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Selected poems






It’s been a blowsy sort of sunset.

Glass in hand, we’re nine floors up

passing underneath the bridge


so close we almost touch it.

Higher up again, two flags:

one of them the Southern Cross


with Union Jack; the other done

in red and gold and black.

Off there to the starboard side


the skyward thrust of Star Casino.

Barangaroo is strangely honoured

and now, just past the bridge,


Jørn Utzon’s row of splendid shells.

A DJ’s playing soul and funk.

Next, to port, we pass North Head,


that place of isolation,

unspoiled silence still

where campfire smoke would once have greeted


Arthur Phillip with his claim.

We’re on our second drink by now

and some among us pause,


imagining a Gadigal

imagining that we’re

the first ship of some Final Fleet


returning whence it came.




Reaching out like genteel fingers,

cruise ships make the names come back:

James Cook, Abel Tasman,


Dirk Hartog and the rest,

each one in his century

wrestling with longitude,


not knowing what was coming next,

naming islands after patrons

in Whitehall or their country piles.


Today we sail by satellite

seas that little fraction wider,

albeit with the shoals well-known


and hurricanes predicted,

fresh comestibles each meal,

fine cutlery and well-pressed linen.


All day we latter-day Magellans

are dozing by the pool,

nine storeys high above


old whispers underneath.



Sailing into Milford Sound,

three hundred metres vertical

and ninety metres down,


even the man with microphone

is for a moment hushed.



And here in the companionways

oil paintings from the 1930s,


sleek art deco liners powering

blithely into what’s to come.


There’s been a war and that’s ensured

new turbines turn with greater ease.


Each empire brings the art it wants.

Their prows divide the Seven Seas.




Strange Gods



To what strange gods do they give praise

lying here in filtered light

languidly on ranked chaises tongues

and wondrously content with life?


Can it be a Roman one,

possibly with Bacchic bulge,

who promises his followers

he will infallibly indulge


all those who laze beside his pool

aiming for some small renown

with devotees who like to check

which of them’s the deeper brown?




I know about the honorific

so treasured by the Javanese

who speak as if to reigning princes

evading all that might displease.


They seem to know though we Australians

rarely call a cook a chef —

and so by cheery compromise

I am addressed as “Mr Geoff”.





“Half an hour will be enough, “

our friends had said of Timaru

and seemed to hit the mark although

we scarcely gave the place its due.


More though can be said of Picton,

its overture … Queen Charlotte Sound,

its waters green as Switzerland

and proper coffee to be found.




Eventually, it starts to happen,

the on-board metamorphosis,

the extra fried eggs “sunny-side”,

the hash browns just for emphasis.


The second pastry after after lunch

was never a deliberate plan

but two weeks more and I shall be

a sadder and a wiser man.





Geoff Page is based in Canberra and has published 22 collections of poetry, two novels and five verse novels. His recent books include Gods and Uncles and PLEVNA: A Verse Biography.

Main image: Life belt on wall (Depositphotos).

Topic tags: Geoff Page, poetry



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Existing comments

Having done a very similar cruise just a few weeks before you, which alas produced no poems at all, I very much enjoyed these poems, Geoff. Beneath the whimsy and the play are questions we do well to ask ourselves. You ask them with a deft touch. Thank you.

David Adès | 13 June 2023  

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