Born in Dunedin in 1942, Dunstan Ward has lived in Paris since 1973, retiring in 2007 as Professor of English at the University of London Institute. He co-edited Robert Graves’s Complete Poems (1995–99). His collection Beyond Puketapu appeared in 2015.
Julou – ‘little Jules’ – mimes an ironic
‘Salut’ from his cattle truck, clattering
over the bridge where I’m leaning to watch
the green-black waters of the river Goul
deepen toward the old mill dam below Pons.
‘So what were you making off with?’ I ask
next early morning walk when his car pulls in
on the steep slope from his village, Las Lignes,
for our ritual chat. ‘The little bull calf.
Didn’t you hear the cow? Elle a gueulé
toute la nuit. Listen to her – she’s still at it.’
‘There’s a mother for you.’ Stocky Julou nods:
‘Just like our own mothers, only more so.’
This lifelong Aveyron cattle dealer
never misses the Laissac weekly market,
yet won’t hunt deer, wild boar; with few now
can speak Occitan, sa lenga mairala.
At the top of the wooded hill I sight her,
lurching about in a pen above the road,
beyond Julou’s vegetable patch. She eyes me,
thrusting her black muzzle between the railings:
coat wheaten, lyre-horned, she’s an Aubrac;
her swollen udder sways as she swings round.
Every few seconds she heaves another
deep hoarse cry up from her straining guts
and out of her gaping throat. If a sound
in the nearby farmyard reaches her she stops,
lifts her head, attentive, but then goes back
to that distraught calling, bellow after bellow.
When she heard, from twelve thousand miles away,
cancer had killed at sixty her firstborn son,
my mother stayed quiet. Later that day
I looked for her and found her sitting alone
in the living room, the book on her lap closed.
That moment you sense
a poem is a poem
can suddenly come
at the end of the last line,
or right at the first,
or even with the title,
or when, as you keep reading,
a turn in the words
checks you, an image
makes you wonder or smile;
the rest is poetry, page
after similar page.
Like falling in love
and loving, as one might say.