Depth Charges

There is no key to my father’s lock

he was made of reinforcing steel

and recycled refrigerator racks

welded into a portcullis for the chooks,

made of jars of screws marked with black scrawl

of brassy instruments in wooden cases

dividers for measuring maps

a sextant for stars and sun.

He was the whiff of horses’ hooves

the cantering rhythm of the handkerchief game

he was marmalade splattered on the ceiling

or slathered on toast

ships and rigging fitted into bottles.

He was the wooden farmhouse with lifting rooves

the bonfire coat and smell of salt-petre

he was singed eyebrows

and the puff of wind on water

the steadying of the centreboard

and lift of red sails in a breeze.

He was ships biscuits, depth charges

and the sound of the Azdic pinging

on the hull of a submarine.

He was quick orders in catastrophes

calm when the horse cast herself in the float

he was knots swiftly tied and leverage

he was courage and the awkward tenderness

of a finger held out to a grandson.

He was silence and formality

silly giggling and hiding in spindly trees

or lying flat in the grass at hide-and-seek.

He was manure and khaki shirts and cabbage-tree hats

he was medals and gold braid

he was a wheezy chest and bugle played in the loo each morning

firefighter until past seventy

and no endearments.

He was debate at the dinner table, limb of Satan

he was dancing the highland fling

or cossack leaps with a cushion on his head

he was a mouth organ playing in a boat

while a dolphin circled us in the evening near Barrenjoey.

He was wearing a red ice-cream bucket on his head

smiling at me through the kitchen window.


Charlotte Clutterbuck

Best Australian Poems, ed. Geoff Page, Black Ink, 2014

Posted on  –  June 24, 2023