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after Rosalie Gascoigne’s Feathered Fence (1978-79)

No swans, nor cows nor sheep graze; 
five fences submerge half-way across, 
in water pale and calm as the underside 
of pearly clouds. Thousands of feathers 

lay years ago, in a midden of moulting 
in the southern marshes, as if waiting 
for her to gather, clean and tether them 
to float on the nation’s gallery floor. 

White plumes from swan underwings 
feathering affection for this lake, its 
footprint close now to the highway. 
This old friend floods us with history, 

the way nearby ranges arrow its level,
to rise without river or sea, and empty 
onto grass. It’s the entrance to our past 
in the capital, our children’s cradle,

a valley by mountains and bush. Small 
birds glide about reeds and a patch of pink 
algae at the water’s edge. Inside the car, 
an old song hums a lilting cadence to

the rumble of tyres drumming the road. 
When we’re up on the ridge, we’ll look out 
for the quiet show of old grass trees before 
the border and the tempo of city buildings.

Listen to Kathryn read the poem:

Feature image by George Catlin, Buffalo Herds Crossing the Upper Missouri, 1832 Smithsonian Institute (Public Domain)