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by Cate Kennedy
Let me lay it out for you:
a rural photography competition in a local town hall
and the woman next to me,
sitting with her husband and two children,
had travelled three hours to be there.
Her kids were quiet
with the soft, cowed politeness of remote life,
a farm up in the lonely dry stretch of the western districts, her husband's boots smelling of polish,
and he, preoccupied as the judge made her speech,
thinking no doubt of the work waiting for him back at home
and the cost of filling up the car to return.
He looked at his hands on his knees
and then over at the photos on the wall –
the 'dead-tree-silhouette-and-sunset' photos – as his wife drank it all in hungrily
and then stood to be awarded second prize.
I want you to imagine
the brief economical smile they exchanged
when she sat down again, holding her certificate –
her landscape photo on display carefully mounted on card,
enlarged at the chemist's in town,
budgeted for, cautiously admired.
The judged announced the winning photo,
a massive sunset shot, the colours juiced with Photoshop,
someone else stood for that applause and that cheque.
Then the judge added, in passing,
that there's been another photo she'd admired,
which would have been a winner
except its theme was not "Images of Rural Life"
as specified in the competition rules,
and she held up a picture of the woman's two children
gazing transfixed out of a window,
the light pouring in, their faces upturned with wonder,
and the woman stood again
and politely collected this photograph,
tucked it with the certificate on her lap,
Later, as her husband checked his watch,
and spoke softly to his kids, a hand on his daughter's fair head,
i told her how much I loved the picture
and what a wonderful photographer I thought she was,
and she smiled and looked at her photo.
"You know," she said, "it didn't break the rules.
This was the first moment my children ever saw rain."
They left then,
back to their car, to the long drive home,
to the big bone-dry expanse of land beyond salvaging
with a second-prize certificate
and so few words between them
no speaking up
no protest or complaint
no claim of being wronged, or misrepresented
but I think, even now, about how the light streamed onto her children's rapt faces,
the tired love in her husband's hand,
and her running to find her camera and frame it
the smell of the rain-marked dust
rare momentary joy.
They left, and all this passed into silence:
unremarked and unacknowledged,
that's why I'm telling you now.
This poem is from Cate Kennedy's new collection, The Taste of River Water, published by Scribe.