what began as year-long challenge has become perpetual until further notice
It’s my grandmother Hedwig’s birthday today; she would have been 90 years old.
Hedwig was also known as Hetti and Heidi (like a cat she had a multitude of names).
Made stateless by the fact she decided to marry her Polish lover (my grandfather, Yusef), she and her newly 3-times-wed husband (long story) and young son took an Italian boat carrying post-war immigrants bound for Melbourne. They lived first in the immigration barracks that existed in Bonegilla, Victoria before going to Fairy Meadow near Wollongong in NSW, and then settled up the road in East Corrimal, where they built a house together, bit by bit, raised four children. Hetti, my amazing Nanna, remained there until her death in June 2007.
A poem for her, which was also used in my radio play that aired on ABC radio national in 2008. I’ve put some audio below the poem so you can listen to it.
The Stranger on the Dock
Upon the dock
feet in strange drifts
still swelling with
nine weeks of
full of the new
oceans of ocean
pulled and caught
the burley bile
drenched the grief
trawling the depths there
but grief enjoys its exile
in the island of her man.
smells of meat
pressed like edelweiss
communal qualms billow
all the same here.
The kinder don’t care
fair bodies crisping
lapping light severe
in this hemisphere
Lines lead east
Kids at school
The sea, again.
lave the camp
from her ruddy
heralds news from
die alte Heimat
as she hangs
on a line in her
and number four
she ignites the range
ignores the heat
her thin man
rumpled with years
leans over to say
his wife once cooked
to retired machines
he returns over sea
to the irreverent girl
still caught out in the mirror,
contained by corrugations.
His mind soaked in youth
then bathed by infancy
on the dock.
Here’s the audio for the radio play, Salzwasser
Image and poetry Alison Boyd © 2013. Radio play Salswasser written by Alison Boyd, play and sound produced by Jane Ullman, Airplay, ABC Radio National. Aired October 2009.
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