Australian fiction, poetry, essays, book reviews
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The glittering Pacific

I woke up in the hotel Beaurivage,
the waves of the glittering Pacific
smaller than I expected.
Kanak mothers
rinsing babies in the sea
like bundles of dirty laundry. 

We wallowed in the curve
of the Baie de Citrons.
What seemed essential 
slipped away,
sim cards now irrelevant,
my schoolboy French
suddenly adequate.

The sun on pale skin,
the resting tide rippling
across stones.
You and I together,
the universe tilting
in our general direction.

The Women of Noumea

The women of Noumea
glide by
on clouds of sang-froid
limbs moving
like champagne
in tall glasses,
feet gliding effortlessly
like roller skaters,
hair set free
like yachts
across the Baie de Citrons,
faces sculpted
from black marble,
dredged up from sea beds,
a glistening mulier fortis.

      ...and oh,
how you love your children.

Madonna of the Baie de Citrons

Outside the hotel Beaurivage
she paces out an ancient vigil,
muttering self-taught prayers.

The bus she waits for
will not arrive.
She’s consecrated 
to the lights
that simmer round the bay,
beads on a dangling rosary.

I close the curtains
on those long night hours,
her compassionate companions.

at the quiet light 
of morning
she stands at water’s edge,
the fleche faitiere,
guiding home the souls 
of departed family.

One passing sparrow
calls out her name
in recognition.

Time Passes

In Rue Auguste Brun
dusty glass cases
hold headdresses eons old, 
their feathers painting
the shaded stillness of
a New Caledonia afternoon.

Doors spring open
releasing Kanak children
with hair like electric spaghetti
‘Come back after lunch’
says the dreadlocked doorman
‘You don’t have time
to see it all now.’

We step back into
Rue Auguste Brun
where time slows to a trickle,
women in flowered dresses
chat under
lipstick pink bougainvillea.

Time, callous and blind,
dismisses my small life
like a rejecting lover.

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About the author:

John Bartlett

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John Bartlett is the author of three novels, "Towards a Distant Sea", "Estuary" and "Jack Ferryman: Reluctant Private Investigator" and in June 2019 Melbourne Poets Union published his Chapbook The Arms of Men as part of the Union Poet Series Chapbook.