Poet, Philip Radmall


A harbinger, we called it, the final line in the slow, withdrawing

slide of wave breaks furthering out across the sand flats before 

the tide turned in. We watched for it, way out from the beach,

looked hard down at each last mark of foam and salt for the great 

telling of one thing come to an end that another in turn begin; 

drawn to it, yet almost hoping it would never be. Lone outcasts,

we stalked the edge of the shallows that stretched away 

broad and smooth towards the long edge-curve of the earth;

where nothing was except what was still, silent, wet;

where there was hardly any depth to the world; nothing but balance 

and hiatus and the vast calm emptiness of the flats; a dark

slick of cover under a grey shimmer of drained light;

as if what captured us there was something primal, unearthly,

where things came to cease a while and take in. Then we were all 

instinct and reaction, happy in a quick boy girl teetering dance 

and hop across the yet retreating tide, its run and halt and vanishing. 

Until suddenly there it was, and gone, and it all came rushing in, 

rough, uncaring, each line erased by each new incoming, telling us too

to go, retrace our steps, to heel again the firm ribbed sand 

blanching to the tread, pushing us slowly to a narrow hold 

of remaining beach, a last dry refuge before the sea wall 

where we stood looking back, heeding it all, caught uncertain 

again between the want to remain and the need to head off

into our own oncomes. Unforgettable then the sense 

reflected in the solemn keeping of your become-familiar face 

of what will always be at any turning: the brief, intimate

dilemma of a moment and its omen.


Hunting the rooms and calling out your name, the word

coming back at me off the walls, I found you, a tight black shape

in the closet’s dark, hunkered, slunk into yourself,

head hung forward beneath hangers and clothes. Like years ago,

dropping bundles of old newspapers off in a barn, pushing open 

the door and stepping across loose straw and sweepings, I saw 

a bat slatted amongst the under-thatch and raftered eaves, 

part of the high darknesses, caught alone in the thin

dagger of light that suddenly pressed into its wrap of leather.

Like you, it did not stir at my entrance or encroach,

but stayed with what it found within itself.

Sometimes, even for us, there needs to be a blindness, 

an offset for all the dazzle of the light; so the bat would hang 

in its inner world till the night again enclosed; as you, glamoured 

in gloom, would wait till your leaden eyes lightened and cleared.

We will always find our way. Behind the graceful blur of wing

are the hard workings of skin and tendon and bone;

senses sounding the dark, navigating the luminous echoes.

poet Philip Radmall

Philip Radmall is a Sydney-based poet and senior teacher of English at Macquarie University. His poems have been published widely in literary magazines and anthologies in Australia and internationally. His first collection is Earthwork (Ginninderra Press, 2017), followed by a chapbook, Artwork (Ginninderra Press, 2019). 

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