Neil Creighton
The Millet Cutters
by Neil Creighton

First light streaks pastel pink.
Mist floats on the river.
Cattle stand quietly
under bamboo clumps.
A willy wagtail flicks and fidgets
on a strand of barbed-wire.
Millet grows in neat rows,
tall and straight, ready for harvest.
Five men gather around their utes,
cane cutters in the off-season.

Laughter. Hard men,
status wrought from endurance.
In the early light we move
backwards through the rows,
then the glint of sharp knives,
chug of tractor, the trailer filling,
sweat, heat, smoko, hot black tea,
color in the western sky,
and the tired, slow walk at day’s end.

Those men are long gone.
Time took their bodies
and machines their work,
but I see the fields in harvest,
the quiet men gathered
at the long day’s end,
Bull Williams, needing to be fastest,
Carusi with his broken English
dreaming of his own farm
and gentle, generous Mike,
who’d fought at Milne Bay,
now backlit by the fading light
as he moves through the rows
with long, easy strides
towards his waiting ute.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: I stand in front of a load of newly cut millet.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My first sustained job was for a few months every year during the long university vacation. I worked with a gang of cane cutters every summer for three years, 800 kilometers north of my Sydney, Australia, home. In the summer they cut millet, which would be used for making brooms. They were terrific men, hard-working, loyal and full of fun. Those months blew the dust from a young mind spending too many hours in a library. It was hot, dirty, and hard work but I loved those long days in the sun, moving from farm to farm, working from sunrise to sundown.

Neil Creighton Bio Photo1

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Neil Creighton is an Australian poet whose work as a teacher of English and Drama brought him into close contact with thousands of young lives, most happy and triumphant but too many tragically filled with neglect. It made him intensely aware of how opportunity is so unequally proportioned and his work often reflects strong interest in social justice. His recent publications include Poetry Quarterly, Autumn Sky Daily, Praxis mag online,  Rat’s Ass Review, and Verse-Virtual, where he is a contributing editor. He blogs at windofflowers.blogspot.com.au.