Going to Cradle Mountain on a bus

Orange sheep watch with freshly-squeezed,
unsweetened faces, their sullen lambs.
These lambs don’t gambol,
their tails hang straight and narrow.
Not even lambs are allowed to be gay.
The protestant ethic is strong down here.

There are two Russians on the bus.
‘Gavareetli pa Angluski?’ I ask,
remembering a short course
a long time ago.
The old Scot glowers, remembering the Cold War.

‘Nyet,’ says the Russian with the beard. And smiles.
‘Moskva? Leningrad - St. Petersburg?’ I ask,
remembering the end of their world
as I come to the end of my Russian.
‘Moskva,’ says the man with the moustache,
and smiles.
I smile.
They both smile.
The Japanese couple smile.

The Russians subside into happy halitosis.
The ageing Scot asks me where I’m from
and isn’t a bit surprised.

There’s a craggy mountain on my side of the road,
bare of vegetation.
I wonder if I should point to it,
mime ‘night’, and hum Mussorgski to the Russians.
I don’t remember the tune
and they might not know it.

I wonder how I would imply ‘night’
without suggesting that I want to sleep
with one of the Russians.
Which I don’t.
Not really.

Faintly depressed, I see a sign:
‘This way to Suicide Rock -
weather permitting.’
I put it off to another day and come quietly home,
watching the rocks bleed lichen onto the snow.

Also by Doris Leadbetter

A Hot Night on the Town