’s curse, at the jammed tree-trunks washed down after summer thunder, at the shop with dead flies in the window display, at the mosquito mangroves and the sucking sound of mud crabs, at the children throwing mulberries that stain like lipstick.

We climbed through, towels and swimmers ready, and ran to the pit, full from summer storms. Our new swimming hole. Rumour spread: the Army dumped disused weapons and unexploded shells into the pit, and sometimes we saw dark shadows below. And once Scuzz got chased to the bank by a red-bellied black snake. The gang spent every weekend there because 48 By the River PAGES 7/7/04 2:50 PM Page 49 bombs and guns and snakes were harmless shapes beside the ghost of Linda guarding Pearce Swamp in the afternoon heat.

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