Poetry: Meteor IV at Cowes, 1913 | clivejames.com
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Meteor IV at Cowes, 1913

Sydney in spring. Tonight you dine alone.
Walk up the Argyle Cut to Argyle Place
And turn left at the end. In there you’ll find
Fish at the Rocks: not just a fish-and-chip joint
But a serious restaurant, with tablecloths
And proper glassware. On the walls, a row
Of photographs, all bought as a job lot
By a decorator with a thoughtful eye:
Big portraits of the racing yachts at Cowes
In the last years before the First World War.
Luxurious in black and white as deep as sepia,
The photographs are framed in the house style
Of Beken, the smart firm that held the franchise
And must have had a fast boat of its own
To catch those vivid poses out at sea:
Swell heaving in the foreground, sky for backdrop,
Crew lying back on tilting teak or hauling
On white sheets like the stage-hands of a classic
Rope-house theatre shifting brilliant scenery –
Fresh snowfields, arctic cliffs, wash-day of titans.
What stuns you now is the aesthetic yield:
A mere game made completely beautiful
By time, the winnower, whose memory
Has taken out all but the lasting outline,
The telling detail, the essential shadow.
But nothing beats the lovely, schooner-rigged
Meteor IV, so perfectly proportioned
She doesn’t show her size until you count
The human hieroglyphs carved on her deck
As she heels over. Twenty-six young men
Are present and correct below her towers
Of canvas. At the topmost point, the apex
Of what was once a noble way of life
Unquestioned as the antlers in the hunting lodge,
The Habsburg eagle flies. They let her run,
Led by the foresail tight as a balloon,
Full clip across the wind, under the silver sun,
Believing they can feel this thrill for ever –
And death, though it must come, will not come soon.

 Meanjin, Autumn 2009

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