1880 c/o Rebecca Slater

by ten past ten the clouds have come and billy’s just about ready to piss himself, has his hand down his pants as if to say, i‘ll do it, i’ll bloody do it, but mum gives him one hard look and says, don’t you disrespect the dead you shit, and little tommy starts to cry and says, he’s not dead yet, but we all know it’s not long, not now. when he steps out his beard has gone and his face looks bare as hell, pink and clean as a baby heifer, nothing like the pictures. little tommy swore he’d wear his steel, but billy said, don’t be stoopid tom, how they gunna get the rope around a thing like that, and as usual, billy was right, the rope slips easy as anything round his skinny little neck. the sheriff is up there and the newspapers and the priest, all fat and dressed in blue and black. down below the ground is soft and the whole town is standing round – the connollys from next door and the mcallisters from the tavern, sam and dan from the mill and even the old highway drunk, moaning and groaning about. the sky’s dark and everyone is restless – they’re reading out the prayers now but we can’t hear nothing from back here, just the skuff of a boot or a belch from down back or little tommy turning and turning in the dirt, his face wet with sweat or tears i can’t tell. up above the clouds turn mean but no one moves, we wait, still and muddy and quiet in the stormy heat, so that when the cry comes out across the gaol I don’t know if it’s tommy or the drunk or the clock or the sky or the sound of ned kelly’s neck, cracking through the air.