Motel at Equinox
Our lodging was a motel by the Indian Sea,
Whence we could view a convoy of tankers
Steaming down to Fremantle and the refinery,
Each as grey as the clouds scudding in with the change
And promised summer storm, all flash and thunder
Rolling inland as far as Yorke and the wheatbelt:
Though, for the tourists, it was less than welcome.
You pointed to the clouds, how they glowed
With the westering sun sitting well away,
How the ships seemed to be as small as toys.
The swimming pool was as blue as California
As it’s pictured on the Cinemascope screen,
Not with a greenish tinge as in that 2014 Hockney
Where a man in a pinkish jacket is staring down.
Is it at himself I wonder? Most likely a friend:
So blue that it set me shivering as I dove
Into its abyss, daring to take a chance,
Pushing myself into the shimmering depths,
To peer through the portholes with unalloyed joy,
Lunging hard up to the surface into sunlight
Which tumbled from aloft in long, golden skeins,
Shook itself over my bare head and shoulders,
Burning at the pool’s edges as you raised your hand,
Stilling me, the metallic click of your iPhone:
So, there I was then, propelled through the æther.
The bar was open. You ordered a chardonnay,
I was content with cold beers; Asahi, Kirin.
I regretted betraying my long dead uncle,
Though his commandant had enjoined us in forgiveness:
Yet those four years on the Burma Railroad still rankle.
Spacious and cheery, we were well housed, and dined,
Nodded to the other guests and watched the tempest
Come sweeping in as the main course, baked trout, was served,
Flinched when the lightning flashed, then waited
For the auxiliary to kick in before the tiramisu.
The low diving board had been repainted yellow,
Though the old red underlayer shone through,
Reflecting the sun as it stuttered into the ocean,
Bouncing the light back onto our wineglasses,
Glowing, as if turning into a newsworthy volcano.
Well before noon, we set out on a long ramble,
Picking a path between clumps of seaweed and flotsam.
The storm had not let up until midnight, noises,
Lights flashing under the edges of drawn curtains,
Television news cutting out before the forecast.
We had re-read the newspapers, done the crosswords
And you had called home, just to check all were fine,
Filling up with gossip even as the lines sagged:
But by nine the lights were out, and we tried to sleep,
And having had far too much for dinner, held hands.
Laugh at us, second honeymooners that we were,
But we did progress up the shore, waded a stream,
Gazed at dunes as yet unsullied by weekend SUVs,
Sand as golden as your tresses that night we met,
Then found a rockpool, almost a lake in itself.
It was spread out a quarter mile to the headland,
Simmering in the morning light, like Turner’s gold.
Two women and their children had the far littoral,
Their boys playing cricket with plastic bat and ball.
Girls cartwheeled in the sunshine of my memory.
If the headland were a fortress it would be named
After a saint, infamous pirate or warrior,
But being so eroded over the ages,
It’s lumpy, like the outline of an ancient prophetess,
A sibyl, who would tell her visitors their tales.
Ours began in 1606, attested by Hartog’s Plate,
Affixed to a stake somewhere further north of here,
Then the long, sorry saga of quiet desperation,
A thousand longboats sinking between there and here,
But now, a form of acceptance, even contentment.
We sat for an hour, and chatted. Like us, teachers,
Letting the children run wild and free of constraints,
Though with one eye open on the roiling waters
Out past the sandbank, calling back the wilder boys
Whenever they succumbed to the sirens’ call.
Back at the motel, lunch, but then I could not sleep
Remembering all I had learnt of History
As the cries of forlorn seagulls and the dull roar
Of aeroplanes setting out towards Africa,
All as black and unnerving as Conrad’s stories.
At the Greeks’ café, even the flowerpots are blue,
Though the geraniums and roses are stubborn reds.
The stairs falling onto the strand, we negotiated
Our way down to the water’s edge, looking for shells
As we’d promised our granddaughter a bucketful.
Pinks and greens she wanted, not ordinary whites.
Like Aphrodite, she desires only beauty
To surround her, such shells shining like diamonds,
Heroes with wrought-iron tridents, flowing red beards,
Locks feathery as peacock’s plumes or phoenix down.
The sea was still roaring two days after the rainstorm.
The line of ships outside Fremantle had thickened,
Fishermen complained that their grounds had been sullied,
Blaming the gods, the Chinese, those oil tankers,
Everyone and anyone but their own early greed.
I found a shell that glistened in the sunlight
Pummelling down from an incandescent sky,
Lips green with a hint of purple, silvery touch,
Whilst saltwater streamed from its chitin flanks,
A perfect vessel for the Cypriote goddess.
Spared Zorba, we were serenaded by the seagulls
And a flock of local cockatoos, all discordant.
The coffee was thick, she served halva finely sliced,
With a second glass of the house wine, resinous.
Durrell would have liked it here, no one hurrying.
A lemon tree grew in a tub, a cat sunning.
I was told how the Greeks played a cruel trick
On a German who’d barged his way into Byzantium
To make a marriage for the Red Emperor, to no avail,
Being served roasted goat and a farmer’s rough wine.
What is it about this place, the memories evoked?
I am not Greek, and other than Partholón’s tale
I have not a hint of the Mediterranean.
I’m all Atlantic, with four green paddocks besides,
Blessed with two left feet and stumpy fingers, pure Mick.
How cruel is genetics! Mother could vamp the piano,
But organ, fiddle and guitar yet elude me.
Still, this warm sun, coffee, the wine, and these platters,
Make me into a Philhellene, though I’m not sure
How far out to sea I’d swim to meet my lover.
The news is not good. It is never will be good:
If not famine, then earthquakes, bushfire, flood or war.
Yet we turn on the breakfast television
Then trot down the street to the newsagent by ten
To buy the preferred rag, Labor or Liberal,
Read the Stock Exchange and County Court reports,
All consumed with a croissant and second coffee:
Flick through Trump and Biden, Juncker and Putin,
Scratch away at the Crossword and Puzzles,
Leer at the Personals, weep at the Death Lists.
If I’m lucky, there’s the alternative paper
Sitting on a still-warm chair, Crossword untouched,
So then, I can tuck mine into the shopping bag:
Twice the fun at half the price, a good bargain,
And sensible, seeing the world through new glasses.
As if awakened from a deep dreaming sleep
Our politicians have decided to do something,
Just what is unclear, but at least they’re doers:
The fife of war and the Lambeg Drum are sounding,
Whilst the women huddle and whisper.
Our fourth day: it’s turned cool, so to the Galleries.
They’re small, with a heavy accent on the local past,
Settlers, scallywags, wandering bishops and nuns,
Praising the newest barbarian cum hero,
Despite his murder of Mrs. O’Brien and her son.
My mood has turned brutal. I should be a liberal
Given everything I’ve seen and done, but this irks
More so than Derrida’s nonsense that’s been touted:
Als ob Beethovens Fünfte nur weißmännlich wäre!
Eagleton’s Introduction deserves caution.
Before dinner, swim in the horizon pool, beer.
At the table we’re placed with two other couples.
Good companions and shared stories about travels.
You tell about the conversation at the salon
With a girl not long out from your parents’ country;
How noisy the commotion across the border,
Her cousins running away from the thick police,
Their white-red-white flag floating behind as they fled.
We live in La La Land, or its Antipodean form,
And all our dreams are yet to be our dreads.
About Edward Reilly
Edward Reilly, b. 1944 Adelaide, taught for many years in state schools & university. He holds a PhD in Poetics (Victoria University). In 2010 he founded a small literary journal "Azuria", with an international reach, so far publsihing 10 issues. When funding for printing & distribution can be found, another issue will follow.
Sketch by the author, March 2023