Here are some more poems from the current Quadrant collection, an adequate Christmas gift, I judge, available now from a bookshop near you.
Red-Head With Phosphorus, 1976
Red-haired girl in a white bikini
who he saw for the first time aglow
on a launch moored in a Rottnest bay
twenty-five years ago,
inviting them up from their sailing dinghy
to share the owner’s champagne:
as the green water lapped in the sunlight,
as they bobbed on the mooring chain.
He was, he recalls, a painful mess
and she was sweet and kind,
both certainly more than he deserved,
and more than he’d looked to find.
Quaffing champagne in the cockpit,
and diving off the bow.
It would be perfect, the owner remarked,
if they could stop time now.
And she, and his friend, and the owner
laughed together in the sun.
He was the moody, silent dork,
just trying to offend no-one.
Later they took the dinghy
and they sailed in the moonlight bay.
He remembers that phosphorescent time
as if it were yesterday,
or yesternight, to be precise
as they sailed through the easterly blow
with the launches and yachts at their anchors,
and the phosphorus aglow,
with the dinghy’s bows splitting the dark,
and the easterly blowing warm,
his friend lying drunk on the bottom-boards,
and she snuggled under his arm.
And lights on the island and anchored boats
dwindled and left them the stars.
The waves rushed in cool green fire
and the sheets were taut as bars.
A wonderful night, he thought as they sailed
(I said more than he’d looked to find).
He’d never forget it, he thought, and he had
no more than that in his mind.
The moon slid down and he sadly turned,
headed back and the rocks slid past.
They came ashore by the Army base
and he thought it was over at last.
They waded ashore through that green fire
when the night was otherwise black
and, when he turned and kissed her
she, amazingly, kissed him back.
When they’d dug the anchor into the sand
and pulled the boat up the shore,
he found to his astonishment
that that night held a good deal more.
That was a night, whatever’s come since
(people and pleasure and pain)!
Oh! Pocket-sized red-headed Venus
who put him together again.
– Hal G.P. Colebatch
She’d wanted her own bike
for as long as she could remember
At last with some misgivings
Dad bought one second-hand
and did it up
Proudly she rode that day
down a nearby quiet lane
Five boys on cycles
came towards her
and with a U-turn
forced her to stop
Laughing they pressed her
into the grass verge
The ringleader did her first
the others watched
then took their turn
Long after they’d gone
she sobbing wiped herself
on her torn knickers
threw them in the ditch
and still trembling
pushed her bike back home
She didn’t tell her Dad
– Jean Frances
In Memory of Corey Tottenham, 1973-2005
An African word
Roughly it means:
I am because we are
A lovely idea, and true
An idea with a view
Of all of us
And how it makes us I
A lovely idea, but if true
Then no word will ever do
Or description describe
What it meant when you died
For now that you’re gone
There is no us, there is no we
So now I am not. You’re dead.
And I am no longer me.
– Brad Jackel