My great-great-grandfather
built a woolshed
out of tall trees
and pieces of birdsong
he found scattered in clearings.

Sometimes I still hear
a spectral choir
in that quiet time
after shearing,
an evening chorus
ensnared in axe-hewn walls.

My father took over
the family farm
when he left school.
I watched him tonight
listen to the old dog howl
at the moon trapped
in a frozen water bowl.

'I know how you feel,' he said.

I still don’t know if he was talking to the dog
or the moon.

Tim Saunders farms sheep and beef in the Manawatu. He has had poetry and short stories published in Turbine|Kapohau, takahē, Landfall, Poetry NZ Yearbook, Headland, Flash Frontier, Best Small Fictions, and also won the 2018 Mindfood Magazine Short Story Competition. Tim placed third in the 2019 and 2020 National Flash Fiction Day Awards, and was shortlisted for the 2021 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. His first book, This Farming Life, was published by Allen & Unwin in August, 2020.

Saunders comments: 'There is often a fine line between a sense of duty and being trapped, being free to howl at the moon and doing what is expected of you. As a fifth-generation farmer, I have a responsibility to the land, my animals and the environment, but also an obligation to family history. No one wants to be the generation that drops the ball and loses the farm. It is a burden that sometimes weighs me down, but it is also a challenge that gets me out of bed in the morning.

'My father is 82 years old and is still actively working on the farm every day. I doubt he will ever retire. Farming has been the only life he has ever known, and his passion for the land and animals runs deep. But I wonder if he ever wanted to do anything else, and if the same thing tethers us to this lifestyle.

'Devoir is a poem about duty, but also remembering where you are from and the burden of lineage.'

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Allen & Unwin author page

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Photographer credit: Emily Hlavac Green.