For those who forego the languor of home ground, that lethal rapine of routine, the most compelling sound of the travelling life might be a ferry’s foghorn throughout the night crossing the Gulf of St. Lawrence’s susurrus of waves, keening ghosts of mariners heard on deck wrapped in fog’s cloak an acoustic effect heading for Newfoundland, a name that wanderluster Marco Polo would understand. I embarked from Sydney in Nova Scotia after sleeping on a dark wharf, pack for a pillow, later learned a young English couple landed there by misadventure believing they were starting the Australian odyssey of their dreams. Plans collapse but as often happens with nomads of all kinds misfortune turned trumps as locals ensured their discovery, what Naipaul called The Enigma of Arrival, became memorable.
Flying over slate-blue Bass Strait, marine mausoleum of past travellers, to a salt-drenched rocky isle, to nourish nerve-ends, alleviate loss, where not so long ago only sealers from as far as Nantucket and indigenous mutton birders lived, died in isolation, now ungrieved, I recall a Labrador Straits campground, wind bawling in from the Arctic, talking to two curious boys whose ears, those fleshy bits behind the lobes, itched, scabbed by blackfly bites, sign of a clean environment elusive now. Canadians, they referred to Canada as if another country, remote, as islanders do. I peer down seeing our shadow blessing a ship’s funnel, imagining the siren call, that foghorn’s yearning groan, calling me, us, hoping those boys made safe passage to their faraway dreams, read by burnished light, write things down to keep ancient fires burning.
Ian C Smith’s work has appeared in Amsterdam Quarterly, Australian Poetry Journal,
Critical Survey, Live Encounters, Poetry New Zealand, Southerly, & Two-Thirds North. His seventh book is wonder sadness madness joy, Ginninderra (Port Adelaide). He writes in the Gippsland Lakes area of Victoria, and on Flinders Island, Tasmania.