Sometimes when I milk the goat
early morning, her freckled, sagging udder
familiar in my fingers, clean milk
foaming in the bowl, I do not know
how long I can keep believing
in the sanctity of marriage.
I carry milk to the daunted kitchen,
with the cupboards nailed
shut against the rates,
where honeysuckle seeps
through wallboards and in winter
the sun doesn’t shine.
Sometimes I sneak to the edge
of a ruined life and look
down at how far I will fall, until the children
cry for their breakfast;
on warm oats.
If there was someone else, but there is only
the idea of someone else, who
takes a turn at the plashing bowl
on the rickety milk stand, or bends
beside me in the rows of silverbeet
sharing the sun, and the spade.
And in the evening
when he comes home, his arms tell me
I belong here, and how sweet
the goat’s breath when she turns
her whiskered face to my own face
laid on her warm, white flank.
She gives up her milk for us,
as I could give up everything
for the small ones, who didn’t ask to be here.
If there was a stream
I would take the path beside it,
I would listen for that moment
when the water
falls from the rock, that hallowed space
before everything is over.
from The Unexpected Greenness of Trees
Jillian Sullivan lives and writes in Central Otago, New Zealand. She has published books in a variety of genres, including creative non-fiction, novels, short story collections and poetry. She teaches workshops on creativity and writing in New Zealand and America. Her awards include the Highlights Fiction Award in America, the Tom Fitzgibbon Award, the Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems, and the Takahe Poetry Prize. Her latest book is the memoir A Way Home (Potton and Burton 2016).