He was a wayfarer.
He tramped the misty hills, dusty back roads,
the braided riverbeds and greenstone waters
of Te Waipounamu.
He followed the cool rains
that sank into flowers.
He rested in barns and haystacks
under inky skies
filled with star trails.
Ma would tell us no wayfarer arrives before sundown,
before the turquoise warmth of day slips into night.
She would sit by the fire turning
the eggshell pages of her book
speak of remittance men from England
disinherited and disgraced
gentlemen and scholars, sugar bags crammed
with blankets, billies swinging from swags.
He knocked on our wire screen door at the violet hour, –
before the silence of night stretched and unfurled.
Eyes the colour of strong black tea,
his wayfaring journey was written in the scars
on his face and sparrow-boned hands.
Can you give me a job, boss? he asked Pa.
His voice unhurried, his accent thick.
He smelled of tobacco
and something grittier.
We called him Russian Jack.
As the rusty purples of night closed in
Pa asked if he really wanted work
if he would chop wood come morning.
Yes boss, he replied and was sent
to the shearer’s quarters with a handful
of tea leaves, tucker bag full of bread and jam.
But as the trees were burnished with dawn’s golden light,
we could see that no wood had been cut.
Russian Jack was gone.
Ma kept a tally of the numbers she fed,
they were known by many names.
Canterbury Jack, Dublin Jack, Swagger Jack.
But our Russian Jack, weary and footsore
always passed through our town a welcome guest.
As winter’s breath expelled over valleys and hills
Ma read from a newspaper about an old man
in a ditch at the side of the road.
His leather boots cracked and stuffed with newspaper
to keep his feet warm, tobacco pouch and pipe in hand.
Our Russian Jack. A sundowner.
Gentleman of the road.
K.V. Martins is originally from Australia but now lives in New Zealand.
She writes poetry, short stories, and flash fiction. Kim is a travel
writer/editor for the Ancient History Encyclopedia and her work has been
featured in Flash Frontier, Flash Flood Journal, Furtive Dalliance
Literary Review, The Drabble, Plum Tree Tavern, “a fine line“, Vamp Cat,
the University of Iowa anthology Moving the Margins 2018, and upcoming
in Fewer than 500 and Moonchild Magazine.
She’s working on a novel set in Italy and New Zealand during World War
II. Kim has a B.A. (Hons) in History.