Categories
Essay

Living up to my Seafaring Name in Tasmania

Narrative and photographs by Meredith Stephens

When I asked my mother why she called me ‘Meredith’, she told me that she had named me after one of the children in the class she had been teaching before she got married. Still curious, I looked up the meaning of my name and found that it meant ‘leader of the sea’. But it wasn’t until my seventh decade that I left the cloistered world of academia and became a seafarer. Then I was finally able to live up to my name, at least partially. Not only did I become a sailor, I also became a serious hiker, and learnt how to replace my daily shower for sporadic dunks in the ocean.

Alex, Luke, Verity and I were sailing south along the rugged western coast of Tasmania to Port Davey. The morning we arrived I ventured onto the deck and noticed that there was no beach, and the foliage was scrub rather than forests. As we entered Port Davey, we noticed still waters and jagged mountains. Several other yachts were anchored in the cove. Kayakers wove their way hugging the coast. I sat on the stern of the deck taking in the scenery that few people have the chance to observe. Port Davey is only accessible by small plane or boat, not by road.

Once anchored we decided to climb Balmoral Hill. Luke chose this because it promised the best rewards for the least effort; it would be a relatively easy climb with spectacular views. We made our way in the dinghy to the shore. We followed the wombat tracks, pushing our way through the bushes and native flowers, and reached the summit in under an hour. Balmoral Hill lived up to its promise. Views of Port Davey extended in all directions. The climb down was more challenging than the climb up, and I found myself lagging behind the others as usual.

We returned to the boat and it was still only 3 pm. We hadn’t been able to take regular showers because of the limited supply of fresh water on the boat. Luke and Alex decided to have a swim. Alex begged me to go in too.

“If you go in, I’ll give you a gin and tonic,” promised Alex.

He knew that was a sure-fire way to entice me in. I donned my swimsuit and secured my hair on the top of my head. I poked my feet into the water. Alex kept encouraging me to go in and finally I braved the cold brackish waters. I willed myself to stay in for a minute or two before climbing back up the ladder. Then Alex offered me a brief but hot shower on deck. True to his word, he brought me a gin and tonic with my favourite snack of hummous and seaweed crackers.

It was still early afternoon.

“Do you want to go ashore again?” Alex offered.

A narrow strip of white shore was enticing us. We made the 100metres trip to the shore in the dinghy. The shore consisted of white granite pebbles. We walked up and down the pebbles so that they could massage the soles of our feet, providing a shiatsu-like treatment.

The next morning Alex and Luke were looking forward to climbing Mt Rugby.

“How long does it take to climb?” I asked Luke.

“About six or seven hours.”

Alex had always encouraged me to go on daily hikes with him, and I was worried that I would have to undertake a six hour hike up Mt Rugby. Alex read my mind, and I realised that he was not expecting me to accompany them. He reminded me how to use the VHF [Very High Frequency] radio in case we needed to summon help. Verity and I stayed on the boat, working on our laptops in the saloon, gazing through a window at Mt Rugby, as the boat gently swayed back and forth. I went onto the deck periodically to scan Mt Rugby to try and sight Alex and Luke, but couldn’t find them. Before I knew it they had returned.

That evening, while positioning the dinghy, the rope became intertwined in the propellor. Alex donned his swimmers and dived quickly into the cold water to cut the rope. Every now and then he emerged from the water with his mask. His legs and feet were visible beneath the surface of the tannin filled water every time he dived back in. Eventually he cut the rope and returned to the boat.

The next morning we continued to Joe Page Bay to see the swans. After anchoring we hopped into the dinghy and headed for the lagoon. We noticed flocks of swans in the distance but as soon as they heard the engines of the dinghy they took off. The water was too shallow because it was low tide. We were at risk of hitting the river bottom, so we eventually turned around and returned to the boat.

It was another two days before we exited Port Davey. We headed back in the direction of the open ocean to anchor for the night, ready to leave the next day. Alex and Luke carefully chose the calmest spot in the north-west corner of Brambell Cove. Mt Millner was beckoning so we took the dinghy ashore and headed up the mountain.

“What if I can’t do it?” I asked Alex.

“You can rest on the beach if you like,” came the reply.

We entered a shady grove and found the path. Verity and Luke took the lead and Alex the rear, so I wouldn’t get left behind. The wombat track was studded in deep holes and it was hard to enjoy the view of the islands while being careful where I placed my feet. I thought we had nearly reached the summit, but it kept stretching ahead.

“You go ahead. I don’t need to get to the summit. I’ll rest here.” I pleaded.

Alex was having none of it.

“Look! We have reached the saddle. You can even go downhill for a bit before we ascend again. Not much further to go!” he encouraged me.

How could I disagree when Alex had so much confidence in me? I continued to clamber up the mountain. The bare surroundings turned to dense scrub and I had to push the branches away from my face to clear the way. Then in my haste I found myself falling backwards. My landing was cushioned by some thick undergrowth. My feet, bound up in my heavy hiking boots, stretched before me and I was tempted to rest a bit longer, but I worried about holding the others up, so I took a deep breath and summoned the effort to get up. No sooner had I reached the summit than I realised that it was another false summit. Rising before me was a steep incline to the sky.

“I can’t do it Alex!” I called behind me.

“You’re very nearly there. Then you can say that you climbed to the summit.”

I didn’t really care about being able to boast that I had reached the summit. Would anyone be impressed by that? But again, Alex’s enthusiasm pressed me on. With such encouragement it would be surly to refuse.

After climbing the steep incline I really did reach the summit. I caught a glimpse of the seascape below and the conical islands dotted in the bay. The fierce sun was oppressive and so I turned away, gratefully sat down on some heather, and pulled my hair away from my neck. Alex gave me some water.

“Do you want to walk to the other end of the summit?” Alex invited me.

If you walked to the other side you could look down on an ocean bay, but I could view it from my seated position and this time I really did decline.

After sitting there for twenty minutes I was cool enough to brave the descent. Luke and Verity climbed down quickly and waited on the shore. Alex took the rear and we trod along the wombat path trying to avoid the holes. Finally we reached Luke and Verity. We removed our hiking boots, hopped into the dinghy and motored back to the boat.

We had to ration fresh water and did not want to waste it taking a shower. I didn’t relish bathing in the ocean but I was both hot and perspiring so I felt I didn’t have a choice. I popped on my swimsuit, asked Alex to pull down the ladder, climbed down and immersed myself in the water. Finally, I was cool and clean. I couldn’t imagine being any more tired after the strain of the climb, the punishing sun and immersion in cold water. I am surprised I managed to mount the false summits and reach the real summit. It shows how encouragement can push you beyond the goal you set for yourself.

Alex prepared dinner. Behind the boat the sunset over the sea turned from an intense orange to purple. That night the boat was so still that we could have been excused for thinking we were on land. I was finally beginning to embrace my seafaring name.

Now that I had some sense of having earnt my first name, Meredith, I was ready to explore territory featuring the second part of my name, Stephens. My Great Aunt May, born around 1906, used to explain how her forebears had run a ‘Stephens’ shipping line in London in the late 1800s. Even my surname had a seafaring connection.

The next day we headed out to the open ocean past Bramwell Bay on our left and Breaksea Islands on our right. We anchored at Spain Bay, took the dinghy to shore, and then hiked to the other side of the peninsula. First the vegetation was low, and gradually gave way to bracken. We had to push the branches aside as we trudged through the mud. Then the path entered a forest with a canopy above the trail. Wooden stairs gave way to Stephens Bay. We sat on a rock to rest, and nibbled on some of the dry seaweed washed up on the beach, wondering what it would taste like if rehydrated in a misoshiru soup. I pondered whether I had an ancestral connection to this place as ships on their way from England to the east coast of Australia would have passed by this bay.

Back on board, despite the cold, I thought I would brave the waters again to refresh myself. I donned my swimsuit and tentatively climbed down the ladder into the sea. Alex dived in before me and I could tell from his expression that it was colder than we expected, as we were closer to the ocean. I held onto the ladder and vigorously moved my legs to warm myself up. I could only manage thirty seconds in the water despite resolving to last two minutes.

The next morning Alex entreated me to get up so as not to miss out on the spectacular scenery as we rounded southern Tasmania. The seas were as calm as they could possibly be. The boat was gently cantering in slow motion across the swell. South West Cape loomed in the distance, about an hour away. Luke was at the helm and Alex, Verity and I climbed carefully to the front of the boat holding onto the rails, and sat on the foredeck while we passed the cape, as the sun forced its way into view. Five hours later we rounded South East Cape, one of the five southernmost capes in the world, the others being West Cape Howe (Western Australia), South Cape (New Zealand), Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope.

Heading to the South West Cape, south western Tasmania

After so many decades spent in libraries and classrooms, my life had taken a turn and I suddenly found myself surrounded by ocean. Of course, living on a boat did not mean I would abandon reading and writing. In fact, the long hours at sea afforded even more time for these pursuits. This was especially the case when at anchor waiting for rough seas to subside, out of internet range, when there was little else to do. Nevertheless, I think my mother would have been more than surprised had she known that I would spend weeks at sea in some of Australia’s most remote waters. Neither of us could have imagined how literally I would grow into my name.

Meredith Stephens is an applied linguist from South Australia. Her work has appeared in Transnational Literature, The Muse, The Font – A Literary Journal for Language Teachers, The Journal of Literature in Language Teaching, The Writers’ and Readers’ Magazine, Reading in a Foreign Language, and in chapters in anthologies published by Demeter Press, Canada.

PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Slices from Life

Getting My Nemesis

By Erwin Coombs

You might be wondering how on earth Dusty, the cat, played such a huge role in my downfall. I suppose I should use the defence that the title of this piece is nothing more than literary license because for one thing, I have never had a downfall. Oh, I’ve had many falls and stumbles, but no major catastrophic tragedy that cast me into the pits of despair. I suppose rather than the pits of despair, I have just visited the suburbs of despair. And having lived in the suburbs, I don’t mind equating these two. That is one of the many wonderful things about life, that we can fall, but invariably we rise again, as it is said in a part of the Bible I can never remember, though I fall I shall rise. Confucius said it as well: that our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall. The title of this book is misleading, to an extent. I never fell, absolutely, and Dusty had nothing to do with my stumbles. In fact, she was a factor in helping me to get up again and again. A cat? Yes, one might be amazed at the soothing companionship that pets offer generally. I don’t mean all pets. I can’t imagine a turtle, for example, offering solace at the end of a rotten day at work or after your partner has just told you that you are now a lone wolf and good luck with your future. But let me get back to when I finally decided to get a cat.

I was on my own and had rented a bachelor apartment. I was determined to have a pet, particularly a cat, as cats had been a big part of my life since I found the stray Dickens twenty years ago. It was the first of the month, moving day, and as I had not a lot to move for reasons to long to go into, I thought I wouldn’t go a day without company, so I asked my daughters to come with me to the Humane Society to pick one out. My eldest daughter was a little hesitant as she and her boyfriend had adopted a dog few months earlier and had to return it, for reasons once again too long to go into. As a result, she felt that she was blacklisted and that her picture was up on screens and walls and would somehow be subject to abuse at the hands of the workers there. I tried to explain that these people were very well intentioned and likely not wanting to seek revenge for the return of an animal. I mean, I asked her, what could they possibly do? Shame her in front of the other caged animals? Sick a wild pack of rabid pooches on her? But she was nervous enough that she left the choosing of my cat to me and Josie.

My other daughter and I went cruising through the rooms looking at the imprisoned beasts. Any visit to one of these places can be sad. They really do look like prisoners as they pace their small spaces and when you pass by a cage, they seem to do their best to be alluring, realizing on some level, that this stranger might just be their ticket out of Sing-Sing. They rub up against the bars and look at you with these pleading eyes that seem to say, “Please like me, take me home.” It’s every meathead’s dream of what a single’s bar should be like but isn’t for meatheads. My daughter finally found one that she connected with and told me to come over and have a look. It was an American Shorthair, grey and with lovely kind, green eyes. The assistant opened the cage for me and let me put my hand in to have a pet. It was a lovely meeting until the blood was drawn. Mine, I mean, not hers. She lashed out not too fiercely at my hand and I pulled back too late. Josie looked up at me and said,

“Dad, you moved too quickly!”

My argument was that the quick move was the result of having been assaulted and not the cause, but she was intent that this was the one for me and so, naturally, I agreed, as I held my hand up to prevent my life’s blood from escaping.

“There not used to being touched, poor things.” said the worker.

I looked at my gash and wondered if there would be any pity for me, or only another condemnation at having been doing jazz hands in a cat’s cage, but there was none. Nevertheless, I agreed to take this one home and started the paperwork. The woman across the desk took my particulars and my cheque and told me, quite casually.

“And we won’t charge you for the cream.”

“Cream?” I asked, “What cream?”

For a moment I thought that they were going to offer an antibacterial tube for my hand given that one of their inmates had attempted murder on me. But not even close.

“The cream for her backside” came the “as if you didn’t know” response.

“Why would I need cream for her backside?” I asked bracing myself for an answer I knew wouldn’t be pleasant. I mean, any conversation around creams and cat’s backsides is not going to work out well, and this one didn’t.

“As you probably noticed, the kitty is a little bit bigger than she should be.”

A little bit? This was one fat cat. Cats as a rule are about as sedentary a creature as you’ll find so being a little bit chunky is par for the course, but this one was two pars for the course. I didn’t mind as I thought I’ll get her slimmed down with a gym membership and controlled diet.

“And the cream on her anus will help her lose weight?” I asked hopefully.

“Oh no, it’s just that she is so big she can’t really reach her anus to clean it, so she has a wee bit of an infection. The cream will help clear it up. Twice a day, but I suggest you wear a glove as you do it.”

If there was one thing I didn’t need a suggestion about as to when to wear a glove it was that. I didn’t relish the idea with a glove anyway. We took her back to my sparsely furnished new apartment and put her down on the floor while I set up the all-important pooh box and, more important to her, the food and water bowl. She was still a nameless cat, so I asked the girls as I was busying myself rushing about, as much as one can in a bachelor apartment, setting up for my new roommate,

“Well girls, what should we name her?”

“Dusty.” Came the immediate response from Josie. And it made sense as she was a gray furred kitty with lovely white bits as well.

“Because she’s gray?” I called out from the bathroom as I scooped kitty litter into the target box.

“No.” said Josie. “Because she’s eating a fluff of dust.”

And that is my cat, Dusty. As if being so obese that you can’t clean your own backside wasn’t evidence enough, she has an eating compulsion that will not stop, even at dust. But we forged strong bonds and became good friends. As a matter of fact, there is a gay theatre in Toronto called Buddies in Bad Times Theatre Company, and they are quite good. So, from day one I would refer to Dusty and I as just that, buddies in bad times. Of course, the times weren’t bad exactly, but they were certainly getting better.

Erwin Coombs is a retired teacher of philosophy, history and literature who has rejected all forms of retirement. He is an avid writer, reader, and observer of life. When not observing and reading and living, he is writing. Erwin has lived in Egypt, Jamaica, England and travelled a great deal but, in his mind, not enough. His writing is a celebration of people and opportunity, both of which life gives in abundance. These stories are from his, as yet unpublished book, Dusty the Cat: Her Part in My Downfall.

Categories
Slices from Life

It’s Amazing the Things We can Do

By Erwin Coombs

That’s the title of a narrative that needs explaining. I have to start off by being quite honest: I was raised in a cloud of cynicism and despair. As I’ve already hinted — my upbringing was classically dysfunctional with a broken home at age six and all kinds of attendant problems. Poverty was one. Actually, poverty is never one problem because it has a ricochet effect like shooting a gun in a metal room as it leads to a whole bagful of treats that make life that much more difficult. Apart from the outward signs of misery, there were all kinds of internalised ones.

I am a huge optimist by nature and why I don’t know. It might have to do with a faulty IQ or some brain injury suffered in youth that I can’t recall, for obvious reasons. Mind you, I did fall out of my highchair when I was a toddler in Cairo, Egypt. I don’t know if the highchairs at that time were substandard or perhaps my mother didn’t bother to do up my safety belt, but I went down like a ton of bricks to the non-carpeted floor. I’m sure there was no permanent damage, except for the fact that there is an indent in the middle of the top of my head.

When I was young and had hair, I remember occasionally coming across that indent and thinking “Thank God I have hair to cover THAT thing up with!” But God has a delicious sense of irony and between Him and gravity, or rather with gravity working as his foot soldier, time chipped, or rather pulled away at my hair. And as my hairline receded like a Maple Leaf fan’s playoff hopes, that deformity became a feature of mine. I’m not a vain man, by any stretch, but this was a bit to deal with. Over time, I got used to it.

I recall one day I was helping out in one of my daughter’s grade two classrooms. I was sitting reading a story to several cute little kids when one of the girls asked, in a completely good-natured way, “What’s that big lump on your head?” I wanted to explain that rather than a big lump it was actually a crevice which gave the appearance of a big lump, but how lame would that have sounded? Instead, I did more of that thinking on my feet thing and said, “You see, Ariana, I have so many smart thoughts that I don’t have room for them in my brain. So, I store them there.”

She looked wide-eyed at this new marvel she had never heard of before and I could tell she was impressed. I had turned what could have been a potentially embarrassing deformity for my daughter into a point of admiration. I had new cache as the really smart guy. Score one for Dad.

Thinking back on that highchair fall, there was another potentially brain damaging incident that took place in Cairo. Given that there were two such events it’s amazing I can even remember them. But I guess the damage was fairly minimal, though I’m sure several former teachers of mine would claim otherwise. We had just arrived in Cairo as my father was posted at the Canadian embassy, but our house wasn’t ready yet. That meant a two week stay at the Cairo Hilton on the public coin. Being a toddler, I couldn’t entirely appreciate how cool this was, but my family did and when Dad was at work we spent a lot of time at the pool. I couldn’t walk then but neither could a lot of the guests who made good use of the pool-side bar. My Mum no doubt did, and my siblings were busy playing childish games. I was plopped on the steps of the shallow end of the pool to bake in the sun and hopefully not teeter into the water. Hope is a fine thing, but you don’t want to risk a toddler’s life on it. And sure, as shooting I did the teetering and as with the highchair, toppled to the bottom. The landing wasn’t so bad, it’s just that there was no resurfacing to go with it and so I sat comically at the bottom, no doubt waving my arms and looking wide eyed.

Meanwhile, on terra firma, someone thought to look for me.

“Has anyone seen Erwin?’

If I had a toddler that was missing poolside, I would have phrased it a little more urgently. But the whole family circled the pool until my brother Eddy spotted me at the bottom, now fairly blue through lack of oxygen and called out.

“There he is!” I believe he said it like a child finding a hidden Easter egg in a hunt instead of a drowning sibling. But for all that they did pull me out, dry me off and I was not much the worse for wear. Here’s a funny follow up lest you think that our childhood experiences don’t have some kind of resonance in our adult years. I was never told of this almost drowning incident until I was well into my teens, for some reason. Yet my whole life I had been, and am still, subject to a recurring nightmare where, you guessed it, I am at the bottom of a pool, gasping for breath and I wake up panting. As the song says, take good care of your children. If you don’t they might end up with misshapen heads and poor sleeping habits.

There was a third incident in Cairo involving a camel and the pyramids. My God, but it sounds like I’ve had this exciting life but really most of it has been spent holding onto a channel changer and dreaming of better days. While in Cairo the family decided to take a tour around the pyramids riding camels because, hey, that’s the thing to do there. And it would have been a grand idea except that my Mum had just strapped the baby me onto the camel before she got on when the camel decided that one passenger was enough, and it bolted. Camels are ornery beasts and when they get a mind to something they do it and apparently kidnapping the blonde baby was a bee in its bonnet so off it went. Soon one of the camel instructors leapt onto another camel and chased me down in the Sahara after a few minutes. Had he not, I might well have wound up as a Bedouin being raised in the desert as some sort of a poor man’s Lawrence of Arabia. Looking back on my time in Egypt, it seems clear that my parents had decided to do away with me but lacked the foresight for a proper plan or the energy to keep at it. But I hold no grudge. They did have three other mouths to feed, after all.

Despite all those damages to my brain at an early age I have managed to negotiate this old world with some degree of success. And one of the points I want to make in this narrative is that people are extraordinarily able to do things they think they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do, if that doesn’t sound too convoluted a sentence. In other words, we can accomplish things under the most enormous pressure and under terrible conditions that we think we might not be able to do even under ideal circumstances. What this says about human beings is that we are to be marveled at and not despaired over, as we so often do. We look down on our species and God knows we look down on ourselves countless times a day.

The old ‘pop’ psychology of examining the self is not just a cutesy way of filling up self-help books with advice. Self-help books are generally, a dark alley to visit. They are great at momentary inspiration but generally don’t last beyond the initial reading. That’s why people keep poring over them again and again. And here is one of the problems with self-help books; they tell us what we already know to be true and what should be done. The advice is common-sensical. But following advice is much more difficult than just seeking it out and so we repeat the patterns of dumb behavior. And as long as we are seeking advice from a friend or a book, we get the feeling we are doing something. It calls to mind the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius who said, “No longer talk about what a good man should be. Be one.” Or in the words of my father, “shit or get off the pot.” I’ve always thought a good title to reveal this problem with self-help books would be Breaking the Self-Help Dependency Cycle: Volume 8.

Returning to my narrative highlighting the amazing things people can do and not even realise they can do it. I have a life and death example from World War II. I knew an old woman whose life had been a series of tragedies. Sure, she had had some joy. She was born in the First World, had children she loved and grandchildren, had friends and all manner of hobbies from knitting to crocheting and everything in between. Mind you knitting and crocheting are close so there might not seem a great deal in between, but there is, and she pursued them, getting a joy out of the little things in life. This despite the fact that she was raised in Nazi occupied Holland, had a brother who died in a Nazi work camp, one of her children was killed in a traffic accident while just a boy, her husband had died of cancer, she had defeated cancer, well, the list goes on. But despite the list of reasons to give up and surrender to despair she found joy where she could, displaying a strength of character that people who have suffered much less and whined much more would do well to learn from.

Here is her story of doing what you think you can’t when circumstances demand you step up and find a solution instead of an excuse. This lady, Gail, was living on a farm near some woods during the Nazi occupation of her country. One of her two brothers had died in that German work camp so the other one who was at the same camp, decided that he was not going to stay. He escaped from Germany and somehow made his way home to the farm. His family hid him, but he had to spend a lot of time living in the woods to avoid the SS (Shutzstaffel) who knew he was there but couldn’t catch him. One day he was at the farm splitting wood when word came that the SS were coming for him. He naturally ran to the woods. Here was the trouble. The Nazis arrived and demanded to know where he was. Gail was the only one home and denied that he had been there for over a year. The crafty head of the unit spied the partially split pile of wood and asked who had been doing this job. Gail calmly said she had, and as the Nazis had taken away the men, she had no choice, now did she? The head of the unit nodded calmly and in an equally calm manner took out his revolver.

“You are doing a very good job. You’re pretty skilled for a little farm girl, aren’t you?”

He looked at her smilingly and gestured to the pile of logs.

“Show me how it’s done. If you can prove it wasn’t your brother who did this, well, that will be fine. If you cannot, you die here and now at the hands of an officer that you’ve lied to.”

He stepped back, keeping the gun pointed at Gail. She told me she had never picked up an axe in her life, but she knew that if there was ever a time to do it and to learn how, this was it. She said that she was trembling inside but knew that that fear had to be kept hidden. She also knew that if she failed and was killed it would redouble the SS man’s commitment to track down her brother. Even when her life was hanging by the swing of an axe, she was concerned with the fate of someone else. And this also speaks to me about the true nature of humanity. Despite the fact that whatever selfish tendencies we have can be played upon to act in more selfish ways by people who make a profit out of selfishness, we are fundamentally a caring species with streaks of unselfishness that are not merely streaks but represent our true colours.

Gail stepped up to the pile, picked up the ax and said a silent prayer of desperation and hope while she put on a brave face,

“Dear God, please, just let me swing this axe true, just this once.”

She had seen others do it and tried to replicate their movements, placing a log on the stand, shifting her hands down the shaft and giving a mighty swing. The log split in two with the softest sound. She hid her own amazement and looked at the man holding his gun and her life in his hands with a bored “See?” sort of expression. The Nazi uncocked his gun and placed it back in the holster.

“Couldn’t have done better myself. Carry on,” and he and his men walked away to continue the search for the brother that I’m happy to say was never successful. That’s the brother whom I knew as a delightful old man who had given me those sharks teeth all those years ago. He, like his sister, was so full of life and happiness despite all they had gone through. Or perhaps not despite but because of all they had gone through. From the wonder of a hundred-year-old shark’s tooth to the smile of their babies in their arms, they loved all that life had to offer because they knew how precious and, surprisingly, readily available joy is in this world.

.

Erwin Coombs is a retired teacher of philosophy, history and literature who has rejected all forms of retirement. He is an avid writer, reader, and observer of life. When not observing and reading and living, he is writing. Erwin has lived in Egypt, Jamaica, England and travelled a great deal but, in his mind, not enough. His writing is a celebration of people and opportunity, both of which life gives in abundance. These narratives are from his, as yet unpublished book, Dusty the Cat: Her Part in My Downfall.

PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Poetry

Last Lights

Poetry by Mike Smith

LAST LIGHTS

Some colours glow as darkness falls
Orange of bracken in the last light
The sky’s pink, the grey of walls
Some glories show at the brink of night

Orange of bracken in the last light
Stronger than in mid-day sun
Some glories show at the brink of night
Even in our endings much may be done

Stronger than in mid-day sun
This gloaming will not be for long
Even in our endings much may be done
Listen to the night bird’s song

This gloaming will not be for long
Tho’ blues grow richer as the light fades
Listen to the night bird’s song
Calling the shadows from their glades

And blues grow richer as the light fades
The sky’s pink, the grey of walls
Calling the shadows from their glades
Some colours glow as darkness falls

Mike Smith lives on the edge of England where he writes occasional plays, poetry, and essays, usually on the short story form in which he writes as Brindley Hallam Dennis. His writing has been published and performed. He blogs at www.Bhdandme.wordpress.com 

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Poetry

A Falling Frost at Bank House Garden

By Mike Smith

Winter has arrived. I’ve found starved robins
on the path, as pale as old barolo.
 
Hard frost has told the trees, time to let go.
Leaves fall like dead birds from the sycamores.
 
Dew-drips drop from spider threads.
We’re draped with mist,
like garden chairs out of their season.
 
From each bud’s tip as it begins to freeze,
leaf edge and pine needle, pearled globules squeeze.
 
I motionless, while winter breathes me in
and settling air around my shoulders slips.

Mike Smith lives on the edge of England where he writes occasional plays, poetry, and essays, usually on the short story form in which he writes as Brindley Hallam Dennis. His writing has been published and performed. He blogs at www.Bhdandme.wordpress.com . This poem was part of the Crichton Writers’ (Dumfries) anthology (2007).

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Categories
Pirate Poems

Pirate Blacktarn & the Mermaid

By Jay Nicholls

PIRATE BLACKTARN AND THE MERMAID


Pirate Blacktarn was sailing on a quest.
Each day he woke, feeling full of joy and zest.
“I’m going to find a mermaid, swimming in the sea
And then when I find one, I’ll ask her to marry me.”

The crew all sighed, “Blacktarn’s full of daft ideas,
We can see this adventure is going to end in tears.
Who’d marry Blacktarn when he doesn’t wash his hair?
And he’s got holes in his socks that let in all the air.
He’s lost his sword and the sheath is full of sweets
And he’s useless at cards ’cos he always cheats.”

“If he thinks a mermaid is going to marry him,
He’s soft in the head,” agreed Parrot Tim.
“Poor old Captain,” said Stowaway Fay,
“But we won’t find mermaids anyway.
They’re magic and mysterious and secret and strange
And they live in hidden places, far out of range.”

But then one evening, after a long day’s sail
They saw a mermaid on a rock, swishing her tail.
“A mermaid, a mermaid,” Blacktarn cried with delight.
“Come Crew, come and see this special sight.”

“Mermaid, mermaid, mermaid ahoy!
I’ve come to marry you,” cried Blacktarn with joy.
But the mermaid just laughed and jumped from the rocks.
“I can’t marry a man with big holes in his socks.”

Poor Pirate Blacktarn was dreadfully upset
But he found Bosun Mick, mending a fishing net.
And he asked if he’d help him mend his holy socks.
“You do it,” said Mick, “here’s the sewing box.”
So as the red sun set and the silver moon rose,
Poor Pirate Blacktarn sat darning his hose.

Then the very next day, all tidy and neat
He went to the mermaid, who sat looking sweet
And he showed her his socks and his very clean feet.
“Now you can marry me, oh mermaid my dear.”
“Oh no,” she said, “you’d better disappear.
You haven’t washed your hair for at least a year.
And your beard is tangled and matted and rough
I can’t marry you, you’re not smart enough.”

Poor Pirate Blacktarn shed a very sad tear
Then he whispered to Rakesh, hardly loud enough to hear
“Please will you lend me your comb and your shampoo.”
Rakesh was astonished but he didn’t dare to argue.
All night long, Blacktarn washed and brushed his hair
And curled and combed his beard with the utmost care.
And then in the morning, all shiny and tangle free,
He went to the mermaid and asked, “Will you marry me?”

But the cruel mermaid only shook her head
“No, for you haven’t got a sword,” she said.
“And even worse, you keep sweets in the sheath.”
And laughing she dived into the waves beneath.

Poor Pirate Blacktarn went grumpily away
“Looks like I’ll have to go searching today.”
“Will you help me find my sword?” he asked Big Bob the cook.
“No,” answered Bob, “you’ll have to look.”
All day and night, Blacktarn rummaged through his junk
And found his rusty sword, hidden by his bunk.
He cleaned and polished till it gleamed and flashed
Then put it in his sheath and to the mermaid dashed. 
“Now you must marry me, please dearest mermaid.”

“Oh no Pirate Blacktarn, I can’t I’m afraid.”
“Oh dear,” groaned Blacktarn, “now what must I do?”
“Nothing, because I’m married to a merman, fine and true.”

“What!” Blacktarn jumped up and down with rage,
Then burst into tears and started to rampage.

“But never mind Pirate, I’ve bought you a gift
For I can see your spirits are in need of a lift.”
And she held out a shell, all curved and curly,
A beautiful thing, all whorled and pearly.
This magical shell you must put to your ear
And the music of Mer is the melody you’ll hear,
The sound of their singing will make you happy again
And you’ll forget all your anger and sadness and pain,
So all your hard work hasn’t been in vain.”
And down she dived into the green sea’s domain.

“Farewell Pirate”

Blacktarn held the shell and listened amazed,
For a wonderful music made him joyous and dazed.
“You know,” he said merrily to his startled crew
“I’m glad I didn’t marry, it really wouldn’t do.
That mermaid now, might have made a nice wife
But would she have suited our sea faring life?”

“Well come on crew, now we’re single and free
We must get sailing across the Lemon Sea.”

Note: The ‘Pirate Blacktarn’ poems were written in the early 1990s but were never submitted anywhere or shown to anyone. By lucky chance they were recently rescued from a floppy disc that had lain in the bottom of a box for almost thirty years. There are twelve poems in the series but no indication as to what order they were written in and the author no longer remembers. However, they seem to work well when read in any order. They all feature the same cast of characters, the eponymous pirate and his crew, including a stowaway and an intelligent parrot. The stories told by the poems are set on a fictional body of water named the Lemon Sea. (Dug up by Rhys Hughes from the bottom of an abandoned treasure chest).

Jay Nicholls was born in England and graduated with a degree in English Literature. She has worked in academia for many years in various student support roles, including counselling and careers. She has written poetry most of her life but has rarely submitted it for publication.

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Categories
Poetry

An Instant

By Mike Smith

AN INSTANT

Suddenly we stop, the sheep and I,
Even the squirrel on the wall.
I’m carrying sticks. They’re in the field.

I heard nothing at all
But suddenly we stop, the sheep and I,
As if there were a distant call,
Even the squirrel on the wall,
Suddenly motionless eyes peeled.
I’m carrying sticks. They’re in the field.

Maybe there’s some message on the breeze.
I heard nothing at all.
Perhaps they’re more finely tuned than me,
But suddenly we stop, the sheep and I,
As if some deity had drawn us to a halt,
As if there were a distant call
From one who had authority over us all,
Even the squirrel on the wall.
For a moment we’re like a photograph,
Suddenly motionless eyes peeled,
As if something amazing had been revealed.
I’m carrying sticks. They’re in the field.

And the best of it is,
Maybe there’s some message on the breeze
That I can read too.
I heard nothing at all,
But we all know there are other senses.
Perhaps they’re more finely tuned than me,
Or can see more clearly,
But suddenly we stop, the sheep and I
And I’m included with them all,
As if some deity had drawn us to a halt,
Not with a command but
As if there were a distant call
Addressed to someone out of sight
From one who had authority over us all,
That we just overheard,
Even the squirrel on the wall,
That made us stop and realise.
For a moment we’re like a photograph,
Wondering if perhaps there is some deep intent,
Suddenly motionless eyes peeled,
Hiding behind this pure invention,
As if something amazing had been revealed,
Going about our proper business.
I was carrying sticks. They were in the field.

Mike Smith lives on the edge of England where he writes occasional plays, poetry, and essays, usually on the short story form in which he writes as Brindley Hallam Dennis. His writing has been published and performed. He blogs at www.Bhdandme.wordpress.com 

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Pirate Poems

Pirate Blacktarn’s Teeth

By Jay Nicholls

PIRATE BLACKTARN’S TEETH


Pirate Blacktarn had terrible teeth, 
He kept sweets instead of a sword in his sheath,
And he ate so many, his teeth began to rot 
And as for brushing them, he always forgot. 
The inside of his mouth was greenish and grimy 
His teeth were broken and black and slimy. 

“You’re revolting,” said all the crew. 
“We’re not coming too close to you.”
Poor Pirate Blacktarn was quite upset
“What’s the matter with me?” he asked as he ate. 
“You need new teeth,” the crew replied. 
Blacktarn was hurt and went off to hide. 
He sulked in his cabin, all day and all night 
While the stars came out, very shiny and bright.
Out too fell his teeth, dropping one by one, 
Onto the floor till all were gone.

“Oh no,” mumbled Blacktarn, “what shall I do?”
“Serves you right,” said his unkind crew. 
But Blacktarn was angry and ranted and raved 
Till the crew became quite well behaved. 
“If I can’t eat, then neither can you,
Don’t think you’re going to scoff that stew,”
Said Blacktarn crossly as his stomach rumbled. 
“Now what a mess,” his hungry crew grumbled. 

The crew grew thinner and thinner and thinner.
Big Bob the Cook groaned, “We want dinner.”
But toothless Blacktarn was stern and cruel, 
Grumpy and stubborn, as bad as a mule. 
The crew were miserable, bad tempered and sad
Their empty bellies were making them mad. 

But deep in thought sat Stowaway Fay.
“I know how to make things OK,” 
She told the crew one happy day.
“We’ll make him dentures, all clean and smart. 
Come on everyone, let’s make a start.”

They caught a shark, basking close by the ship
And cut out its teeth, snip by snip by snip,
Then stuck them in jelly mould shaped like a grin
And as Blacktarn lay dozing, they popped them in. 
He woke with a start, “My mouth’s full of choppers!”
“So it is,” said the crew, “What great long whoppers.”

“Hey, I can eat,” Blacktarn cried with delight. 
“Quick, let’s have a feast, this very fine night.”
So Big Bob went down to the galley to bake 
And made sausages and stew and cookies and cake. 
Then the starving crew just ate and ate and ate.
“Oh well done Fay,” said Rakesh the mate. 
“Oh yes, well done,” they all agreed.
“Well done, well done, well done indeed.” 

Now long toothed Blacktarn looks sharp and mean 
But he takes out his teeth each night to clean.
He brushes them carefully twice a day,
So his shark’s teeth dentures are here to stay. 

“Come on crew,” he cried with a big white grin
“We’ve got all the Lemon Seas for sailing in.”

Note: The ‘Pirate Blacktarn’ poems were written in the early 1990s but were never submitted anywhere or shown to anyone. By lucky chance they were recently rescued from a floppy disc that had lain in the bottom of a box for almost thirty years. There are twelve poems in the series but no indication as to what order they were written in and the author no longer remembers. However, they seem to work well when read in any order. They all feature the same cast of characters, the eponymous pirate and his crew, including a stowaway and an intelligent parrot. The stories told by the poems are set on a fictional body of water named the Lemon Sea. (Dug up by Rhys Hughes from the bottom of an abandoned treasure chest).

Jay Nicholls was born in England and graduated with a degree in English Literature. She has worked in academia for many years in various student support roles, including counselling and careers. She has written poetry most of her life but has rarely submitted it for publication.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Interview

In Conversation with Akbar Barakzai, a ‘Part-time Poet’ in Exile

Who can snuff out the sun? 
Who can suppress the light?
-- Akbar Barakzai, Who Can Snuff Out the Sun

Akbar Barakzai (1939-2022)

His poetry rings with the spaces between mountains. It rushes like the wind of freedom, taking you to the heart of the land and people he writes about.  

Balochistan has a bit of the blood and bones of many cultures and people through the ages – dating back to Harappa and Indus Valley civilisations. Akbar Barakzai, the Baloch poet and activist, writes about transcending the suffering that exudes from hurts inflicted on humankind. He urges the masses to voice out against oppression.

Don’t ever bury the word 
In the depth of your chest 
Rather express the word 
Yes, speak it out. 
The Word brings forth 
Freedom and providence.
--Akbar Barakzai, The Word

He writes for freedom from injustices and lives by his beliefs and principles. Having been forced to move countries to run journals, he is an immigrant in quest of a future that will unite the East and the West. Gently opposing oppressors with his writing, beliefs and ideas, Barakzai made news when he turned down the Pakistan Academy of Literature award last year because he says; “The Pakistan Academy of Literature is sponsored by the Islamabad rulers. I cannot accept an award from an organisation that operates at the beck and call of the tormentors of my people.”  A writer who continues to emote for his people and their rights, he has been translated to English by a lecturer, Fazal Baloch, and published. 

Barakzai calls himself “a part time poet” – but his poetry moves our hearts and minds – it makes us think, imagine a better world. Is he really a part time poet or a major inspiration crying out for mankind to move out of ‘messiahdom’, dogmatism and take charge of their own lives? In this interview, Barakzai not only reveals his life but also his sense of freedom from oppression, his love of human rights which forced him to move countries to conserve the voice of his people.

Since when have you been writing poetry? What set your muse going?

I started writing poetry in 1954 when I was still in school. I was inspired by our people’s long struggle for freedom and justice against the Pakistani and Iranian occupiers.

Your poetry mixes many strands of thoughts and many lores. Can you tell us what influences your writing? Books, music, writers?  

My writing has been influenced by many poets and writers from different languages and cultures. The lasting influence on my art has been that of classical Balochi poetry. However, I must mention some great names from diverse poetic traditions who have had an impact on my poetry, such as the Persian poets Hafiz, Rumi and Nima Yushij; Urdu poets Ghalib and Mir; English poets Shelley and Keats; Russian poets Pushkin and Pasternak and the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.

Your poem ‘Waiting for Godot’ depicts the theme of the play by Samuel Beckett. It has a beautiful mingling of East and West. What led to it?

Beckett’s Godot is perhaps the most mysterious character in modern (world) literature. My poem is a reminder that the so-called Messiahs never return to this world. Mankind has to find its own solutions. East and West are two different aspects of the same coin. Unlike the infamous poem by Rudyard Kipling, that great apologist of Western imperialism, the East and the West are slowly but steadily inching towards each other. Despite enormous odds “the twain” are destined to “meet” and be united to get rid of the geographical lines created by imperialist powers.

You deal with both the political and the spiritual in your poetry. How do you attune Che Guevara with the God who even if ruthless exists in your poetry?  

I made peace with God quite some time ago. I hope we understand each other better now. I do not believe that God is necessarily ruthless. It may sound strange, but my spirituality is not religious at all, it is based on humanism.  Your interpretation of my poem is different from what I had intended. I am not sure if such a dichotomy exists in the poem. However, it appears that poetic curiosity in the end has succeeded in detecting some kind of duality. With regard to Che, he symbolizes the primordial fighter for justice. He embodies all those millions of people who have fought against the forces of darkness. Hence the allusion to Phoebus Apollo and the ever-conquering brilliance of the sun.

Do you write only in Balochi? You must be fluent in English having lived in England for many years. Why do you not write in English? Or translate your own poems?  

I used to write in Urdu and Persian in my younger years, until I discovered that I could write a lot better in my mother tongue.  As far as writing in English is concerned, I do not feel confident enough to write in it.

Your poetry, the little I have read, takes on elemental truths and uses nature, intermingles those to arrive at larger truths toward the end. Is it all spontaneously expressed? Or do you need to work on it? Tell us a bit about your poetic process.  

My experience of the poetic process tells me that it is spontaneous. Design and architecture of the poem occupy a secondary position. After a poem is formed in my mind my main concern would then be to revise and improve its language. This process may take any length of time. I must confess that I am an obsessive reviser. For example, one of my longer poems took many long years to complete.

As a poet, you continue shrouded in mystery. Tell us about your life.  

My life is and has always been an open book. I don’t think a few random poems are sufficient to reveal the life story of any poet. However, without these fistful of poems, I would have appeared to be a greater mystery. My life, like the billions of ordinary people in this world, is indeed very ordinary. My great grandfather migrated from Western (Iranian) Balochistan as a result of the brutal military operations in the early twentieth century in which thousands of old men, women and children were killed and injured and thousands of others migrated to Sindh. My great grandfather was a small-time farmer. As a result of the Iranian atrocities, he was forced to abandon his land and livestock and move to Eastern (now Pakistani) Balochistan and finally to Sindh. In 1928, Reza Shah of Iran ultimately succeeded in occupying our country. Once they settled in Sindh my great grandfather and grandfather worked as labourers until they saved enough to buy a small shop.      

My father had a basic English education. He had left high school when still in the 4th or 5th grade to support the family with odd jobs. A few years later, he opened his own shop, a ration shop. These shops had mushroomed all over during the war as the English authorities introduced a food rationing system in India. I believe with this background I must have belonged to the lowest rungs of the class system. But my family worked hard to improve their lot.

When I was ten or twelve, my father thought I was strong enough and responsible enough to work in the shop. I would go to school in the morning. As soon as I finished school, I would rush to the shop to help my father. 

A few years before I finished high school, my father got a job in the Directorate of Civil Supplies as the manager of a warehouse. He rented out the shop. With two incomes our lot did improve a little. I was now in high school. I didn’t have to work in the shop anymore. During this period, I became interested in books – any books. These were mainly Urdu, Persian, Sindhi and Balochi books. I read a lot, but my reading wasn’t systematic. I wrote a few nondescript poems during this period and became interested in politics, particularly in Baloch politics. By then I was in college reading literature and related subjects. However, I was more interested in politics than in my studies which meant I wasn’t a good student. Despite this I somehow managed to graduate from Karachi University. My father wanted me to study further and enter the Civil Service. But by then I was completely radicalised. I think I disappointed him then by refusing to continue my studies in order to take competitive exams to join the civil service. However, a few years later as a result of the escalating Pakistani military operations in Balochistan, he told me that although at the time he was not happy with my refusal, he confessed wholeheartedly that my decision was absolutely right. I was so proud of him that he had finally approved of my decision. Although he passed away a long time ago, because of this confession I do love him and miss him more.  

This rather lengthy snapshot of my life should be sufficient to explain why my poetry is expressly concerned with social and political issues.

What led to your move to England?  

This was the busiest period of my political activism. It was the time when General Ayub Khan had imposed Martial Law in Pakistan and was trying to consolidate his rule by hook or by crook. In Balochistan he had re-ordered the military to crush the Baloch resistance once and for all. But the resistance has outlived Ayub Khan, and his military might. It has grown stronger and stronger with the passage of time albeit with huge sacrifices sustained by ordinary people. The rulers treated the Baloch people like dirt and our leaders as traitors who “deserved” to be hanged. By 1965, the military government stepped up its operations in cities and towns, especially in Karachi where the Baloch formed a sizable minority and naturally supported the struggle for freedom. By this time the majority of our leaders were imprisoned in various Pakistani jails. Hundreds of young activists were also put behind bars. I was constantly harassed by the secret police. They raided my house three times and confiscated all my books and papers. These included some precious manuscripts left by a maternal uncle of mine. I was told that they would be returned “in due course”, but I never saw them again. 

In those days, at least in the big cities, the government showed that they believed in the legal system. However, things would soon change. They started arresting people at will, without producing them in a court of law. People would languish in prisons for many years without any charges brought against them. They kept on introducing new forms of brutality, including bombing the population and “disappearing” activists and ordinary people. Under their “kill and dump” policy, they to this day torture and kill activists and then dump their bodies in the periphery of a town or village. So far, they have “disappeared” about 5,000 activists and their family members. Recently they have started abducting young female activists and then dumping their bodies. Almost all of these victims have been assaulted and raped.   

I was picked up twice by the secret police. The second time they brought the great poet Gul Khan Naseer (the Baloch Nazrul) from prison. We were both delighted to see each other. We hugged and exchanged greetings in Balochi. We were told firmly not to speak in Balochi. We protested at this suggestion. Without reacting, they started the interrogation which took about three or four hours. Naseer was taken back to prison. I was told to go home but be prepared for further sessions.

I was advised by our leadership to go underground and eventually leave the country and head for the Gulf region to organise the Baloch migrants working in that part of the world. I did exactly as I was instructed to do. Because of visa problems, I could not stay in the Gulf for long. I therefore moved to Syria, Lebanon and finally to Iraq where in 1973-74, I was joined by some other friends. Together we used to edit a monthly newspaper in Balochi called Tipaakie Raah (Path of Unity). In fact, this used to be the Balochi edition of the paper which was also published in Arabic, Persian, Azari (Azarbaijani) and Kurdish editions. We also managed a daily radio programme in Balochi. Additionally, we published a monthly newspaper in English from London which was called People’s Front. This task was assigned to a senior friend who moved from Baghdad to London for this purpose. Our stay in Iraq would soon be short lived. After Saddam Hussain and the Shah of Iran met in North Africa to end the dispute over Shatt al Arab waterway, the situation in Iraq changed drastically. We were told very politely that the “world situation” had changed. We would still be welcome to live in Iraq, but the publication of the newspaper and the radio broadcasts must stop. It was therefore decided I should move to London. With the help of a doctor friend, I obtained a British visa and moved to London.

Your poetry still cries out for your motherland. Do you want to return? Is a return possible?

Who wouldn’t want to go back to the country they love? But it is not possible. I am only tolerated if I keep silent and remain as far away from Balochistan as possible.

Why did you turn down the Pakistan Academy of Literature award?  

The Pakistan Academy of Literature is sponsored by the Islamabad rulers. I cannot accept an award from an organisation that operates at the beck and call of the tormentors of my people.    

You have published very selectively — do you have more writing which you have not published? If so, do you have plans to publish those?

I have never been a prolific writer or a poet. I keep on telling people that I am a part-time poet.

What message would you like to give to emerging writers?

As a part-time poet I don’t feel I am in a position to advise young writers. I can only say this much to them — be honest to yourselves and your art.   

Thank you very much for giving us your time.

Click here to read translated poetry by Akbar Barakzai.

(This is an online interview conducted by Mitali Chakravarty.)

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Categories
Pirate Poems

Pirate Blacktarn & The Worm

By Jay Nicholls

PIRATE BLACKTARN AND THE WORM


Pirate Blacktarn, Terror of the Lemon Seas 
Was feeling so hungry he ate three teas
And even after that he still wanted more.
He ate cookies and cakes and puddings galore.
But though Big Bob the Cook kept cooking and cooking
Blacktarn ate parrot food when Tim wasn’t looking.
He ate sea weed and star fish and slippery eels
And doughnuts and dumplings, all between meals.

“You’ll burst,” said Mick, “this is rather a worry.”
“No I won’t,” answered Blacktarn, eating barnacle curry. 
“This is ridiculous,” said Big Bob, feeling cross,
“You’re eating more than the great albatross.
The ship’s stores and supplies are vanishing fast,
These barrels of food are meant to last.”

But even though Blacktarn still ate and ate
He went on being hungry from morning till late.
In the middle of the night he crept out of his hammock
To try asking for crumbs from the wild seagull flock. 
And he stole Big Bob’s stew that he’d d only just made 
In a secret and stealthy, dark midnight raid.
But strangest of all, he grew more and more thin.
His cheeks became hollow and sunken in. 
His legs and arms looked like sticks on a twig 
And only his tummy stayed round and big.
“I’m fading away,” cried Blacktarn, eating some more,
“I’ll be nothing but a belly with the food it can store.”

“Something very strange is going on here,”
Said Bob to Rakesh, who was standing near. 
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“What?” asked Blacktarn, his fearful heart sinking.

“Worms!” said Bob. 

“WORMS!” cried Blacktarn. “HELP! HELP! I’ve got WORMS!” 

A small sneaky worm living in a ship’s biscuit 
Had jumped right out when Blacktarn bit into it.
It had slithered down his throat and settled in his stomach
And once it was there, it couldn’t believe its luck, 
For so much food kept coming its way,
Chocolate and cake, sweets and biscuits, day after day,
That the worm grew bigger and bigger and bigger 
While Blacktarn shrank to a small, thin figure. 
“Help,” groaned Blacktarn, so scared he nearly cried, 
“I’ll starve to death with this worm inside.”

“Don’t worry Captain,” said Rakesh the mate,
“We’ll see this worm has a nasty fate.”
And he took out his pipe and started to play
In a wiggly, weavy, wormy way.
And the worm stopped eating and started to listen 
To the magical music that made his eyes glisten. 
The tune sang of sea serpents swimming through the waves
And electric eels in undersea caves 
And the gleaming glow worms that light up the deeps
And the huge ocean snake that never ever sleeps. 

And the worm uncurled and started to rise 
In Blacktarn’s stomach which burped in surprise. 
And Rakesh played on, in his wriggly way 
And the worm began to squirm, then started to sway
Forwards and back he wriggled his body about 
Till he reached Blacktarn’s mouth and peered right out. 

Then fast as a dart swooped Parrot Tim 
And grabbed the worm and pulled and pulled him. 
Until out he wriggled all pink and squirmy 
And Tim quickly snatched him and dropped him in the sea,
Where he swam away most unhappily. 

Hurrah, hurrah Captain,” everyone cried. 
“Hurrah,” exclaimed Blacktarn, “that worm’s not inside.
But I’m feeling so hungry I really need a feast 
Now I’ve got rid of that slinky slimy beast.”

Big Bob groaned but began cooking again
And they ate huge helpings of cake and sugar cane 
And mangoes and melons all firm and ripe,
While Rakesh played more tunes on his marvellous pipe. 
And they danced the dance of the greedy little worm
Until Blacktarn spoke, sounding very firm,
“Of course no worm could last long in a pirate like me 
But now I’m worm free and I’m not even hungry,
I think we should sail again, across the Lemon Sea.”

Note: The ‘Pirate Blacktarn’ poems were written in the early 1990s but were never submitted anywhere or shown to anyone. By lucky chance they were recently rescued from a floppy disc that had lain in the bottom of a box for almost thirty years. There are twelve poems in the series but no indication as to what order they were written in and the author no longer remembers. However, they seem to work well when read in any order. They all feature the same cast of characters, the eponymous pirate and his crew, including a stowaway and an intelligent parrot. The stories told by the poems are set on a fictional body of water named the Lemon Sea. (Dug up by Rhys Hughes from the bottom of an abandoned treasure chest).

Jay Nicholls was born in England and graduated with a degree in English Literature. She has worked in academia for many years in various student support roles, including counselling and careers. She has written poetry most of her life but has rarely submitted it for publication.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL