Day Of Atonement – James Gering

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”.

2 thoughts on “Day Of Atonement – James Gering

  1. Alan W.

    Very nicely done. The gathering of these random folks on the beach provide the setting for atonement indeed.


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