Before the Border
after Rosalie Gascoigne’s Feathered Fence (1978-79)
No swans, nor cows nor sheep graze; five fences submerge half-way across, in water pale and calm as the underside of pearly clouds. Thousands of feathers lay years ago, in a midden of moulting in the southern marshes, as if waiting for her to gather, clean and tether them to float on the nation’s gallery floor. White plumes from swan underwings feathering affection for this lake, its footprint close now to the highway. This old friend floods us with history, the way nearby ranges arrow its level, to rise without river or sea, and empty onto grass. It’s the entrance to our past in the capital, our children’s cradle, a valley by mountains and bush. Small birds glide about reeds and a patch of pink algae at the water’s edge. Inside the car, an old song hums a lilting cadence to the rumble of tyres drumming the road. When we’re up on the ridge, we’ll look out for the quiet show of old grass trees before the border and the tempo of city buildings.
Listen to Kathryn read the poem:
Feature image by George Catlin, Buffalo Herds Crossing the Upper Missouri, 1832 Smithsonian Institute (Public Domain)