on viewing Octopus by Phyllis Stewart and Fisherman’s Hut by Samuel Elyard
written on Dharawal land
1. The octopus is liminal — being of grass and air
it occupies, it curls as the day curls around us.
2. Wallaga Lake and I’m lost (already)
shore-walking the reed beds and whiney mangroves
while in the she-oaks black cockatoos plee-erk seawards;
suddenly I’m knee-deep then fully down-watered and quaggy.
On the beach the dog puts up a wing of gulls
— white on white in the blowing.
3. The hut is a Cornish emigrant
plonked on a hillside over deep time. Elyard licks his nib
lifts his collar to the smatter of rain. He hurries now
the fisher is back early cursing the Southerly
and the shortened day: halfa box of Pilchards
coupla Dory empty as dinner plates.
4. Imagine it on your hand: it rustles as it settles
though lighter than first thought. Off-handedly
it circles your wrist, whispers new ideas of time
the artist rolling reeds on her instep
echoes of women’s laughter, kids
the grass beak gentles your palm.
5. Lift a stone and uncover an octopus; turn the page and dare a poem.
6. Gallery glass fixes the art, but at night
the lake overflows: mullet worry the net,
Elyard’s hut is awash and the door missing.
She suckers up the glass, circles the light fitting
an iambic plop across the floor
then sashays down Burelli St to the sea.
7. The whitewater lifts my foamie and I’m godbless Australia all the way to the sand.
Cronulla 1970, and I’m fresh off the boat. They’d schooled us on the new country: funnel webs, bellied snakes, the jelly-box, the stonefish (any stone could be an agonised clamp) and, of course, the pocket octopus.
The kids have found one in the green of the rockpool. A Greek boy (taller than us) grabs it, offers it round. Sput of ink. ‘Yar fucken skips,’ he laughs as we back off. Flares violet as he flings it to the sky.
8. line by line, an octopus becomes
(there’s more to say)
made of muscle and mind
unbroken it persists.
Image: Octopus by Phyllis Stewart (2002) a weaving of soft twig sedge, c- Wollongong Art Gallery and here’s Fisherman’s Hut by Samuel Elyard (1874) pencil, wash on paper (my photograph) at the Ways to Water exhibition, Wollongong Art Gallery, December 2021.
My first post for a while, I hope you like it. An ekphrastic poem written for the Ways to Water – South Coast Writers Centre 2021 Poetry Competition.
The poem contains some local vernacular: ‘skips’ (or ‘skippy’ is a derogatory name for Anglo-Saxon settlers by non-Anglo-Saxon (typically Lebanese, Greek or Italian) settlers; A ‘foamie’ is a surfboard made of polystyrene; Burrelli St is a street in Wollongong; Wallaga Lake is a lake on the South Coast of NSW.