Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

The enigma of the island


Wind swept island

Critical Reviews
A reviewer closed a thorough appraisal
with ‘...he is at ease and adept with his craft,
even if he is not at ease with his past.’
This sly memory pops up unbidden;
5 a.m. in a world of silence
where he is also adept at brewing ritual tea.
It’s true he often gives the present the flick,
mining incident-rich seams of the past, eschewing
time wasted in waiting rooms, on must attends,
biros busy, sipping tea, duelling memory.
He knows his bell will toll soon enough,
rations his days dwelling in the most private art.
Speed-reading an empty evening eating toast
he spills crumbs on a best-seller, lacks belief,
wonders who is at fault for its translated prose,
what anchored the nineteen gushing blurbs.
He also assesses absurd films on TV from long ago,
could, should, be rereading Heaney, Burnside.
Clearing debris after increasingly windy days
he pictures a ghost-garden lit by olden sunlight.
A once glorious tree has died, noxious fungi
circling its trunk where guests dissected books,
their children joyous in the sandpit he built.
What are days for, he thinks, honouring Larkin.

The Enigma of the Island
Wind when our light aircraft approached the strip,
fierce gusts shifting us sideways, doomwards,
warned us, a war party of offended island gods.
A following flight was eventually redirected.
Watching from the terminal with a small crowd,
apprehensive, I ushered our young boys away.
Our salt-blasted car rental veteran guzzled fuel,
gearbox a disaster gasping past wallaby roadkill
leaving the dramatic volcanic mountainscape
for glimpses of carved bays, Crusoe beaches
contrasting with weathered scrub, still farms.
I just wanted a change, this island ghosting my future.
We lingered by a bay as each of us fell in love.
Wind swept, waves muttered outside our door.
We left knowing we must return, all changed,
to become seasonal visitors like gypsies,
renters, recipients of goodwill, our growing boys
studies in bronze on a beach holding us in thrall.
Littlies up front, brawning back to anchormen,
we dug in at the tug-of-war on sports day.
The coastal dwellers slowly revealed themselves,
stoicism masking a kindness most of us long for.
We know we are years dead, push our stake to the pot,
this rough-hewn block, the joyous shack, now ours.

960-990 AD Download
Burning a smoky block of dressed timber
from our original bridge built in 1926,
a freezing morning pit dark so early,
few vehicles crossing the river on concrete,
a different sound from three generations ago,
bumpety-click then, sections joined by bolts,
rusted giants, some still hooked in my offcuts,
heard by those driving to church or town haunts
faster in their Fords than previously;
I read by lamplight a translation of a poem
written by a woman more than a millennium ago,
a lyric of longing originally in Old English,
ancient literature by Shakespeare’s time.
She lived surrounded by marshes,
perhaps burning old oak to thwart the chill,
an occasional cart creaking by,
mulling over past pain, time’s massive hole,
her echo understood across the halls of time.  

Relieving, reliving
(for Ken Martin)

Pissing a hole through the middle of the night
I crane my neck back and up at 40 degrees South,
stars’ swooning intaglio a blurry orgy without glasses,
the night sky so close, like the eternal sound
of Flinders Island’s waters wild with crash and gleam.
Cosmic choreography must bring a galactic end to this.
We often don’t know when something was the last time.
Life’s hurry, known things and sometimes strange;
a train journey past ruins, the Ferris wheel’s lurch,
pictures painted of glimpses from small windows
to hang in the faded glory of the mind’s gallery,
but the past, the dust of trivia, unlabelled events,
mementos on a daily desk, the rumpled double bed,
seems like a fast page flip through a vast chronicle.
Even that largest star might no longer exist,
distance toying with the speed of light, neck hurting
but not my heart; another final experience
like the last day in a remote port’s warren of streets.
My weak bladder sighs, ego crushed yet stirred,
while I philosophise, those and things I love
sleeping in trust under this ancient sequined blanket.

Ian C Smith

Ian C Smith lives in the Gippsland Lakes region of Victoria and his work seventh book is wonder sadness madness joy, Ginninderra Port Adelaide, 2014. 

Island image by Shutterstock.

Topic tags: Ian C Smith, modern Australian poetry



submit a comment

Existing comments

thank you to all poets who help us see the world through a different lens - it's too easy to lose focus

Paddy Byers | 23 June 2015  

Great to see Ian here this morning! It is always good to hear his words. Lyn Riddett

LynRiddett | 23 June 2015  

Great to meet your poetry in Eureka Street, Ian. I like your style.

Name Marjo Chambers | 01 July 2015  

Similar Articles

Two goats, a sheep and Grexit

  • Gillian Bouras
  • 01 July 2015

In the early hours of Saturday, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had announced a referendum for July 5. Whether the average Spiro and Soula has much idea of the macroeconomic issues seems doubtful. I certainly haven’t. And there is not much time for them or me to learn. Spiro and Soula and I are naturally concerned about the supply of ready cash.


The rhetorical question with an answer

  • Maureen O'Brien
  • 24 June 2015

What can you do? There's comfort arising from an internal acknowledgement of the fact that, however painful it might be, there are some things beyond our control. But certain role models in our community - including anti domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty - have demonstrated through their actions that it is possible to move beyond a seemingly all pervasive sense of resignation.