Four poems by Hal Colebatch:

1. “Autumn Morning”

2. “Dinghy Sailing”

3. “Weeding the Garden by Moonlight”

4. “Climbing”



Autumn Morning


The jetty is deserted in the sun. Warm light

streams to the river-bed, catching

the lines of feeding fish, bright

on the warm sand, seen clearly through

unruffled water, their movements matching

the slow currents, threading the new

growth over tyres, cables, cans, all shown

lying still in growing weed, changing fast

into the stuff of the river. Bars of gold sun

fall on them, holding the shrimps, the mussel shells,

the lives all overlooked. Martins dart past

to their nests under the boarding. The morning smells

of sea air, and new-mown grass, as ripples run

on this calm day. Even those cans and tyres

are full of life, each harbours its own crew

of living things. Ripples like cool fires

wander the sunlit surface, lines blown

by some unfelt wind. At the shore a few

people are wading. A few dogs and children run

on nearby grass. Over its little commonwealth of lives

of the hardly interesting, the marginal, the small,

the hardly beautiful, itself part of them all

and happily ignored, where so much thrives

the jetty stands deserted in the sun.

          from The Light River 

          © Hal Colebatch 



Dinghy Sailing


It must be hard to sail a boat without wonder,

a pure, childlike wonder at small things:

the colours of shallows over mud-banks, the wings

of cormorants drying on spit-posts, crabs going under

rocks, or simply blue, spray and a sail full of air.

And it is impossible to sail without knowing

of breaking-strains, and that just so much wind

can capsize a dinghy, and that nowhere

for all the simple beauty and all the showing

of freedom, is there any smallest estuary you can blind

with non-science, or lie to. Therefore when

I see men sailing dinghies there seem to be

with them and whispering at the last edge of the sea

clear shadows of much earlier men.

          from The Light River 

          © Hal Colebatch



Weeding the Garden by Moonlight


I have barely started these nocturnal labours

when the local cats come: first the neighbours’

fluffy white kitten bumps me with her nose.

Ginger Sheba, a ghost tiger, weaves and flows

between the stalks, and little black Felix

stares down from the eaves as Calico One licks

and preens against my legs and hand.

What is it brings this multi-coloured little band

of pirates and cupboard-lovers in the moon-glow

to watch me weed? What fascinates them so?

They put aside their complex games and stare

at what I do, moon-eyed like lynxes in some lair.

Is there some echo of Eden in this scene:

animals watching a man make things as they might have been?

          from The Light River 

          © Hal Colebatch




The German battleship Tirpitz capsized after being bombed in a Norwegian fjord late in World War II. Several hundred of the crew perished in the upturned hull. About 85 climbed up through the ship to the inner bottom, and were rescued. 


Upward. Freezing we climb in this freezing dark,

upward between torn steel as batteries die,

between the whittering waterfalls, the stark

madness that rushes from the steel inverted sky.


How can we be under these black steel facts?

How can we think upon our coming home

in this madness of oil and ice and cataracts,

black but for mincing pin-points in the rush of foam?


In this smashed world, this torn empire

off uniform steel and iron, moulded men?

Climb now, between the hammer-strokes

of falling machinery, between men dying again


in shut, filling compartments, with rolling steel

– this is a second death, this black freezing time,

when all is destroyed, save flickering lights that feel

the freezing waterfalls and weep and climb.


Climb. Upward and climb. Grip oily icy steel,

grip now and climb and think and do not think.

Hope and despair are one, with us who hold

now after Judgement Day, now fallen past any brink.


Upward. We must simply starkly hold

what resources we have, between with waterfalls.

Survive. Survive the oil and fire and cold,

the clanging blackness where the last madness calls.


Through each next hatchway to the crazed black sky

of armoured steel that seals us freezing down

under these roaring waterfalls. So we will try

as machinery falls and one by one we drown.


We are already dead. We have no wreaths or sagas,

or know what fire or waves may roll above the steel.

Our world is gone to ruin, our world is crushed

to black freezing oil, to water we now hardly feel


fingering our ankles and heels as we climb,

clutching us back. But we may not admit we are dead

who are caught in this black Hell outside of time

If we have died, can we think on what lies ahead?


To climb. Only to climb up through this dark

leaderless, driven towards a desperate goal

with barely pride and courage, with one bare hope:

In a wrecked world, we will keep something whole.

          from The Light River 

          © Hal Colebatch



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