Waif & Stray


Pastoral wetnurse shaking the dented bottles to mix
cocktails of boiled water & colostrum dust
for the orphaned lambs that skip to her & latch

on any crease in her jeans leaving patches of warm
wetness at her knees until she probes rubber teats
to toothless mouths & wells up with their total simple trust.

The older lamb, cloaked in the skin of a stillborn cousin,
struts under a stiff slink of yellowing curls – yet is still spurned
for his wrong scent by the surrogate ewe in her grief

& the younger one hops happily despite her mangled eye
pecked out by inland gulls that nest in river braids & alight
on ewes’ broad backs to eat their newborns soft parts first.

One big black-backed villain has since been shot
& strung on the fence in wired crucifixion, a vengeance & warning
to the karoro still circling above like a terror of angels,

a cacophony of shadows on the paddock. The lamb will not live.
The girl can smell it through the antiseptic
in the crusted socket which is not quite empty, iodine stained

& pulpy, like a knot in a school desk stuffed with chewed gum.
O mutilée still lovely, bleating, batting pale eyelashes
& those foppish lacy wrinkles at her throat –

this being the power of lambs, their softness
turning everything marshmallow darling
& so our girl is bound to serve their naïve greed

with a bottle in each fist. She has to lean back
from the lambs’ alarming strength. They brace their whole bodies
against the force of their own suckling – wagging useless tails.

They tug as though to rip out synthetic nipples
with their upturned mouths & then drink up the world, chugging
hazy daylight from the atmosphere, churned sunshine

lofty as cream on this day in Aries, the tender betrayal
of the ruminants: she will keep them warm & fed,
then they will warm & one day feed her.

But for now it is as if the girl has neither
an imminent threat of breasts nor canine teeth.
It is just her & the lambs

while all things birth & butchery happen somewhere else,
because until the bottles run dry she has no hunger
& hot milk flows from the palms of her hands.


Rebecca Hawkes grew up on a sheep and beef farm near Methven and now lives in Wellington. Her poetry chapbook ‘Softcore Coldsores’ was published in AUP New Poets 5, and her debut collection Meat Lovers will be unleashed by Auckland University Press in 2022. She is a founding member of performance popstar-poets’ posse Show Ponies, and co-edits for the poetry journal Sweet Mammalian and an anthology of poetry on climate change, No Other Place To Stand, forthcoming from AUP.