Tuesday Poem: Men At Sea


1. Puysegur

Glint of gold, horizon
proclaiming fish: familiar
warnings of gale and cloud.

He descends to the fishing boats.
One will take him tideward,
southward, a tolerated,

but far from welcome,
inspector of catches. In a pre-dawn
counterfeit of morning, they cast off

for Puysegur: the south-west
corner, the Roaring Forties’
big back yard, their hunting ground.

Three days of the sea as mountain range,
eating with the crew, sharing danger
but not profit. Three days

of soaked skin, puddled clothes, each
wooden bunk a trampoline, salt spray
in every cut and nick. At last

the turning homeward, past Solander,
past Centre Island — the Bluff
finally, blessedly, in sight.

He will make tallies, say farewells,
enact the weary rituals
of damp wharf and empty office.

He will drive a narrow highway home,
eyelids heavy, engine cold and catching
in the falling winter light.

2. Halfmoon Bay

School holidays. The ferry’s
uncertain plunging past the fishing fleets,
young feet

attentive to the scuppers. Green bile
derived from dread and remnant breakfast
flung, a final offering,

to the greedy waves. Then this
harbour long desired, Foveaux’s fingers
unclamping from my inner ear. Sudden

ease, relief; a brief reflection
that all this must be undergone again.
Boats in our wake, men at sea

raising a laconic workman’s finger
to visitors, to loopies,
to the daily irruption of other lives.

And now the island: crash
of gangways, solid ground,
davits whining as we walk away.

Men at sea, I take my father’s hand
as we approach the village, houses
hunched against the glowing skies.

The lure of escape, of absorption
into no-time, merely being
and doing. The memory of waves.

The journey back. Hands,
half-longed-for, half-feared,
reaching as we near the shore.

Credit note: “Men At Sea” is a new poem, first published in my new poetry collection Men Briefly Explained.

Tim says: My dad used to work as a fisheries inspector in Southland, the southern province of New Zealand. Halfmoon Bay on Stewart Island/Rakiura, and Puysegur Point at the south-west corner of New Zealand, were two of the places on his ‘beat’. I went with him several times to Stewart Island, but the trip to Puysegur was regarded as a bit tough for a child of my age. I still haven’t been there.

You can check out all the Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem Blog – this week’s hub poem in the centre of the page, and all the other Tuesday Poems on the right.