The One-Ton Truck [poem by John O’Brien, 1954]

[Editor: This poem by John O’Brien was published in The Parish of St Mel’s and Other Verses, 1954.]

The One-Ton Truck

Oh, the old life closed and the new began, and the world changed o’er and o’er,
Since we drove to Mass in the Shandhra-dhan* in the colourful days of yore.
There’s a new brick church where the old one stood, by a fine stout fence enclosed,
And the smartest cars of the neighbourhood ’neath the trees where the horses dozed.
But the old old Faith has grown not cold for the Mass bell calls them still,
And their hearts are as warm as the hearts of old, and the Church is upon the Hill.
Now the Steve Flynns come in a Buick green, with seven little Flynns on board,
And the Jacks in a buff Chev limousine, and the Neds in a touring Ford;
And the wind whistles past at a sixty bat like the swish and rustle of silk,
With the engines soft as a thieving cat lapping the morning’s milk;
While away in the dust with a heart devout and a pipe in his grim mouth stuck,
Comes Long Jim Dunne like the rest flat out with his mob in the One-Ton Truck,
With her paint all gone and her hood skew-whiff — and a “jolly beggar” to start
With the black soil caked on her wheels and diff., and as hard as his banker’s heart.
So it’s up with the birds in the Sunday rout and ranged in a handy row,
They swing her in turn till they’re all puffed out, then shove her to make her go;
It’s all heads down in a football scrum with a trust and a hope profound —
Oh, it’s like a hymn when her pistons drum and she hits on the four all round.
With a chititty-bang, her exhaust gone west and her big-ends anyhow,
With her tank wired up like a magpie’s nest — it’s up to the angels now.
But she bowls along at her twenty neat, a frolicsome carefree lass,
While her tail-shaft flogs to her pistons’ beat; still they’ll all be in time for Mass.

They will all be in time, for the old bush track is alive to the whirr of wheels,
There the Chev Flynns scorch in a thick dust-rack while the Buicks are on their heels,
And there’s bite in the burr of the touring Ford as the Ned boys give her the gas,
And Long Jim Dunne with his mob on board is clouting the holes to Mass.
Aye, he clouts ’em hard but it’s harder fare for the likes of the Deegan set:
There are eight of them mounted on Shanks’s mare, and fastin’, I’m game to bet.
On the boot they come, and they always come — may the good God change their luck
So he jams his brakes and jerks a thumb to the back of the One-Ton Truck.
Then it’s chititty-bang for the open road with a kick in her rear-end springs,
But he gives her the works and the sober load vibrates to the song she sings.
They are going to Mass and the push-rods tap the time to that grand refrain,
And the whine of the diff. and the piston slap come in on the beat again.

He is going to Mass is Long Jim Dunne and his thoughts are the thoughts of prayer.
For the grace of God’s in the morning sun and the tang of the morning air;
Yes, it sets him square with the decalogue and the cares of the world can wait —
But the Sandersons’ old blue wall-eyed dog is “all set” at the homestead gate.
He is bored with his life and his world has slowed, and the Sabbath’s a dull dull day,
So he chases the Catholics down the road and has learned what their speedos say:
It’s only a farce when the Ford Flynns fly; with the Buicks and Chevs no luck;
But there’s hope in the glint of the old wall-eye as he tackles the One-Ton Truck.
Then it’s “Into him, Dad,” and the start is fair, but her rattles would wake the dead,
She touches the high spots here and there, and the field is a length ahead.
She hammers and drums and her mudguards flap, she clatters and clouts all through,
While the steam shoots out of her rady cap, and she smells like a foundry, too.
“Gee, step on her, Dad!” Oh, the dither and din as the sports with the prayerbooks yell,
For the truck’s all out and the dog all in, still he’s holding his lead quite well.
“Hyar, Sandy, you mong,” but abuse is frail and he’s done the day’s good deed,
So he tosses it in and he swings the tail and the old bus takes the lead.
“Dad, we winded him.” But ah, the devil regards us a poor weak lot, alas!
For Long Jim Dunne for three hundred yards forgot he was going to Mass.
Still he drives right on like a moneyed man who owns to the racing itch
And he parks by a Packard Eight sedan in a line with the idle rich,
With his wheels knock-kneed and his duco sick, while the oil from his housing seeps,
And the grasshoppers wedged in his rady thick — and most of them there for keeps.
Still the angels smile as they check him in, full points on his score-sheet mapped,
And ’twill stand off-set to the world’s great sin when himself and his truck are scrapped.
For in days to be when the air-crates flock like birds in the morning sky
And circle the church for the Eight O’clock to land in the drome near by,
You will meet his like in the field again, and oh, may the saints keep ward,
For he’ll come in the world’s worst aeroplane — flat-out with his mob on board.
He will run the trail that his fathers ran, with the same old faith and pluck
Which away in the dear dead days began in the wake of the Old Mass Shandhra-dhan
And the tracks of the One-Ton Truck.

* A rickety old vehicle. This spelling of the word was preferred by the author.



Published in:
John O’Brien. The Parish of St Mel’s and Other Verses, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1954

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