Brendan Ryan has had three collections of poetry published, the most recent being A Tight Circle, Whitmore Press, in 2008. His next collection of poetry, Travelling Through the Family, will be published by Hunter Publishers in 2012.




The killing work

The Hereford steer from wild country that charged our Valiant as we tried to shift it into a fresh paddock. Herd leader, cantankerous, fearless; a beast we couldn’t trust. Dents in the quarter panels, tongue swipes on the bumper. Pushed deeper into the paddock, we reverse away from the lowered horns, my father swearing, wrenching the steering wheel left, right, wheels skidding over cape weed. My brother and I in the back seat look away from what we know is not quite right. Not a time to speak with a beast on the loose, tearing through a barbed wire fence, flipping over, an apparent heart attack. We stare at the frothing mouth. My father silenced. The Hereford steer from wild country left on the track for the knackery truck.

scrubbed concrete floors
latex gloves, Muslim slaughtermen
rows of carcasses slide towards you

Returning from away, I ask about our pet cow Beefy – a cross-bred black dairy cow. The only cow we could hug, nuzzle, who would amble up to us, raise her head to sniff, rub against us. Not a productive milker, the type of cow who recognizes her own presence, unafraid of dogs, almost personable. You’re eating her, came the reply. Cut down, packed into plastic bags, steaks and ribs piled high in the Deep Freeze. A family has to eat. We ate steaks for breakfast, dinner and tea yet rarely butchered our own. Deaths in the paddock were acceptable, regrettable, something to rise from while talking around the red laminex table, those heifers that need to be ear-tagged.