My first after divorce finds me
shy of the synagogue, down
at Coogee beach, on the watch
for fellow deserters.
Instead, nuclear families
flaunt their wholeness
between the flags.
A gust of wind ruffles
my hair; teenage lovers canoodle
on beach towels. I wince, picture
an eagle clawing them up and dropping them
decades later into lives worn and haggard.
An amplified voice from the tower
rides the wind and ruptures the day:
a child missing, Daniel, four, curly
black hair, blue shorts.
The gusts come sharper, clouds stack
beachgoers hug their knees.
At the southern rock pool,
I attend to my atonement: laps swum
in shivery embrace.
Today the swell rocks me
side to side, taunts my natural line.
Rain begins to pockmark the water.
I pause by the deep end,
elbows propped on the concrete edge.
Under the surface, seaweed
sucks at my legs.
There is a flash against the grey sky:
a photographer at the far end
where men in black mill around
bridesmaids in white.
Two maids hoist umbrellas to shield
their veiled bride.
The loudspeaker voice crackles again:
licks of urgency now fleck the words.
Do I look for the boy or go to prayers?
Maybe I will drive south to bless
my own boys on holiday
with their mother, an accomplice.
In nearby synagogues, rabbis lead
their congregants into atonement.
‘Forgive me,’ I chant, lips briny with salt.
And I see him: cross-legged, crouched
in a pocket of orange sandstone flanking
the pool. His eyes are watchful
under a curly fringe.
And the boy transports me to my own
childhood adventures and the subliminal urge
now and then to get lost.
The shout of a groomsman fractures
my reverie. He is pointing a finger at Daniel
who shrinks deeper into the rock.
Sick rises in my throat and I lurch
back to atonement:
three strokes, breathe right,
three strokes, breathe left,
James has been a writer of short stories and poems for three decades. When not writing, he teaches English at the University of Sydney and leads a busy family life. His poetry has appeared in a number of journals including “Meanjin”, “Cordite”, and “Rattle”.