Sport 7: Winter 1991
♣ Allen Curnow — A Busy Port
My turn to embark. A steep gangplank
expects me. An obedient child,
I follow my father down.
It happens that the sun will have topped
a black hill beside the time-ball tower,
and found the spot of a fresh
tear on Bob Hempstalk's cheekbone, whose wet
red eyes blink back seaward where he leans
for'ard at the wheel-house glass;
one hand wipes an eye, the other shakes
a half-hitch loose, unlashing the wheel.
A man's tears, obscene to me
caught looking. Too late now. The time-ball
drops. Quayside voices (not for my ears)
discuss the dead, bells repeat
ding-ding across the wharf. Brightwork traps
the sun in brass when I next look up,
following my father down,
who made the trip himself many years
past. The old rust-bucket gets up steam.
Frequent sailings from where we live.
Winched aboard still warm over the for'ard
hatch the morning's bread hangs by a breath
of its own. It smells of bed.
An enriched air. The urinal under
the wharf drip-feeds, the main steam below
sweats. Darky Adams, deckhand
engineer stoker bangs his firebox
open, slings in a shovelful, slams
the insulted flame back home,
thick acrid riddance topples the way
smoke rolls by its own weight, in an air
that barely lifts, off the stack.
One jump clear of the deck the plank dips
with a short uneasy motion, deep-
sea talk to the paddler's foot
out of my depth, deeper yet, off the Heads,
our Pillars. Pitching like a beer-can.
I'm hanging on tight, can't hear
clashes from the stokehole for the wind
yelling, crossed on the wheel he's yelling
back, 'Ay, bit of a stiff breeze'.
Eyes that last I saw in tears can read
abstruse characters of waves, on course
between them, our plunging bows.