When I moved to Sydney in 2008, I was struck by the beauty of the coastline. It was wild yet accessible, a completely different landscape to the northern hemisphere coastlines of my youth. It became my companion in the early days as a new migrant; a place of solace during times of grief and loss; and it continues to be the place where I run, swim and breathe in the beauty of this natural coastline.
Wanting to share this precious part of my life through poetry, I reached out to my dear friend and mentor, writer and poet, Libby Hathorn. Libby’s genuine passion for the written word, especially poetry, and her childhood coastline experiences made her the best woman to help guide this collection to its successful completion.
Over several months, we met and walked and talked and laughed and listened to each other, to the natural world around us, and to that call deep inside us that demanded we sing out with grateful hearts and minds.
As a migrant, I wish to celebrate a passion for nature and a special love for my adopted country.
What has been accomplished is a shared collection of poetry unique to a part of the magnificent Australian coastline.
It is with pride and joy that I share this journey and my heartfelt gratitude to all who supported and joined me along the way in my quest to connect people and landscape, especially, of course, my dear friend and poetry mentor, Libby Hathorn.
Every Tuesday sure enough they’re there
You’ll find them – well you know
Behind the locked door – behind the swing doors
Their brown-as-berry faces and crisscrossed backs
The stripes worn for times done and spent
Down here down on Coogee Beach
It’s always a laugh, always a giggle
The stories and recounts of their youth, their happy days
The boys, the men, the people who passed through
Their lives, their memories – so quietly listening
You learn through them: how it is to live a life
How it is to love, to lose and to love again.
The time is passing, but it’s true
You’re stalling, delaying – you want to know
The end to the tale – what happened next….
So bending once more over well-ties laces
Giving nonchalant observance to the cheery narrators
Cheekily eavesdropping – respectfully smiling
Now it’s told, you’ve had your fix
They don’t mind – the audience is a lift
Their twinkly eyes and great guffaws
Of laughter and acknowledgment of what’s past
What’s gone before – it can’t be changed or altered now
But next week “round eleven” it’ll be brought to life again
They know sure enough they’ll be there
Next Tuesday – just past 11
And sometimes on a Thursday too -they might meet –
The same deal; the change and dip ; the splash and out
For it’s more than a routine, more than a plan
To be together and share at the club down at Coogee Beach.
It was just one voice
But that voice spoke
In tones of familiar comfort
Of home and care and love
Of laughter and of knowing
all that had passed between us.
Its music poured itself into my ears, my head, my soul
And calming those storms raging in my mind
Walked me through the waves of emotion
That consumed me
To a place of harmony
And safety and all those blessings
That having you, my sister,
Has given me.
As you pin that little flower
Will you mind the eleventh hour?
Will you sit
And stop your day
To call to mind
The battles fought
And those that laid
Down their lives
And left all they loved
To fight a cause
That the world called yours
And call to mind
Those pure white crosses
That sit in splendor
Row on row
As that great poet
Wrote long ago?
Would you say that this
Made a man
Or ended wars
Or that by their graves
We now have peace
And that some are saved
Or safe at least?
And take your time
To think on this eleventh hour
What’s been done
And why you wear this bright red flower.
If I think and breathe
And that is all my own
No crisp dollar bill
Nor credit card
Can pay for that or shall
Ever take away from me the things I truly am
So if they trade and buy and share
And take from me the things they can
Still deep within my very soul I know just who I am.
There’s those who’d have me for a night
And those who live to spend an hour
Of time, of energy, of desire
To briefly be with me
To try and leave their mark
But despite the good, the great, the sad and those all in between
I rather keep my distance from each of them
Polite and in control.
For I can give but that isn’t me – it is not me at all.
You think you know what you think of me
You believe you understand
But I doubt you’ll ever scratch beneath what I choose to share
For unless you transact in that same currency or similar kind
Unless you know and feel that need
To trade what can’t be bought
You’ll never know the liberty, compulsion or the power
Of what I do, of who I am, or feel as I do feel
And love others as I have.
I’m remembering Eddie so clearly today
It isn’t too hard – the images stay
So clear in my mind of this man, this friend
Whose heart was so full of love till the end.
He never did think of his value, his worth
But only of what he could do on this earth
To help others, to care, to teach and to show
There’s many a skill he helped them to grow.
What sticks in my mind as I sit here and pray
Is the sight of his smile and his shuffle each day
Down to the beach where many he knew
To offer his help, and his wisdom too.
To hear Eddie talk was often a laugh
He knew how to humour the hospital staff
He knew many things indeed did dear Eddie
And at the end of his life he knew he was ready.
You see his faith held him so sure and so fast
Where some faiths faltered Eddie’s did last
He truly believed in his God and those things
That make a soul as rich as any a king.
Faith may be one thing, but there’s much, much more
For Eddie lived life to the full that’s for sure
His actions were so small so humble and true
His good deeds were many though very few knew.
For my part I knew – I saw and I felt
The kindness of Eddie when hardships were dealt
His concern and his care for us and our kin
Words of comfort and warmth when we leant on him.
He was there when you needed him and even when
You never knew what you needed he was there then
With gloves and the weights in the gym, on the beach
Looking out and keen to share and to teach.
He had funny old ways and a very slow walk
It was kinda a shuffle and boy could he talk!
You were never too sure what he would do
Or say for that matter to his keen boxing crew!
His passion for sport and for racing well known
His love of his family and friendships he’d grown
He did have his rants and there were things that he hated
And he never held back when opinions he stated.
Eddie always thought deeply of each person he knew
And what help for charities he might be able to do
Hearing the things he did and he gave
Without doubt a good man right through his life to his grave.
Many will miss him their grief all too new
Eyes brimming with tears, as they sit in their pews
The folk all black-suited fill the church by the sea
There’s a peace and a sadness – a warm energy.
As they carry the coffin with the service now done
And back to their offices the workers do run
They think on the words that they heard the priest say
Of Eddie’s goodness and character – those memories will stay.
So Eddie lives on, his spirit will last
He can inspire us to do as he did in the past
For there’s always a path, a means and a way
To help others like Eddie did every day.
I think of him now released from all pain
His last years were tough, his health under strain
And think of his family, his friends and then how
He’s touched our lives and he is in heaven now.
RIP Eddie W. 2014
There’s never just four seasons in this day and age,
You feel it in your bones come that first day,
Of exams and tests and standardising standards,
The nauseous buzz, the anxious chatter the butterflies a flutter,
For one and all who’ve ever been through the big exam door.
Now clock is ticking from the moment they awake
The forced-down breakfast, the vitamin pills – not wanting to be late
Double checking pencil cases; final ticks and checks,
And even when on the bus, in the car or walking up-to school,
That feeling of true dread, blank minds it’s a sort of thrill.
Now I’m sitting watching this fine frenzy all go by,
I’m flicking back in my own mind to exams times in the past,
The caffeine shots, the buzzing lights of libraries after dark,
The smell of grass and spring flowers when studying in the park,
The sense of how it all was new and how it always was.
Although I’m glad that I’m not there going through that door,
Or sitting in exams halls or pouring over books,
I’m taken back to a time when life was all so simple,
I knew so much, read so much with so much yet to know,
I know now all at once what I never knew back then.
Nina is one big, big smile
A bubble of happiness
A glow of contentment
A vision of joy
She knows what is good
And she tells it quite straight
“Go have fun dearie –
enjoy yourself while you’re young”
There’s a flag at half mast over Coogee today
The folks are remembering a friend passed away
He never asked – he wouldn’t know
How much they really loved him so.
There’s a flag at half-mast over Coogee today,
An old lady’s head bows as she wipes a tear away
She’s remembering his smile, his friendly word
All things he told her – the things no-one else heard.
There’s a flag at half-mast over Coogee today,
A bloke sits quietly overlooking the bay
He sighs as he sees his mate in his mind
He was one who looked tough but whose heart was kind.
There a flag at half-mast over Coogee today
The sun is shining at all the children at play
A mother looks up to see that flag fly
And prays that in peace he may now lie.
There’s a flag at half-mast over Coogee today
Though the world still goes on come whatever may
But for those that know and those that care
They bless Billy’s memory with a quiet prayer.
Billy Sindel RIP
Where are the homeless tonight?
Their usual places deserted
Yet choked up
With mourners sifting through
This valley of cellophane tears
Each its unique design
With varying degrees
Of thought of care of creativity
Yet each expressing
That one and singular sentiment
Of astonished grief
Like a floral chocolate box scattered
These beauties lie peaceful
Guarded and given homage
Their restful state has displaced
The regular sleepers
And where are they?
These night visions
Where are the homeless tonight?
Upon ten thousands
And yet more keep coming
To this grotto of human spirit
This building storm
In silence all do scream
Their prayers of loss and futility
Hardly bearing to look
Blinded by new tears
Bound with connection
To their fellow men
Yet missing from all this
Are the homeless
Where are they?
Where are the homeless tonight?
If you recall the weight of a baby in your arms
If you still remember first words, first steps so small
If you’ve packed a lunch or chopped up fruit
And upon the steel benches watched sport been won and lost
If you have been sleep weary from the hours spent waiting
To hear returning footsteps
If you wore the carpets bare when such news was not forthcoming
If you held breath for exam results or test results
Or just a message for proof of life
If you have held a hand when pain abounds when hearts first broke or friends forsook
And if in the mall you’ve searched for a child who’s disappeared
Or if you have known the ache of loss
Before you ever had a chance to hold close your heart’s desire
When every month is in vain
Have you stayed at troubled bedsides, looked upon the forever young,
Walked empty handed from the hospital ward
Or empty-wombed have cleaved your purpose to promote the lives of children?
If from afar you have been captured by the children in your life
Be they tied by blood, or promise
Or simply by your desire to protect these innocent and vulnerable.
If you have known these things and born their joy and pain
You are indeed a mother
And Mothers’ Day is yours.
Would you have marched
If you had seen violence come?
Would you have spoken out when
Into a home
Only last week
Here in our town
Violence crept softly?
Would you protest
If you knew
Up the stairs
And into the room
And into the bed
Violence took what it wanted
As the girl slept.
Would you have joined
Those who were marching
Together this morning
If you only knew
That just yesterday
Saw another dad’s heartbreak
How he broke down
When he was told
About last weekend
About how in his home
The home he had built
To protect all who he loved
Was not safe enough
That Violence still came?
For Violence is stealthy
Violence loves silence
Creeping upon those it would harm
And with no notice
No noise and no protests
In the girl’s house
And in her girl’s room
Where the girl slept
That violence came stalking.
And now in her waking
There is no marching
Now only tears quietly falling
For until all will march
Protest and make noise
The sad truth is that
Violence will live on.
The dawn striped red across the sky
When standing still we gazed upon the sea
Breathing in the silence drawing near
As patriotic flags flapped in the wind
We prayed and thought about this legacy
Our minds dwelling on the many and the many more
Who gave their lives too soon in all those wars
And their aching families who mourn them yet
And the countries whose pride they to death held dear
When bearing death, their legacy they gave
The talking and the praying goes on
The hymns that some still know
And sing in quivering tone and tune
In time as the quiet comes and goes
About this legacy and so a unified conscience grows
Now the wreaths are being laid down
Beside the twin flag poles
Names are called with due respect
And whilst we hear “the Last Post” played
We reflect on how their loss to us our freedom gave
When will we know when we have learnt
Through all those lessons that war taught
And whilst we are stirred by native spirit
To all rise to praise the strong and dead
We sing our half-forgotten anthems with our coy pride
As the crowds now make their way
And file past the decorated stones
That mark the lives of those unknown
Whose legacy only our little lives do show
And whose coldness hold warm the hearts of all those left
Should we not find some better thing
Some meaning for ourselves
Some way to comprehend this gift, this loss
To ask ourselves what bleeding heart, what weeping soul
Can immortalise this bloody legacy
So take up your arms and leave your soul
To mourn on what was lost
For these memories of the dead will not bring back
Nor lay to rest the passion and the harm
That simmers in these hearts of the mournful young
They will learn in their own time
What it is that harms a man
But if there be but one sole prayer
That we should chant in eternal unison
Be it that this day shall be their legacy for peace.
At the end of the phone
Close in thought and heart.
I dialed her number
Though before I did
I already knew
That she’d be crying
I knew that.
There is no comfort to give
We both know
That there was only one way
I’m sorry – She’s sorry
It’s a shame, it’s a loss.
It happened too quickly
A dog’s life’s too short
And sure she is crying
It’s sad to hear her
It’s so sad.
I feel like crying
I cry and listen
That dog was her life
Her “best behaved child”
That dog loved her
And she loved that dog.
This garbage guy wears a bright, bright shirt
With the name of our town on his broad, broad back
And a wide brimmed hat that goes on just like that
And he whistles through his teeth and as he cleans up all the dirt.
Saying “Hi” to the girls who are all out running
He empties the bins on the stairs at the corner
Stopping to check out the sun that is rising
He whistles through his teeth as he cleans up the dirt.
See all his tools and gadgets and stuff for cleaning
That all help him clear up the streets and the paths
And he laughs with his friends as they sweep it all up
Every morning, every day – from dawn to dusk.
Adapted excerpt from a tribute to a dear friend who passed on five years ago today…
…People missed her so much. They thought she had gone.
Slowly they began to see that she had not completely gone – her ideas and her spirit were all around them.
In the culture they loved – the songs and the dance.
In the art they had learned to appreciate.
In the plants and books and shapes and memories they had of their friend.
Indeed they could tell that she was there – in her place – in their hearts.
She will always be there.