Thames Coast Fossicker


Like a hermit crab among the winding roots,
his humpy’s two shaky walls of tin
propped between the rockface and a sack,
he lived in a newspaper nest with coats and hats
and innumerable empty bottles of medicine –
whisky for colds, brandy for heart, rum for his aching back.

Nearby sang the rill, her siren voice
threading his hoary brain with the fossicker dreams
and making his blood light as the moon’s feather;
in verminous rags he buried his toothy quartz
mattocked only he knew from what seams
in the misty ranges under doubtful weather.

Then: come, Dad, they said, come with us,
and scooped him out and into the ambulance.
We’ll clean him up, give him a sober diet.
Vainly he raged at their cool efficient fuss:
they found no glitter worth a second glance
but gave him mattock and quartz to keep him quiet.

The boom town of a hundred pubs now wears
a brick and stone respectability
that seven bar-rooms can’t put down the hatch;
the golden door closed against wildcat years
creaks on its hinge as Old Identity
by act of death, like a shadow, lifts the latch.

from Of Clouds and Pebbles (Paul’s Book Arcade, 1963), © Gloria Rawlinson 1963, used by permission of the Rawlinson-Edge Trust. Recording from the Waiata New Zealand Poetry Sound Archive 1974

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