Two Poems by Judith Beveridge

HIGH SEAS, MANLY BEACH

Surfers in wetsuits, tight as inner-tubes, watch the swell build –

most keep behind the breakers in chop that’s a slough

of white feathers – and as each wave breaks

it’s as though a line of warring chiefs wearing high headdresses

were falling backwards off their steeds.

A gale blores through the Norfolk pines shearing off branches;

gulls holster their wings; litter scatters, a salvo of missiles –

and though spray blows in scurfy drifts and sand pricks

our legs with quick dispatches of static shock,

though the cliffs are blotted out in tissue paper air,

we can’t look away from those few surfers who rise

high on their boards, arms held out with the poise and sureness

of wings, knees half bent, no entreating posture,

but braced resolutely on their platforms of pride, podiums

of prestige, the ones who might just ride the baritone cascades.

WASHER WOMEN AT THE RIVER

               No cloth too little for them to rinse, no stain or stench

               too large for them to wring away with their small,

               hennaed hands. They make a rhythm dashing cloth

               on rock: a thump and a tinkling counterpoint –

               their bracelets’ glassy spills. I listen to them carry

               laughter to their labour like full pitchers – they sing,

               they quip, they work in lissome rhythm loosening

               dirt, slapping away our loudest and our quietest stains,

               our most extravagant and our most mundane.

               The days flow by like sunlit treacle and we give

               them more to wash, a never-ending sequel to our

               stories of blood, sweat, muck. Even the air seems

               cleansed by starry explosions of water on rock.

               I praise them at their rounds, beating cloth on rock,

               freeing us of our guilt, the soiled exposure of our

               limbs and loins, all the errands of our careless hands.          

About the contributor

Judith Beveridge
Judith Beveridge is a Sydney-based poet and recipient of multiple awards, latterly the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards for Poetry (2019). She has published six volumes of poetry and was poetry editor for Meanjin (2005–2015). Her work is studied in schools and universities and widely translated. Her latest volume is Sun Music: New and Selected Poems (Giramondo 2018).

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