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Boat people poems

  • 19 July 2011

Myself and other

That other who is so much like myselfas to be asked by fellow-travellers on buses

boats and trains what it is like to live with imagesthat haunt him: broken branches

when the rows of trees are dormant in the cold timeand the canopy's a maze of cross-hatched twigs

and mummied fruit: how sharp the rows arein the frost, when green is dream: how like he is.

My father is that vessel I remember full of bloodhe paid my mother for her beauty

when the sky poured down its weight of bluefor her; the ocean creatures gave their tears

to wash her feet, the clouds shared rainto fill her sight with quince and lime, their odour

blowing through the house and mounds of roseswhose thorn teeth would tear her flesh.

–Michael Sharkey

Stilled waters

The ship adrift on my childhood bedroom wallwas plain but sound. Poo brown hull, white sails,jetskiing waters out to sea. Jibs, spinnakers, t'gallantsand sundry mysterious hankies all billowing, propellingan eager vessel into deep waters wherein dwelled dragons,off-shore tax schemes and paradises beyond t' blue.Islands enticed, outstripping conveyance and passage.Old Jim Nightingale painted it; a hale retiree who'd wearied notof maritime watercolours, nor condemned hardtack cardboard.I stared at the image from my bed, a guiding if unfixed star,as my younger brother voiced his croup coughand fancies flew o'er uncharted vistas. As-yet unsung glories.The next year my handdrawn, pencil coloured ripoffscored a meritless first prize in an untalented talent questA treasured memory, if truly lacking in substance:doubloons and just-post-pubescent chest. I yearned for guiding winds.

Horizons dim. Storms blow. Years pass to starboard.

On the port wall, o'er the tub in my family bathroomlies a faded reproduction of a beached (breached?)fishing boat pulled to shore. Muted, Italianate coloursmay conceal sun damage, pacific torpor evokeseviscera. Gasping fishheads. The vessel's pulled to shoresans anchor; calmed waters make a seeming drydockof a craft that lulls uneasily. Overt blissreflects off an oar; or is that the Artist's trick of the light?Bought after the wreckage of a shoaled first marriage,the becalmed, calming painting survived a bachelor's anchorage,flotsam and jetsam, to find love. Peace. Safe, prized harbourunder muted tiles and a stultifying fan/heat/light orb.Craft designed for open waters creep around shores.Keels longing for deep surges embrace sand and foam.Joy in safety lurches, whalelike, against shells of aspiration.Happiness bumps listlessly against salt-tanged dreams unvisited.Amphibious I watch, breathe, consider tide's release.

–Barry Gittins

Michael Sharkey lives in Armidale NSW, and his poems have been published in several