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The children of Aleppo

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The day brigade


Gulls shriek, as the Doctor catches at the eaves;

the complacent city stirs with her faint bird cries,

groaning docks drawing us up out of our

drugged, dream-sodden sleep, shipwrecked

by reality again, waking on blank wet sand.

Damp sheets, rude traffic, angry sky: the usual.


Every morning this useless resurrection,

shaking earth from our dewy, dreaming faces,

as Westerlies knock on the door, rattling tin,

whistling down our alleyways, clanking

empty flagpoles, whispering in our sleeping ear

of lives and loves and dreams long drowned.


Beyond the burnt curtains, cars bark, trucks

and cranes grumble, trains rumble over bridges,

gulls wail, wheeling over parapets of plaster fruit

and flimsy tin, shitting on all the old pub domes

and spires of the peninsular shored up against eternity

by Jarrah beams and limestone spoil.


Between old quay sheds and the Authority tower,

a slice of blue, tossed mania between stabilities.

Stacked containers form a rusty, ragged horizon,

baking crust to molten rosy Turner hues,

romantic views of peace and plenty falling away

to mingle with the buttery salt of the Indian.


The day brigade is drifting in like a tide,

filling all our echoing civic hollows.

Cranes have new ships to disembowel.

China must lighten her load. It is still going on.

We hear its summons: music of hope recalcitrant;

the damned persistence of things.



The children of Aleppo


This morning I read of the nightwell,

filling mysteriously in our sleep,

disappearing by day, and it brought

to mind the gifts of Christmas, of starlight,

the open dark eyes of the children of Aleppo

on television the night before.


I dreamt of a family escaping through pines,

over the crest of a forest, young and old

struggling down to the shore of a great cold lake,

their only hope of escape; no boat was there,

but the strong might try to carry the old,

at least, if they cared enough


and it made me want to simply run away,

to escape the brain-ache of not doing

what we are best made to do, even knowing

our good fortune, knowing no gratitude

or peace of mind, no resting place for

a harried and haunted, half-buried mind


and then I read of the nightwell,

how it was said to fill mysteriously

while men slept, then disappear by day,

and it brought to mind the gifts of Christmas,

starlight, the children of Aleppo,

a family escaping ...



The grey masters


White dogs shift in a lithium hush

chasing scraps these margins won't allow

while their grey masters lap chinos

flourish black tablets to book kennels,

flights, massages, elaborate manoeuvres

against nature; photograph their food,

rate the avocado, stock up on logos

and order more lattes:

'A little warmer, this time. Not hot.'


The dogs don't know what to do,

and so brood. The town's lack of life

doesn't worry anyone. Only servants

and scavengers have survived the crash.

Huge parasites graze in the cafes now-

aged sportsmen racing the Fin Review.

Plane trees inveigle their bland, lime shade

into Bohemia's last stronghold,

as working memories fade to grey.


The warehouses are all dorms now,

containers between cruises, courses,

high class operations. Woken by bells

in the harbour, residents take sedatives,

stimulants, odd servants on visas,

and all the streets get plastered over

with forgetfulness such comfort brings

in its wake like ash, like snow,

slowly diminishing the world


and no soul sings a lament or thinks

to throw a bone to the poor;

no-one even knows what's missing

on the street, or remembers how bright

the sun once beat off the morning forge

in workshops on Bannister Street.

But if the masters meet

in some blank threshold,

dogs will fight their shadows.



Riding the valley


I rode with my daughter through the streets

of White Gum Valley today, going nowhere,

watching her learn to drive, as I oversaw her

learn to ride her first two-wheeler, years ago.


The islands and verges were winter green

— their rise and fall made me feel okay.

There was no real test for me to pass, I knew,

but I felt quite passable by the end, anyway.


Past a certain birthday, the best thing a dad

can be is just okay and that's how I felt today:

older and lazy, vague as hell, my daughter's

dozy passenger, riding that valley for company,


watching her drive so well,

so much better than I ever did, truth to tell,

watching her teach me one more time

how to take a lesson.

Graham Kershaw

Graham Kershaw is the author of novels, stories, essays and poetry published in Australia and overseas. He lives in Denmark on WA's south coast, where he practises as an architect and runs a small publishing project called Hallowell Press. In 2012 he won the Blake Poetry Prize.

Topic tags: Poetry, Graham Kershaw



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Existing comments

How your beautiful words resonate with me, Graham (we must be a similar age) as we watch both our selves and (helplessly) our globalised world fade to grey. Surely most reflective fathers in their late 50s can hear your "Past a certain birthday, the best thing a dad can be is just okay". Tragic but grand stuff.

Chris | 28 September 2015  

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