Litanies on the Homeward Road
We left the city at dusk,
lights flickering below, we climbed
that rocking, winding, hilly road,
my eyes straining
for each small town,
single footsteps homeward.
My parents’ voices batting
softly back and forth
like the litany of saints imploring
in the church at home.
Crafers, Stirling, all ye holy hills,
Bridgewater, pray for us.
Hahndorf, all ye blessed towns,
your curving, cradling arms,
Mt Barker, all ye holy innocents,
can Callington be far away,
where ghosts of miners
sleep in slatey beds?
Pray for us ye holy workers.
We climb White’s Hill
where wandering spirits
search for homes below.
Holy river pray for us.
Almost home, almost asleep,
we speed the arrowed road
past my family’s tombs,
where angels cry their sandstone tears,
cast flowers that never fall to earth,
tender movements, aspic-held.
All ye holy forebears, pray for us.
As my father lifts me from the car,
I’m dreaming, yet awake, contained,
in these strong arms of his
and in that movement, I’m
indelibly stamped with the desire
to be held forever
in the arms of men.
Now I reach back and
claim that moment
as my own.
John Bartlett, born and raised in South Australia, lives in Victoria. He is the author of two novels and a collection of short stories. A collection of all his published essays and non-fiction was released as an e-book in 2017, and the sequel to his first novel will be published this year. He blogs regularly at Beyond the Estuary.
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