12 Degrees & Skiving

what began as year-long challenge has become perpetual until further notice

The Stranger on the Dock

It’s my grandmother Hedwig’s birthday today; she would have been 90 years old.
Hedwig was also known as Hetti and Heidi (like a cat she had a multitude of names).
Made stateless by the fact she decided to marry her Polish lover (my grandfather, Yusef), she and her newly 3-times-wed husband (long story) and young son took an Italian boat carrying post-war immigrants bound for Melbourne. They lived first in the immigration barracks that existed in Bonegilla, Victoria before going to Fairy Meadow near Wollongong in NSW, and then settled up the road in East Corrimal, where they built a house together, bit by bit, raised four children. Hetti, my amazing Nanna, remained there until her death in June 2007.

A poem for her, which was also used in my radio play that aired on ABC radio national in 2008. I’ve put some audio below the poem so you can listen to it.

The Stranger on the Dock

1

Upon the dock

she stands

stock still

feet in strange drifts

of sand

emptied belly

still swelling with

nine weeks of

das Bastardmeer

corset-laced lungs

full of the new

oceans of ocean

beyond her

pulled and caught

the burley bile

drenched the grief

trawling the depths there

but grief enjoys its exile

in the island of her man.

2

Bonegilla’s  hot

smells of meat

and piss

and sorrow

pressed like edelweiss

communal qualms billow

flag.

Multilingual tears

all the same here.

The kinder don’t care

fair bodies crisping

half naked

lapping light severe

in this hemisphere

3

Lines lead east

north.

Kids at school

curbing

budding Deutsch

grafting

Aussie slang

man labours

pining for

decent Bratwurst.

The sea, again.

Pure draughts

lave the camp

from her ruddy

forearms,

heralds news from

die alte Heimat

as she hangs

swaddling cloth

on a line in her

own yard

belly

swelling

with feat

and number four

4

summer

she ignites the range

ignores the heat

her thin man

rumpled with years

leans over to say

his wife once cooked

kartoffelpuffer

that way.

‘Was?’

The dawning

inside her

yawns wide:

his hearing

long lost

to retired machines

language diffuses

he returns over sea

in increments

without her

to the irreverent girl

still caught out in the mirror,

contained by corrugations.

His mind soaked in youth

before her

then bathed by infancy

renders anew

the stranger

on the dock.

Here’s the audio for the radio play, Salzwasser

Feb_CabbageMoth

Image and poetry Alison Boyd © 2013. Radio play Salswasser written by Alison Boyd, play and sound produced by Jane Ullman, Airplay, ABC Radio National. Aired October 2009.

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