(Almost) Sestina of the Seasoned Traveller
BY SIOBHÁN FLYNN
I used to make big plans to see it all,
to travel all the way around this world.
Maybe give up the daily grind for good,
take my time, it wouldn’t matter how long
it would take to get this expedition done,
then I’d choose my favourite place and wait to die.
I’ve always loved Italy, so Sicily could be good
eating pasta con le sarde and cannoli ’til I die,
but sometimes it’s too hot and I would long
to be somewhere cool with snow blanketing all,
like St Petersburg in mid-winter, a twilight world
of cosy evenings sipping sbiten and reading Donne.
But do I need extremes when all is said and done?
Maybe a temperate climate, an in-between is good,
somewhere in the middle latitudes of the world
where plants without constant attention will not die.
I don’t want to have to labour in the garden after all
to have something lovely to look at the whole year long,
like the gardens of Versailles, or the view along
the flower fields of Keukenhof, the gardening done
by other people without any effort on my part at all,
maybe enjoy hanami in spring in Japan, it’s all good.
But everywhere has a season, plants bloom then die,
so what are the things that last forever in this world?
Everybody that I meet on my travels in the world;
shared meals, the conversations on a train, the long
journeys made shorter, friendships that will never die,
the kindness offered and the favours done,
the delight most people take in doing good,
these things can happen anywhere at all.
There are wonders in this world, amazing things are done,
but it’s where love is that I belong, that’s what feels good.
It’s not important where I die, it’s life that matters after all.
BY PETER SUTTON
Lurching across a sea of slime, glancing from side to side,
the youngster who’s the skipper of the good ship
launched with such grandeur and swept by the tide,
is watching for whiz-bangs and flares.
Where are the shells and the shallows, the slips and wreck-strewn shoals,
the crown-and-anchor shadows, and the rips and shrouds and reefs,
whose are those voices of wandering souls
reminding of childish beliefs?
Wiping the sleep from landlocked eyes, checking the compass
he keeps his course to eastward, to confront the blood-red test,
ready to follow the squadron he chose
away from the isles of the blest.
Knowing he must maintain his way if he’s to stay in line,
he clamps his helm amidships and he scans the fog ahead,
hearing the leadsman rewinding the twine
to read out the name on the lead.
He did not sail to foreign lands, learning how others live,
to Africa, to India, Brazil, as I have done,
only the once to the trenches to give
his life for a kingdom. My son.
Second Prize: John Gallas
‘The Yellow-Blinded Fale’
BY JOHN GALLAS
So somewhere I arrived, who travelled dumb
and careless there by plane and bus and bumboat,
bored, with fading worry and in light as gleaned as glass,
till sleepysoft I stood, a little shaky in the sun,
and watched the sea wash up towards my toes:
and saw the waves’ whole softly pumping ring
around me and this place, smaller than my mother’s lawn.
A few bent trees. Some bunches of bamboo, a little torn,
fingering the light. One hot ’aute bush, purple-burned.
Nothing more. Even the sea said hush around my feet
as if it asked why move? The only house is near enough:
two yellow wall-blinds tied between the two blue vasts and me,
like squares of sunshine’s skin. Imagine: in the atlas of my soul
I could not make a thing so emptied of all thought.
It was not beauty, but a blanch: and I dissolved, brought,
outdone and dazzled, to an island blank and bare as being.
Later, who knows when, the bumboat burbled back to pick me
who had not moved. The yellow squares took fire.
I watched them fall astern, distilling to a tiny orange flare.
I found a sticky seedpod in my hand. But not one memory.
Only the yellow blinds between the sea, the sky, and me.
fale (Samoan): an open-sided house with a thatched roof
’aute (Samoan) hibiscus plant