Whale Song When a Boy
Island cowries on their sitting room sill,
a mantel conch below crossed pandanus fans.
The display cabinet had ivory scrimshaw,
a couple of tabua; whalebone walking sticks
leaned from a stand down the hall.
On the verandah whale vertebra, for stools;
at the gate an archway of jawbones, yet
this far upriver they’ve no tradition of whaling,
only some vague belief. Like, in the early days
men at times put in to clean ship beyond
the site of the lighthouse round the Head.
They might say cryptically "It was on the distaff side"
and looked knowing so you looked knowing too
For years I coveted (I still do)
that squat Victorian volume – always a volume,
never a book – jampacked with steel engravings,
wonderful steel engravings, and old blocks,
The Natural History of the Sea where whales,
narwhals, monsters were at home. What was unlikely
came easy. I liked to fancy
morning, a humpback arriving off the Landing,
which blows, rising to turn a shrewd commanding eye
summoning bones from gate and porch
with souvenirs clear out of the front room
where blinds are drawn, calling those trophies
home, then sounding, then away.
From Last Poems (The Holloway Press, 2002)