What the river told me by Jane Skelton

from “What the river told me” by Jane Skelton

Ben Boyd’s tower

The bay’s silk curtain is  
blue milk, draped from the opposite shore  
	the sea pricked out in boats  
their white sails dancing upon its pleats  
	through the spyglass he scanned  
the coves, the inlets, their crescent smiles  
	and across to Eden   
a Stink, the whale bones lying about   
	covered by feeding crows  
Framed in a high window   
he might look like a wandering ghost   
	his skin freckled, weathered   
his eyes pink-rimmed, lips dry, salt-glistered   
	a struggle climbing up   
seabirds caterwauling round his head   
	he grasped his broad-leafed hat   
lest the wind snatch it for the ocean   
	and show his thinning pate 
Toward the spindrift-blurred   
horizon, something in him yearning   
	always had, since boyhood   
he’d built a port, a place with his rules    	
	and his own currency  
though all was against him − the weather!  
	lack of labour, the laws!  
Not his fault his ventures have collapsed  
	suddenly, he was bored  
Sea eagles were circling   
an aeronaut, he might fly away
	but could only climb down
a servant came forth with his carriage  
	helped him up, awkwardly   
he glanced at himself in his mirror
   	slicked down his balding crown   
he, who felt himself a personage
	was he still comme il faut?
Along the ship-wrecked coast   
hidden vessels drift beneath the waves   
	octopuses’ gardens   
huddle in the weed-furred rotting hulls   
	in deep green whale-strong swells   
he made for the Pacific Islands   
	dragging his submerged selves   
plotting a republic, a land grab        
	sailed to his secret death   
The scorched tower still stands   
its headland now fire-razed, scalped of scrub  
	tourists potter about   
pause before the signage − warped, melted   
	and will it be replaced?   
the tower’s cordoned off − they ignore   
	pose, in its emptiness 
watch the waves slam vermilion rock   
	below treacherous cliffs  
Wind mouths the lone tower   
tourists speculate − these sandstone blocks  
   carried miles, from Sydney  
by bullock train, at enormous cost  
   who was Benjamin Boyd?  
a colonial Christopher Skase?  
   but more, a blackbirder  
wrought death, disease on his captured men  
   indifferent to their fate 
 Matting the headland now  
green and juicy growth − wattle, myrtles  
   spring out of charcoal ground  
fire has revealed the middens, the shells 
   crumbling to ashy earth  
signs of those whose place it was, and is  
   the romance is fading  
listen − other voices are speaking  
   a new naming begins