Pigeon Toes

A poem by Henry Lawson

A dusty clearing in the scrubs
Of barren, western lands,
Where, out of sight, or sign of hope
The wretched school-house stands;
A roof that glares at glaring days,
A bare, unshaded wall,
A fence that guards no blade of green,
A dust-storm over all.
The books and slates are packed away,
The maps are rolled and tied,
And for an hour I breathe, and lay
My ghastly mask aside;
I linger here to save my head
From voices shrill and thin,
That rasp for ever in the shed,
The ‘home’ I’m boarding in.

The heat and dirt and wretchedness
With which their lives began,
Bush mother nagging day and night,
And sullen, brooding man;
The minds that harp on single strings,
And never bright by chance,
The rasping voice of paltry things,
The hopeless ignorance.

I had ideals when I came here,
A noble purpose had,
But all that they can understand
Is ‘axe to grind’ or ‘mad.’
I brood at times till comes a fear
That sets my brain awhirl,
I fight a strong man’s battle here,
And I am but a girl.

I hated paltriness and deemed
A breach of faith a crime;
I listen now to scandal’s voice
In sewing-lesson time.
There is a thought that haunts me so,
And gathers strength each day,
Shall I as narrow-minded grow,
As mean of soul as they?

The feuds that rise from paltry spite,
Or from no cause at all;
The brooding, dark, suspicious minds,
I suffer for it all.
They do not dream the ‘Teacher’ knows,
What brutal thoughts are said;
The children call me ‘Pigeon Toes,’
‘Green Eyes’ and ‘Carrot Head.’

On phantom seas of endless change
My thoughts to madness roam,
The only thing that keeps me here,
The thoughts of those at home,
The hearts that love and cling to me,
That I love best on earth,
My mother left in poverty,
My brother blind from birth.

On burning West Australian fields
In that great dreadful land,
Where all day long the heat waves flow
O’er the seas of glowing sand.
My elder brother toils and breaks
That great true heart of his
To rescue us from poverty,
To rescue me from this.

And one is with him where he goes,
My brother’s mate and mine;
He never called me Pigeon Toes,
He said my eyes were ‘fine’;
And his face comes before me now,
And hope and courage rise,
The lines of life, the troubled brow,
Firm mouth and kind grey eyes.

I preach content and gentleness,
And mock example give;
They little think the Teacher hates
And loathes the life they live.
I told the infants fairy tales
But half an hour since,
They little dream how Pigeon Toes
Prays for a fairy Prince.

I have one prayer (and God forgive
A selfish prayer and wild);
I kneel down by the infants’ stool
(For I am but a child),
And pray as I’ve prayed times untold
That Heaven will set a sign,
To guide my brother to the gold,
For mother’s sake and mine.

A dust cloud on the lonely road,
And I am here alone;
I lock the door till it be past,
For I have nervous grown.

God spare me disappointment’s blow.
He stops beside the gate;
A voice, thrill-feeling that I know.
My brother! No! His mate!

His eyes, a proud, triumphant smile,
His arms outstretched, and ‘Come,
‘For Jack and I have made our pile,
‘And I’m here to take you home’!

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