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At St Brendan's

  • 15 January 2018


Selected poems


At St Brendan's

At St Brendan's chosen boys were lugging

A commotion of milk crates into the sun.

On days like this,

With blisters of tar already softening on the road,

The nuns would curdle in the heat

Shifting their stays by habit;

Sometimes, a bead of sweat

Would tempt their brows.


Cooped in our desks,

We steered our wilful pens

Over acreages of white pages

And lines ruled red,

Attended by the ticking of the classroom clock

Or beneath the thunder of

'Come out here Brian Burns!',

So, when the bishop came

He plucked the exercise book from my desk

To run his princely finger

Over my exact constellation of blots,

And, somehow, Sister Agatha,

Through her frowned mouth

Made a noise that was

A close cousin to a hiss.


In those drowsy mornings we would endure

The chant of Gregorian tables,

The electricities of mental arithmetic,

The dirge of the sixpenny catechism,

And getting hit with something launched by Brian Burns.

At midday we rose in courtesy

So that the Angel of the Lord might declare unto Mary,

And that we might be spared

The wrath of communists

And the dreaded breath of polio.


In the yard we were playing Jets,

Arms straight back,

Elegant banks and turns,

And a lavish stuttering of guns,

Until a gang of boys started chasing a tennis ball

And in packs and hordes we all joined in

Shouting rules and prohibitions

And allowances as we ran.

In the fog of incense of Friday's Benediction,

Through the sound of shillings

In the shiver of the scrupulous bells,

The hymn would break through

At the elevation of

Of Father Lynch's hands,

And the words 'O salutaris hostia'

would rise in their own solemnity.


Through all of this

We squirmed on the pinch of wooden knees,

Or fell to the temptation to crane around-

And were stopped in the bead

Of sister Agatha's tiny eye-

Or, sometimes, a quiet boy's eyes would drift

Within the sea- glass of St Brendan's window.

Then on one Friday,

In the quietus of the grand recession,

With the censers limp

Dawdling in tired hands,

When the great face of Father Lynch

Had passed, resplendent in red,

A lone tennis ball

Made a stately progress

Down the centre aisle.

Brian Burns!


The Woolwich Ferry

Today, there was no threat of weather in the captain's eye,

So, the sergeant ferry forded the harbour with shoulders back,

Sparkling through its secret easements of way,

Past a boy who was coiled like a languid worm

At the end of a jetty,

Dawdling his rod in the waters,

Playing patience with the sea;

And past the turtle-back dinghies

Stashed in their secret covies,

Towards the wharf at Woolwich.


These promontories and spits of land

That wend their ways into Sydney Harbour

Are haunted, still, by the ghosts of lean, manacled men

Who were kept