Swing low, sweet chariot

thunder lay over the low hills
Jordy and I banging along in my heavy car
when we came round a bend
on an accident scene
eerily empty of cars or trucks
just a whole flock of ducks
spaced in formation, down on the ground
—still flying furiously
a tall-standing truck an enormous axe
had smashed them out of gaps in the air
no one was there but a ghost truck hiss
swishing in space the road not a road
but an Escher of ducks bursting bright feet
an orange slash of jet-planes
wheeling whack- whack- whack
above the black tarseal
necks stretched out flat, trying to lift off
in a desperate flap-flapping
white under-wings whirring
against the dark road
all alert and aware and clearly not dying
Sorry, Jordy, sorry, I said, I can’t just leave them
he was stuck with it dragged into 
the shutter of stress—click—and again—click
the black duck—unusual—against the blue light
along each feather, the wing tips quivered
I turned back and circled; a car passed the leavings
leaving ducks flapping against their snapped backs
I came at a crawl with the wheels lined up
tensing my teeth at each small shuddered bump
I’m coming, ducky, I said, I won’t be long
in a glass shaft of guilt, a flash of the night
a frog leaped through my car lights—was it?
just a blur in the rain specks, wet stones on the road
and it looked like it leaped right in my path; I drove on. 
Stick-stab in my side, I turned back
to his small shape and I got down beside him
and yes, his long hollow legs smashed blue and flat
side by side on the wet running road
of course, still alive
in the circle of light: wettened grass on the bank
bluish agapanthus, beaded drops dripping off
the shaded cream of his swelled out throat
mouth blared open into one huge horn

Photo by John Goodhind

Marty Smith lives in Hawke’s Bay. Her first collection of poetry, Horse with hat was published in 2014 and won the Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry in the 2014 New Zealand Post Book Awards and was a finalist in the poetry category.  With the help of a Creative New Zealand grant, she frequents the Hastings racecourse to write about the people who work there, and what it’s like to have an ambulance follow you around as you do your job.
Smith comments: ‘I hate it when I see something hit by a car and left to suffer for hours (days), still conscious, in fearful agony and terrified. When they’re not yet road kill, because they’re not dead. I grew up on farm in rough hill country, where animals sometimes injured themselves, and Dad “put the bloody thing out of its misery”. It was a duty, and he was very strict about it. He was so insistent, and so grim, I used to wonder if it was something to do with the war.’ 

Poem source details >


Martys Victoria University Press author page
Martys New Zealand Book Council writer file