When My Father Was A Fisherman

In the lean years,
there wasn’t much work to be got on land,
so my father took work on one of the trawlers
that fished up and down the mouth
of the Tasman Bay.

When he came ashore,
he was like something out of a
romantic sea tale,
tattered woolen hat and gumboots,

the reek of fish scales,
sleeves rolled up,
sunburnt tattoos of skulls and flames,
salt in the creases of his smile.

I thought of his fierce arms
hauling up schools of mackerel and orange roughy,
and the angry sea spittle
lashing at his leathery face.

My mother wore her fear
in the strained, tired lines of her eyes,
this is the last time, she said,
after this, you’ll get a job in
the tobacco season,

promise me.
But she was a fisherman’s wife,
and he was proud of the living
he snatched from the teeth of a
capricious sea.

The captain was a real sea dog,
a missing tooth, a glass eye,
an anchor tattoo on his fist.
He was rolling drunk most of the time
and there was a sharpening in my mother’s voice
when he came round to drink with dad.

On good days he led his boat to
Eldorado,
but on bad ones he floundered
in used up hunting grounds,
where the big boats had greedily fed.

On good days
we were down the fish and chip shop,
dad hanging his tattoos out the car window,
on display,
thumping the door to ZZ Tops,
like local bogan royalty.
But too many bad days

and mum was at the neighbour’s
begging bread and sugar,
my sister and I would go off to the school bus
in mended crutches and mended knees,
skipping the cracks in our world.

And then the day came
when the Salvation Army people
pulled up at our house.
They handed mum and dad
brown paper bags,

a bounteous and bitter charity
of cans, bread, sugar and biscuits.
My little brother snatched up the ice cream,
bare-bum, ran out back with his catch,
my sister emptied a box of raisins in her mouth,
and whistled through it like a flute.

Mum was crying and wouldn’t look
the delivery man in the face
as she pushed a choked thank you from her lips.
Dad just stood there, fists clenched,
lips tight as wires,
and I shrank back inside,
cause I knew what he was thinking.

These were the lean years,
the nineties,
when the safety net was hauled up for good,
when my family got fed
if we could catch a break from the sea.

My Thirty Hearts

Thirty years old,
I speak to my thirty hearts
that I’ve scattered like confetti afternoons
to the corpulent sky.

Some are snagged in sharp clouds,
some free, floating past
the loosening trees,
some return like balloons,
but I speak to them all.

My five year old heart,
Stub-toed,
Stumbling into rainy days,
receiving them like a leaf,

soggy cats rubbing his swift shins,
and the world bent down on knees
offering immensities
to tiny hands,

fragile hands, like a leaf,
yet brutal as the dawn.

My twelve year old heart,
eyes and tongues and ears
consuming youth,
as wicks consume the air,

wide oceans like
blue fry pans sparking,
and trees slung with tire swings

and little golden girls
budding in his mind,
warm lips, hearts of ochre,
pencil cases filled with scented rubbers,
and voyages down unreal Niles.

My seventeen year old heart,
wants roaring Beethovens,
eyes that sing,
mornings burdened with music,

the tall arms of schoolgirls
he could have touched,
their glistening ears dripping song,
song everywhere,

and the aroma of summer,
sweat, unbathed time,
he’s smattering his inward stars
across the beaming curb,

and the mad strides of youth
already almost at the school gate.

My twenty one year old heart,
cuts the stems one by one,
the sad stamens of home,
the tender, raw fingers of mothers
doing heartache for the first time.

The boy tethered to his one selfish beam,
learning what the men will teach
for a price,
he learns love instead,

opened on the shingles of taste,
the bed he’s made for her to unmake,
life described by revolving sheets,
and night’s lips,
and the broken tongues,

and the things she gives,
growing from the wounds she keeps,
and the forgotten school,
and the discovered sky.

My thirty year old heart,
given away in a reckless bedroom,
leaves only a note with a smudged address.
Tacked to streets,
I go hunting after lost time
not yet past me.

And my heart somewhere, kept by another,
wrapped in a faded golden paper,
stuffed away in a weeping drawer,
with scissors, fingernails, pencil shavings,
a taxidermist’s stuffed child.

And maybe sometimes taken out,
cupped in tears,
walked in lonely gardens of memory
with an old love,
then put away in rainy cupboards.

In the Garden

She skips about the thorny roses
stomping on their sunlight dabbles.
In this garden of childhood,
the child keeps no memories
and belongs to this
forgetful hive of flower life.
This is her infinite day,
in which the sun,
bright,
like a grandfather,
leans on every old wall.
The world recieves this
little invalid quietly, shimmering;
it leans foward
at her every tottering step.
But when no one is watching,
she likes to wander
into the shaded corner of the garden,
moist with dark leaves,
and nightmare visions
of slugs and snails
suckling at the roots of the earth.
Here, a sunken ruin
gurgles in a jungle swamp,
a glistening leviathan
rutts, tangled in vines.
She rushes back,
little face full of anxiety,
to the bouyant path, with its
marigold sea and thorny roses,
that sail over her
like baying red and pink clouds.
The shady corners of the garden
have turned the kind sky yellow,
and sap drips from the thorns.
The path will take her home once more,
but how fun the garden is,
with its frights and discoveries,
and solitude made for children.
And the infinite day is
fraught with such journeys
to see the slugs and the snails.