The Voyage Home

1 March 2017

What’s in the album but time’s
shocks and shadowings,
every image interim?
Between the stockman’s moleskin trews,
the Captain’s uniform, immaculate or bloodied
this shipboard sketch,
courtesy P&O’s travelling artist …

There’s something of the dandy
(linen jacket, weskit, spats,
cufflinks opalescent gleam) . . .
A musical chap, much in demand
as dancing partner to the hopeful girls
who came aboard at Bombay
pallid from Indian heat
and still unmarried
“A Jackaroo” they say, “how quaint!”
The smiling mothers
in cabins shake a rueful head
“I know my dear, a gentleman, a General’s son,
but quite, quite, without prospects …”

And sometimes he leaves the music,
goes unpartnered, tired of talk,
up to the top deck to look at the stars,
a trick he learned standing outside
his boundary rider’s hut
with only stars and cattle for company.

Now the Southern Cross is left behind,
he marks Orion, bridger of hemispheres,
uneasy messenger,
for though he is going “home”
to everything familial, familiar,
something within has shifted –
in the space of those outback nights
he has unwittingly
made friends with silence.

It will stand him in good stead
for what’s to come.

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