The Fish in Australia (2014)

Andrew Motion

Oxford English Dictionary (OED) Links On

Where the mountains crumbled
and yellow desert began,
when the sun began to smoulder
in a vault of indigo,
I left the metalled road
and found a perfect circle
of still and silent water,
fifty yards by fifty,
with hard treeless banks
un-marked by any prints.

Call it a pool of tears
wept by dogs or kangaroos,
or dead transported men.
I considered it a dewpond
but no dew anywhere
ever fell that swarthy colour,
or seemed so like the lid
of a tunnel piercing through
the planet’s fiery heart
to the other side and England.

Providence any how
had made me think ahead
and without a moment’s pause
I was parked up on the bank,
had my rod and spinner ready,
and was flicking out a cast
to find what rose to me.

Nothing rose, of course.
A kookaburra guffawed
a mile off in the bush
and a million years ago;
a snack of tiny flies
sizzled round my lips;
and as the dying sun
sank deeper in its vault
a gang of eucalypts
in tattered party dresses
seemed to shuffle closer
and show their interest
in hearing how my line
whispered on the water
(now uniformly solid
ancient beaten bronze),
how the reel’s neat click
made the spinner plonk down,
how the ratchet whirred
as I reeled in slow enough
to conjure up the monster
that surely slept below.

As I reeled in slow enough
then suddenly too slow,
and the whirling hooks caught hold
of something obstinate.
Not flesh or fish-mouth though.
Too much dead weight for that.
A stone age log perhaps.
A mass at any rate
that would not change its mind
and snapped the flimsy line
which blew back in my face
as light as human hair.

If not myself at least
the pond lay peaceful then,
with sun now turned to dust
and a moon-ghost in its place
as much like company
as anything complete.

Why not, I thought,
why not
despite the loss to me
continue standing here
and still cast out my line,
my frail and useless lash,
with no better reason now
than watch the thing lie down
then lift and lie again,
until such time arrives
as the dark that swallows up
the sky has swallowed me.

Learn more about the language of this poem in the
Oxford English Dictionary:

yard, n.2  dew-pond, n.  swarthy, adj.1  spinner, n.  cast, n.