Lyrics: Canoe |
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by Clive James and Pete Atkin

The perfect moon was huge above the sea
The surf was easy even on the reef
We were the lucky three
Who slid in our canoe
Through the flowers on the water
And tried to read the signals in the sky

We travelled with our necklaces of shell
The moon was waning through the nights and days
And how we dreamed of home!
But we couldn't find the island
Where you trade the shells for feathers
We fainted in the sun's reflected blaze

With cracking lips I turned to tell my friends
The time had come for all of us to die
"She's out a whole degree"
I told them as I floated
Checking navigation readouts
"Re-enter at this angle and we'll fry"

The go for override came up from earth
We took control and we flew her with our hands
And how we dreamed of home!
We saw the south Pacific
As we fought to get her zeroed
Before the heat shield started hitting air

We came home in a roaring purple flame
And gave the mission back to the machines
We were the lucky three
The parachutes deployed
We were rocking like a cradle
As we drifted down in silence to the sea

Note (from Collected Poems)

When very young I was impressed by a sequence of photographs in the National Geographic that showed young male Polynesian canoeists studying star maps made of stones and sticks. The maps allowed them to navigate by the constellations. In performance, the song holds the audience by the way the two stories are woven together by the melody: listeners soon realize that the apparent discrepancy between the two voyages is a single tribute to human endeavour.