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.
SOUNDING THE DARK
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.
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).