As the Albatross Flies (poem)

A few months back, I wrote a poem about asylum seekers for a competition. It was ultimately unsuccessful and I forgot about it.

Until I saw a post on Crikey from poet John Kinsella talking about the same issue. As well as providing his own poem on the issue, he says, “I think we’ve reached a low with the ‘turn back boats’ stuff. The situation is deplorable, and poets should be speaking out on the issue.”

Now, I previously published a poetic take on the situation several months ago on the ABC’s The Drum website but I absolutely agree with John that we should be speaking about this issue and speaking often. So here is another, newly updated.

As the Albatross Flies (circa 1788 – 2013)

The ghosts of ships haunt the horizon
of our doors-shut window-locked home.
Frayed sails hang limp on their masts
like dead flags waiting for dirt graves.

The ghosts of ships haunt the headlines
of newspapers and broadcasters. They slip behind the eyes
of media pundits and peek out from their white smiles.
You can find these lost vessels listing in supermarket aisles

and the local convenience store, dashed
on the reefs of small talk. “Reckon they can stop
the boats?” Or tow them back, or buy them off,
or fling them into space?

The ghosts of ships haunt our hoods, the creak
of seasoned wood, the hollow boom of metal hulls
rusted into shape. Walk down the streets lined with debris,
and filled with the songs sung between a mother and child

grown apart. In Cabramatta, Burwood, Auburn, Villawood,
Leichardt. In Port Douglas, Liverpool, Manchester, Dublin,
London and Cape Cod, listen to their familiar watery cries
if you can hear them above the whipcrack of war

the desperate drumming of sweat-drenched fear
the harsh caws and demented glee of shock jocks
the sweet humming of the tides after a squall
or unresponsive static to radio calls. Their mistake

not ours, to come on the ghosts of ships
and not fly as the albatross once did.
Lodged between their third and fourth ribs
weathered feathers rustle, pin-prick edges

henna-tattooing skin with aged blood
in their eagerness to be freed –
by ocean or man. by friend or foe
it remains to be seen.

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