Born in Newcastle in 1981, Sam Byfield is the author of From the Middle Kingdom (Pudding House Press). He has been published or is forthcoming in magazines including Heat and LiNQ (Australia), The National Poetry Review, The Cream City Review, Meridian, and Diner (North America), Nimesis (UK) and in many online magazines including The Pedestal Magazine, Foam-e, and Divan. He currently works for a public health/environment NGO in southwest China.
All afternoon panning for sapphires
in eucalypt shadows, hands dry
from rocks and river water,
frost-browned grass burnt back
by the optimistic site owner –
no snakes in that grass now.
Cockatoos make a sound like pure panic
and the dog races off after rabbits
and trouble, but not too much,
while the Milky Way comes out
like it only does in the country,
a massive tangle that seems to float
above the Earth. Way off, the cough
of kangaroos, big rough males
like the one my father told me of
from his childhood, that kept coming
and no amount of .22 slugs
could stop. Another image of him,
out on the Nullarbor hitchhiking dead –
west, nothing but sand and crows
for company, ending up in Esperance
and writing her, saying
it was the most beautiful place he’d seen.
He came back and proposed, straight away.
The Infinite Possibilities of Water
From here I can see the flood; the view is sublime.
Thirty year swell and the beach fills with container ship,
the Pasha Bulker like a boulder resting in a river bed.
God of such things, remember the anemone fossil
I discovered high in the mountains, a swirl waiting eons
to be found? And quickly lost, as such things are.
From here I can smell the salt of the rearranged beach,
and I can see the gulls, watching the ship and thinking
What a strange sight for a Sunday.
God of such things, remember the salt of her breasts
three days up the valley, how she felt as insects danced
like fireworks and the whole place shuddered?
Light funnels away from the ocean, turns red
then white; then, the quiet reconnaissance of the stars.
In the morning the faintest hint of smoke.
God of such things, have you ever noticed how sometimes
a woman smells like pine, or pine smells like a woman?
The streets fill quickly with flood, yet the warmth.
Cures in a Cold Place
Ten minutes off the plane, first snow of the season. It starts as tiny darts, wind-whisked and rapidly dissolving,
then the city fades to white. It seems timed for my arrival.
I left here four months ago, walked straight into trouble. I was hollow, as if some piece of me remained in the city,
some fundamental part. Months later I landed on my feet and the terrain began to look familiar, yet things were
still off kilter, my yin and yang somehow askew.
Spent three days in Beijing, a city that has never been good to me. I had to make things right, settle some scores.
Outside a rowdy nightclub a beggar told me of his sick eight- year-old daughter. They’d come to Beijing to see a
doctor from a city eight hours south, but now had no money to pay and no ticket home. He said a man should
never be this low, begging to save his daughter. Above us, the flicker of coal-stained lights.
Then today, Changchun, the lake, frozen over a month earlier than usual, foot-deep tracks like tears across the face
of an angel. Old people spoke soft, faces lined like willow trees; the young threw snowballs and flirted in that
Chinese way. Street sweepers cracked the ice from roads, danced as if the snow made them warm. I found a piece
of myself, put it in my pocket, whistled a tune.