POEM | Keeping Our Heads Down, by CJ Bowerbird

Posted by anca in Articles


This poem was performed at the opening and closing events for Katy Mutton’s solo exhibition POST-WAR: Thousand Mile Stare at ANCA Gallery (22 April – 10 May 2015). It was inspired by the research Katy Mutton is undertaking as part of her Post-War Project. 


Keeping Our Heads Down

CJ Bowerbird


The sun peeks over the parapet. Yellow-green shreds of fog crease heavy the pigeon chest of the land. A muted cough from a bird disturbed by the metal shufflings of men with cold feet rooting into the soil.


You never quite shake off all the dirt. We

carry it home, entrenched in our

palms, under our nails, sanding our hair. With our

hands moulded to rifle stocks or

spades, we have no choice but to



When I landed in this plot, I

folded to a sprinter’s crouch,

sieved the soil through the

ploughshare-bayonets of my hand,

sifting time in the earth,

weighing the interim between

signing up and passing on.


We fought for this land, hand-to-

hand with mallee and barbs of scrub,

grappling with stumps, claiming it row by

row with little advance, keeping our

heads down, dodging the Turks of summer.


We cajoled the ground with songs and

curses, making the best we could,

scraping for survival. We will never be



Now survey the gains: channels

pulse hesitantly from the heart,

cut through by barrel-straight

borders, arbitrary lines dividing the

vital from dying.


We spend our days waiting for

water to course across this skin, to

curse the moment it arrives



The rains break at the wrong times: when I’m

out in the open or the trench isn’t

clear or over the dinner table. The

clouds split last night and none of us slept.


You never quite cough up all the

grime, the sharp intake of morning

breath. Digging stirs up the dust on

dry days, the golden clouds, the

dirt we carry home in our lungs.


You don’t perceive the weakness

beneath the crust until you dig,

expose the hidden flaws, the layered

grit, a permanent incapacity to

bear fruit.


There is the taste of metal in the

soil, the sediments of blood and

bone, the noble rust on the fruit and




This land hopes the hope and

the disease.


We ignore the common report of a rifle

rolling over the blocks, getting rid of

vermin like rabbits or foxes or

memories: an honourable discharge, the

last post of the land letting go.


The suns smoothes a blanket across

remembering ground and turns the

wick down low. My skin carries

warmth, my back tight with industry.


You never quite shake off all the dirt. We

sleep with it. We do what we can.

We have no choice but to