[Editor: This poem by John O’Brien was published in The Parish of St Mel’s and Other Verses, 1954.]
When the “Sut” Drops Down
A smile lights up Old Bridgie’s face and corrugates her features small
When in the kitchen fireplace the soot-lumps from the chimney fall.
“’Tis near the rain we are, me men: ‘twill be in time the crops to crown.
How does I know? — I’ll tell ye then — I always feels it comin’ when
The two old toes bes achin’ and the sut drops down.”
Old Bridgie knows the district well — she’s lived here nigh on fifty years
With all the joys it has to tell, and all the doubts and all the fears.
She’s “seed ’em” turn the waiting field as autumn’s mellow days came round,
She’s “knowed ’em” reckon up the yield before a blade came through the ground;
And she has “heard ’em singin’ out” as frost-clad rainless Junes went by
And o’er the land an old man drought with mocking mien was hovering nigh.
At times like these in friendship met old-timers scan the paddocks brown
In search of omens dry or wet, nor fail to see the forecast set
When two old toes bes achin’ and the sut drops down.
How strange it is that “knowin’ folk such quare contrairy” views will take:
For Old Man Hines “he smell the smoke” just when the “druth” is going to break,
And Quaide his old “come-all-ye” sings whene’er the salt gets “sort of damp”,
And Simpson likes “the look of things” when big brown moths come round the lamp.
Then Peter Dunne, “he study ants” and when he “see ’em go uphill”
He knows there’s nothing left to chance, but clouds must come and work their will.
But Paddy Keefe there in his but — he don’t agree but sees it plain
That when his back door won’t keep shut, the “follerin’ ” day we’ll get the rain.
And Danny Hayes, who’s wise with years — and even looks more wise than that —
He tips it’s coming when he hears “them squarkin’ birds” come down the flat.
Then Shanes, who’s lived here all his life, “nor never felt no urge to roam” —
“It always comes,” he tells the wife, “the day me brother Ted comes home.”
Yet there be “them that do maintain that them there signs are off the track”
And “reckon we ain’t fur from rain whene’er the moon gets on its back”,
While some rare souls by science led construe the pages of the stars,
On barometric values fed, and highs and lows and isobars.
But Bridgie says that’s “all moryah”*, mere “ramaysh”† of the dupe and clown;
For working through the calendar, the only facts that matter are
That two old toes bes achin’ and the sut drops down.
’Tis true for Bridgie. As for me, whose views of meagre knowledge born
Are met with native flippancy or earn old-timers’ silent scorn:
I speak my belief whate’er betide, in spite of friends, in spite of foes,
’Neath Bridgie’s flag at Bridgie’s side I stand behind them two old toes.
For smoke is but a fickle thing — the sport of every wandering breeze,
The stock in trade of bards who sing of life’s poor inconsistencies.
And moons in many a tipsy turn have been involved — well, so ’tis said;
While moths have still a lot to learn, and even ants can be misled.
A fig for Paddy Keefe’s back door that won’t stay fastened à la mode —
I venture many a spook before has wandered through his drab abode.
And Brother Ted was never slow to break an inconvenient drought;
And “squarkin’ birds”, for all we know, may have a lot to squark about.
Then highs and lows that play their part in weather forecasts day by day
Get sometimes boxed upon the chart, or wander south and lose their way.
Conceit, illusion, guess, surmise: mere tipsters in the prophet’s gown;
Give me the sturdy faith that lies in wrinkled cheeks and honest eyes
When two old toes bes achin’ and the sut drops down.
A change is set nor’-west tonight, a hollow dirge warm breezes croon;
The timid stars have paled their light, and there’s a circle round the moon.
Brown moths in plenty fire away around my lamp for good or ill,
While humping burdens all the day the surly ants have trudged uphill.
Then Quaide reports the salt is ’right, and splendid news comes from the hut
Where Paddy Keefe was up all night but couldn’t keep the back door shut.
And Brother Ted came home today to see his folk between the sprees,
And currawongs both pied and grey have squarked among the pepper-trees.
The readings on the chart suggest good times are coming by and by —
A low depression fro’ the west is backing up a tilted high:
So gather round, the drought forget, no more will dour misfortune frown;
The wind and sky are pointing wet, and here’s the very best news yet
The two old toes bes achin’ and the sut drops down.
* Fiddlesticks !
† Nonsense !
John O’Brien. The Parish of St Mel’s and Other Verses, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1954
à la mode = fashionable, stylish (from the French, “according to the fashion”)
moryah = P.W. Joyce defined “moryah” as follows: “Mor-yah; a derisive expression of dissent to drive home the untruthfulness of some assertion or supposition or pretence, something like the English ‘forsooth,’ but infinitely stronger:— A notorious schemer and cheat puts on airs of piety in the chapel and thumps his breast in great style; and a spectator says:— Oh how pious and holy Joe is growing — mar-yah! ‘Mick is a great patriot, mor-yah! — He’d sell his country for half a crown.’ Irish mar-sheadh [same sound], ‘as it were.’” [see: P. W. Joyce. English As We Speak It in Ireland, Longman, Green & Co., London, 1910, page 296]
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