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Sixty-five South


Selected poems



Sixty-five South



Simple trigonometry

brings on a sense of sharp unease.

Best to visit in the summer —

and don’t pass sixty-five degrees.



Arriving at Deception Island,

one has a sense of ancient maps,

Boreas with puffing cheeks,

waterspouts and, yes, perhaps


those early Dutch and Portuguese

undone by Incognita’s spells.

That iceberg in the distance there,

is that a kind of caravel?



Our boat is idling in the bay.

I have a chance for two hours now

to watch the wavelets wear away

an iceberg’s skirts and see just how


fresh water’s eaten by the salt,

tirelessly and with dispassion,

lick by lick by lick by lick

as if there’d never been a ration.



Thar she blows, they would have yelled,

relishing their windswept lives,

readying a fresh harpoon,

getting out the flensing knives.


Now the foredeck’s armed with lenses,

clever iPhones at the ready.

The captain tweaks the engines slightly

as if to keep the pixels steady.



Eighteen hundred sets of eyes

not all of them, these days, acute

scan the stillness of the morning

as if it were an absolute,


persuaded that they soon will see

a roiling turbulence of whales,

not just a sundry fluke or two

vanishing like sudden sails.



The radar speaks  of thirteen ships

within a mere three hundred K.

Nevertheless, we wake alone

among the bergs of Charlotte Bay,


their sense of inner concentration

being no doubt part of what

first brought us to these parallels.

Lyric moments? Maybe not.



Robert Scott and Roald Amundsen

achieved that final latitude

but only one of them would bring

the luck, the weather and the food.



When Scott first saw Amundsen’s flag,

it was the start of many blows.

Each night the diary in his tent

was chiselled into perfect prose.



Today we leave Antarctic proper;

we’ve seen the penguins and the whales,

the icebergs in their convolutions

and thought about the Age of Sail


whose heroes nosed around down here

sniffing out a sort of fame.

Or was it just the golden oil

that burned with such a lambent flame?




The Qantas Conversion


Like camels through the eyes of needles

the rich up-front decline to suffer.

The poor are blest — and cannot fly.


I, alone with some three hundred

members of the sinning class,


am pinned between the aisle and window

with fourteen hours to go,

knees up somewhere near my ears.


Pope Francis says that hell exists

but that there may be no one there.


I myself have long pronounced

the place a sad, vindictive myth

but on this flight I’m not so sure.


Eternal life could be like this

middle-row and middle-seat,


pair of pilots spared from death,

cabin crew that fails to age

and avgas that will not run out.


Dear god of endless aeronautics,

I fear I’ve lost my faith in doubt.




Garden Party


A mid-Victorian garden party

straight from Alice in Wonderland;

two thousand humans off a cruise-ship,

three thousand king-size penguins and


the manners that must credit both,

the tall birds in their dinner suits,

the humans in their puffer jackets.

Our penguin hosts refuse the cute,


address us sagely with their nods,

flashing just a smidge of yellow.

Although the Queen is running late

the party proving more than mellow.


Americans, polite as always,

converse in their distinctive drawls;

the penguins talk their three-plus-three;

then add a sort of dying fall.


The wind howls in from the Atlantic

and brings life down to minus ten.

We had to jeep four hours to get here.

I doubt that I’ll be back again. 




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: (Getty).

Topic tags: Geoff Page, poetry



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Existing comments

This is so good I want to read it again. And again.

Pam | 09 May 2024  

Sixty Five South evoked a memory.

Storm brews in my heart, embers singe my heels,
I’m sick of office chairs, cars with screaming wheels,
I long for ocean salt , stone cliffs embrace white surf,
Where the Ross shelf calves, in wild Oceans South.

And on Europa’s deck, the only sounds I’ll hear,
The riggings mournful cry, buffet of the sheets-
When she drops her hook, the murmur of the deep,
Exhausted from the tops, hard bunks restful sleep.

At dawn I’ll hear the forties, growl across the swell,
Cook at his gas fire , the java’s brewing smell,
Back on deck the capstan, heaving on the spokes-
Meself and seven others, mostly bearded blokes.

I’m over bricks and mortar, the place we call our nest,
Storm brews in my heart, sleet I love the best,
I’m sick of google search, cars and screaming wheels,
The wild Ross sea beckons, fine hull of welded steel.

So give me rolling swells, watch change at eight bells
Give me seas of green, the gannet’s throaty cry!
They herd the fish in shoals, dive deep to fill their craw
Europa’s got the heart of me, I’m off to meet the tide.

Francis Armstrong | 14 May 2024  

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