Tuesday Poem: Impertinent To Sailors

Curved over islands, the world
dragged me south in a talkative year

slipping Southampton
as the band played a distant farewell.

It was better than steerage,
that assisted passage: ten pound Poms

at sixpence the dozen, promenading
in sun frocks, gathering for quoits,

angling, in an understated way,
for a seat at the Captain’s table —

while I, a child, roamed decks, became
impertinent to sailors.

And the heat! My dear, there never were
such days — rum, romance,

the rudiments of ska. Panama beckoned,
locks pulsing like the birth canal.

We passed through, to be rocked
on the swells of the quiet ocean,

its long unshaded days
of trade winds, doldrums, Equator —

then a cold shore,
a bureaucratic harbour,

and the half of a world
it would take to say goodbye.

“Impertinent To Sailors” was published in JAAM 27 (2009), edited by Ingrid Horrocks, under the title “Over Islands”. I plan to include it in my forthcoming collection “Men Briefly Explained”.

Check out all the Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem Blog – including the poem by Kerry Popplewell I’ve selected as this week’s “hub” Tuesday Poem.

16 thoughts on “Tuesday Poem: Impertinent To Sailors

  1. This is a lovely poem, an anthem to exile: your choices, juxtapositions, enjambments and couplings all power a poignant poem of passage. Stupendous.

  2. Fun poem, Tim.I tried to post on the Tuesday Poem blog to say how much I liked your choice there, too, of Kerry Poppelwell's poem, Leaving the Tableland but for some reason it was a 'no-go' on the posting–so I'm sayin' it here instead!Looking forward to next week.

  3. Love it, Tim. And those last two couplets are brilliant – a real switch. I'm still puzzling over all the possible meanings of the last line …

  4. Oh, I so love \”angling, in an understated way for a seat at the Captain's table – I do enjoy your poetry Tim – look forward to your 'Men Briefly Explained'

  5. Thanks, Maggie and Kay. I'd love \”Men Briefly Explained\” to be published in 2011, but that will be in the lap of others!

  6. Another gem. My dad came over on an assisted passage, and a good thing he did, too. Diane

  7. Thanks, Diane. I was 2 when my parents came out, so I can't actually remember anything about the journey, but have heard about the trip plenty of times.

  8. I quite like that distant voice, that child's voice. It feels like an outsider's poem. And as a Cuban expat, I feel identified with its motif. Many thanks.Greetings from London.

  9. \”A Cuban In London\”: Thanks. I think I slip into the mother's voice for a little bit there, but it's mostly the child's voice. (Insofar as it's about me, I was 2 at the time.)Helen: Thank you!

  10. I was curious about the sixth line, especially about the \”Poms\” with the capital P, so I googled \”ten pound Poms\” and read this. That way, I got to understand the context (which turned out to be a historical one) and better appreciate the poem, especially special references like \”assisted passage.\” :)Fourth stanza/couplet, my favorite here, for the lively image, and for the play in meanings in the line \”at sixpence the dozen, promenading.\”Thank you for welcoming me to Tuesday Poem, Tim. Cheers.

  11. Thanks, S. L., for taking the time to read the poem so carefully. I appreciate your comments!Your comments have made me realise that, when I add notes on the poems, I am (unconsciously) writing them for New Zealand readers rather than from an international readership. I assume that NZ readers will know what \”ten pound Poms\” and \”assisted passage\” mean, although the terms probably mean very little to New Zealanders under 30, since the \”assisted passage\” scheme ended in the early 1970s.It's tricky knowing what, and how much, to say about these poems, both on this blog and when writing nots to go at the end of a poetry collection.

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