1. Ellenborough River
Clear water gushing between rocks,
A floating stick catches, joggles,
Frees itself and rushes on.
My submerged ears hear on the creek bed
The small stones crunch.
Canopy of tall trees meets overhead.
The current catches me and, legs forefending,
Bumps me down by stages
To the deep, black pool.
2 Ladies Rest Room
Feet in elderly shoes
ungainly apart before the pedestal
Seen below the stable door of the Rest Room cubicle.
The mind’s eye completes the picture.
Of skirt pulled up and pants down to knees,
Displaying stocking tops and suspenders
To the outside waiting girl
A sight to appal:
The disdain of youth.
3 Luckman’s Lead
“As I hear the sweet lark sing
in the clear air of the day.”
No birds. here, certainly no lark,
But certainly “joy and elation”.
On the yellow ridge side.
Sky fading blue, white cloud streaks
Turning pink from the sunken sun.
Left alone, exhausted
(Companions gone for wood and water),
Utter contentment and elation, between peak and valley.
4 Men Talking
The child in the dark bedroom
Is lapped by the susurration
Of men’s conversation in the next room
A gathering of legal men.
It wraps her round in comfort and security
Like a warmed blanket.
Said Kipling, “The loveliest sound in the world.”
5 Lost in Circles
Trackless – find a distant landmark;
A low mountain
Rising above the clean, bowing, white-trunked trees.
Choose a tree, walk to it,
Crossing a sandy creek bed,
There were footprints in its sand,
I had circled to the exact spot.
Fear rising, indistinguishable hills are behind and before.
Which did I climb?
Retrace, choose a tree.
Again a creek
This time with two sets of prints.
As in bush lore I am walking in quite small circles
that return relentlessly to the same spot.
I am lost.
Second lore – follow a creek.
Of course that creek.
Will it be fifty miles to the coast?
Three days? At least I have water.
Calmed by resolution.
then – far too soon –
A small wooden bridge,
White rails, crosses the creek.
The road I came in by.
And I sing to myself
“It’s wonderful, wonderful”
And hitch a ride.
6 Stranger Comfort
We are two small girls
Waiting for her father
to drive us home. He’s late,
As the day darkens.
At last, but he brushes me off hastily, angrily.
And they drive away.
She must catch the tram alone.
Standing in the crowded cabin weeping silently.
She feels an arm round her hips.
The woman’s seated by her.
No word, look or sign passes between them
But she is consoled, comforted..
Sixty years on, still touched by the memory,
Would I be confident to do the same?
7 Late Bus
On the late bus
A school girl among returning workers.
How embarrassing, her school case has knocked the wart off her knee.
Blood streams down to her black school sock.
And she has no handkerchief.
A man on the bench seat opposite proffers a cigarette paper to plaster it.
She’s never heard of such a thing.
Uncertain, she won’t take it.
“Go on”, he urges, “It works.”
But still she refuses,
(There could be germs)
And sits on in the embarrassment of her bloody shin and soaked sock.
As the day darkens the bus lights up,
Her stop relieves the situation,
But leaves a life-long small regret.
For that unaccepted help offered
By a genial stranger.
8 North Quay
Waiting for the bus
She sings to herself
The song in her head,
Under her breath,
Unconscious that her lips move with the words.
What are you saying?
A friendly man stops and asks.
Self-conscious, smiles embarrassed,
Unable to reply..
“I always wonder, when people
talk to themselves”, he encourages,
But she can’t respond.
Why couldn’t I say, “I’m singing”?.
Near the Eye Hospital
My daughter drops me
To make my way to Merrion Square.
By canal and bridge
Through streets of Dublin Georgian terrace:
I am suddenly seized by happiness
So extreme, so unexplained,
I wonder if I’m going to die..
It slowly subsides as I walk on.
Was it the beauty of these Dublin streets?
Or the solace of reunion with my daughter?
A vision from the window:
Through the pine trees
Comes a bevy of pigs and porkers
Across the open grass
To the tree line opposite.
Searching, snouts probing
in the pine roots and needles.
So clean, so busy, investigating,
So urgent, so happy.
A world away from the heavy, immobile
charmless creatures of pigsties.
More like dolphins..
The flame of one candle
fills the tiny cabin.
Sitting, back to wall,
Caressed by my sleeping bag of down
I too fill the room.
This small cube of enclosed brightness
Braced against the dark world outside
tells me this is all I need.
More, it cradles, nurtures, loves me.
North-east in the evening
Aloft in the big sky,
Night after night,
Bright when no others yet show
In the pale heavens.
Have you noticed Venus?
Asked Max and Erica,
In the weeks before Christmas.
The bright star in the East!
I have seen the Wise Men’s star.
15 Advent Calendar
Behind his door
The child in his starched pinny
Reaches his hands
To the fallen star as big as his head
Lingering before him
Behind his window
The writer sits by candlelight
Quill poised in hand.
Each year I wait to find them
Recalling their initial gift of quietude and calm.
16 Beyond Recall
Through the window
Across the dark flood plain
Five lights catch my eye for the first time,
A three and a two,
The mercury blue of street lamps,
With a flare of warm wrapped recognition,
As if of a more secure time.
I cannot trace them
In any conscious memory.
Not Dornoch Terrace,
Not Rowan Tree, or Coronation Drive.
Could it be Cecil Plains?
A memory pageant
Locked in cognitive unconsciousness.
Leaving the crowded walker’s hut,
The children fed and settled,
In the half light
I take our dirty billy and bowls
to wash in the nearby creek,
snap off a prickly spray of scoparia
Crouched over the gushing flow,
Silken between rocks
Turbid when released,
As I dipped a plate in its cold force of water,
“This is reality,” I knew anew,
From which I’d been divided.
18 Road to Moree I
Driving to Moree
A hundred Ks without another vehicle,
The road straight, flat, and grey,
Unbroken forest of tall trees
On either hand.
Suspended in uniformity
Memories lose their time-line.
A life-time gone has the same presence
My mother, sixty years dead,
And my children, alive and near,
Are equal inhabitants
of the world of my mind.
19 Road to Moree II
A long straight road through forest,
Wide grassy verges
To where the trees in parallel begin.
Ahead I see, neatly aligned,
An up-turned semi-trailor, intact, on the shoulder.
Multiple rows of tyres atop,
What could have caused its disarray
On this empty country highway.
A,most at once it’s revealed.
On the opposite verge,
Also upturned, four legs in the air,
A big black bull.
One would think an unequal match.
But truck and beast emerged
Equal winners, equal losers.
They met like jousting knights
And each unhorsed the other.
20. Pine Valley
Now, forty years on
The track sidesteps the boggy plain,
Losing the long enchanting view
To the curtain wall of mountain blue.
We reclaim it, camping off track
On the forest edge
Just within the valley outlet.
Gordon makes the fire
I go for water,
There is sure to be a creek nearby.
I step into the silent vine scrub
And here it is
Clear and shallow
Eddying under a fallen tree trunk.
About to drink,
in the water-babbling forest hush,
I recall Grimm’s tale
Of a boy turned deer
By drinking at a forest pool.
Bewitched by the forest spell
I hesitate, and will not risk it.
Returning with empty billy,
I send Gordon, bemused, him in my place..
Perfidious woman, I excuse myself,
If he does not detect enchantent
The spell is not for him.
Still himself, he soon returns with water.
Next day, crossing the valley floor,
I lose my leg to the knee in the quagmire.
When I retrieve it,
My while Volley sandshoe
Comes up purple.
More than halfway up the mountain
We make a wrong sidle off the ridge
Left instead of right.
Balked in the crotch between two ridges
Ridge flanks so steep one can only cling,
The two boys search for egress,
A roped climb back to the ridge top,
As black night falls.
Just there we find
A deep, low cave in the mountainside
Just made to fit the waiting girls.
Packs stowed, a coffin slot for three.
Never before and never again
Will that cave be seen by human eyes,
One girl wants to leave our mark,
The third, I can’t remember what…
Back on the ridge they found a spot,
and settled to sleep among the rocks,
As the moon came up.
22 Negative Image
Settled in my canvas chair,
Camp fire at my feet,
Small logs lapped with flame,
I survey the night sky
Through the tree tops.
I see clumps of leaves
Make patches of grey
Interspersing the blacker sky.
Stars spangle this vast quilt,
My canopy in the bush night.
Stars shine only in the grey patches.
And the dark patches are blank.
Reassembling my vision on notice
The trees’ leaves’ screen makes blackness
And the lighter sky recedes
Claiming its myriad brilliant lights.
23 Lost World
On the edge of the rainforest
The open forest is floored with succulent and broad leafed herbage,
Purple and green,
And here we camped.
Gordon recalled a waterfall
Where the creek spills over the cliff-line,
Making a nature’s shower below.
At morning, scrambling down,
Precarious on the broken rocks,
I found it, and stripped off.
It was just not too cold.
A Garden of Eden’s bathing.
Tingling, I half-clothed myself,
And clambered back.
Stepping knee-deep through red green fronds.
Tranced in quietude,
I’m startled by my fellows’ cries of
“Put something on! Cover up!”
Though I’m perfectly decent.
24 Hinchinbrook Fountain
Occasionally a perfect convenience
Is found by nature’s provision.
Traversing a sheet of rock
On the ridge side
A tiny basin, triangular.
Behind a peak of projecting rock
Catches a trickle of water
on the rock face
And offers a chaliced cup
With scarcely need to bend the head.
Foxed by bi-focals,
Descending the station stairs
In the peak-hour crush,
My foot misses a step.
As I fall, a hand
Miraculously catches my upper arm
And puts me on my feet.
A glimpse of its owner,
A Lebanese man, beyond my neighbour in the crowd,
And he’s gone.
How could he perceive my plight
And react to save
In that split second?
It felt like “God who sees the sparrow’s fall.”
26 French Cafe
Three times we arrived by bus from Geneva
At Belle Rive on the Swiss-French border,
Seeking Belle Rive on the shore of Lake Geneva,
This third time, after dark.
Too late to return and try again,
We sought succour in a bar.
“Bon soir, mesdames”
Kindly middle-aged men,
They resolved, for our plight,
That the shy bachelor among them
Should give us room for the night.
At his reluctance, they chorused,
“Les pauvres jeunes filles!
Les pauvres jeunes filles!”
And he succumbed.
Offering his kitchen floor.
As we unrolled sleeping bags
He warmed, and offered his bedroom:
But we declined.
27 Raspberry Farm
It was a bad season.
We picked all day to little reward
Workers fell away,
On a wet, misty morning,
They brought out old suit-and-overcoats
To keep us warm.
The raspberry canes ran straight down
The steep hillside
And a foreign woman’s voice
Keened through the white mist.
Behind the workers cabins
The hillside rose higher, steeper yet,
We two, after work,
Set out to climb it,
Scrambling feet and hands
And emerged on a broad, flat ridge top
of quite different habitation.
Solid thick-trunked trees
Wide-spaced, and long dry grass,
Fallen away on either hand.
In sudden silence, beneath the wind,
The bush was stilled, soundless, emptied,
In pointless fear, without a word,
Hurrying, slipping down,
Back to the huts,
Leaving that elf world above us.
28. God’s Light
Bede makes great play with light
As signalling God’s presence.
I was unimpressed,
As light is so commonplace.
One misty morning I looked out
To Peninsula House, its barns and pines,
On their knoll,
Arranged against a white sky,
Which as I watched
Grew lighter, whiter, brighter,
‘Til the sky suffused with a golden light,
Mystified to the edge of alarm –
Was distant Sydney exploding?
A flaming meteor imminent? –
Incredulous of catastrophe,
Unsure whether to watch or flee,
In the end, it dawned on me,
That this was the sun’s rising,
The irradiating dawn.
And I understood Bede.
28 Tempus Mutandis
“She hasn’t once dropped it”
Said the farmer father, warmly proud,
And marvelling at his little daughter,
“She hasn’t once dropped it”,
And again, as countrymen did
Ruminating, savouring his pride and pleasure,
“She hasn’t once dropped it “.
Half a century later this would not be said with pride,
Could not be said with pride,
Nor even wished of a little girl
nursing her doll in a bright kitchen.
Motherliness is not admired, is not applauded,
Such a bundle of forceful personality
Across the table
Hard to believe that less than three years ago
There was nothing
32. Moonlight Slabs
Benighted in the saddle, of the long, fraught ridge,
Between peak and sub-peak,
A virgin gully descending tempted,
As a shorter way down,
And down we went.
Into light scrub and spindly trees,
And to our wonder emerged
As the gully widened,
Onto a broad, sloping terrace
Of bare granite slabs,
The creek a mere trickle to one side,
Down which we skipped in bright moonlight
To the valley below,
And the trudge to civilization.
Two decades later our Cretan Processional Way,
Was deemed mythic –
Perhaps disappeared under regrowth litter?
Two decades more, after fire on the mountain,
I found it again in broad daylight–
Our chance gift of nature’s cycles –
The bow-backed peak curves steeply up,
Then drops precipitously to the gulch below.
For the climbers, benighted,
A providential leveling of the steep ridge-back
Offers just space for five recumbent bodies.
Amongst rocks, stiff grass, and stunted scrub,
We clear our beds of pointed stones and roots.
The ground itself is hard and cold,
The sky clear.
A waterless morning, we finish the climb,
Prepare ropes for the abseil to the main massif.
We girls go first, receive the packs,
Find water, light a fire, make tea,
Among green leaves a-sparkle
In the clear morning air.
The boys, still on top,
Battle with the ropes.
Fifty years on, from afar,
I pick out that little ledge
High on the peak’s silhouette,
And superimpose us, full-size,
On that otherwise unnoticeable wrinkle.
Are there still people
Who love that many-peaked mountain
With our careless love,
Or is it just a fitness gym today?