Poetry

Trompe-L’Oeil

out

Banks classified five species of vermin
infesting the ship’s biscuit.
Gentlemen could put theirs
in the not-too-hot oven;

crew had to shake the insects off
and eat “the stayers”.
Much wasted by keeping,
it tasted like mustard.

Sightings of the Great Skua,
ungainly Port Egmont Hen,
meant land was near.
From a position now indefinable

Hicks conjured a coastline,
cloud and land intermingled

touched by the sun’s slanting rays,

the weather hazy, even distance deceptive,

measured by “heaving the log”.
The delusions created by cloud-lands
disappeared as Cook
sailed further east and north

minding his compass,

“Point Hicks” a mirage on
the chart. The mountains of Illawarra

reminded Banks of the back of a lean cow:

scraggy hip bones … stuck out

further than they ought …

intirely bar’d … of their share of covering.

The artist’s transmutant gaze

adds or subtracts detail,

lines underscoring the canvas,
some trick of the light.

Looking north-west into Botany Bay,

Parkinson sketches the shoreline,
this lean cattle-place,
scrubby sand-hills, anorexic country,
winds pulling the ship south again.

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