This concrete city with glass, towering walls
grows newly up and does not share the years,
nearly two hundred now, which stone recalls
or harbour noise; and in this haunted time
I turn my back on it where in my ears
voices and ship-names from an older earth
echo out well beyond what I might claim
myself as yesterdays … though mine have known
(and longer gone than Lawhill from her berth,
that lone intruder upon steam and steel)
the masted ships (Helen B. Stirling one)
anchored in Birchgrove, five or six together.
For war brought back vessels of square-rigged sail;
but earlier still Sobraon off Cockatoo
tugged at fast moorings; and I see my father
pointing me out her rows of dummy ports
right to the waterline, which once would do
duty for cannon, make her seem, by bluff,
a bristling frigate. So in fabled parts,
the dangerous China seas, that skin-thin paint
had tricked Malayan pirates, scared them off.
And when you think of it this links my life
of not yet sixty years with what seems faint
in legendary lore and wholly lost,
namely the wooden ships of war. In brief
time is so shortened, since the day’s brought near
of Nelson and Trafalgar and the rest,
that what’s-to-come no longer looms a place
separate from all being but, joining here
the world we have walked thus far, is even our own.
Saying which, I can tum about and face
concrete and glass as things familiar — known
like brick, shell-mortar and grey Hawkesbury stone.