Poetry

The Murray Cod

Primary school, in summer
lining up at the classroom door
to be allowed inside
after the bell has rung;
a metal bell, in a wooden tower
above the headmaster’s, Mr Rickard’s, office
the rope yanked down again and again
by a grade six boy who is the bell monitor
as my friend Johnny and I are fire monitors
having to get to school half an hour early
every morning in winter

One day
we can only get two of the seven fires lit
We run! Pretend it wasn’t us
That we got to school late
risk being sacked from our job
although that doesn’t happen
we are forgiven, or forgotten
and we continue to gather the kindling
and to carry the box of matches
from room to room

Bill Hall, the sixth grade teacher
shows us how to cut wood
for the fires;
he had been a Changi POW
and has never replaced
the weight he lost;
his skin is sallow and waxy
which no amount
of good Australian food
seemed would ever return to health

After slicing through a branch
as thick as a non-ex-POW’s thigh
in seconds, Mr Hall
leans on his axe and lectures
“Even though I’m a teacher
I’m no weakling!”
He died of lung cancer
soon after I began high school;
I see him last with a 120 pound Murray cod
hanging from his friends’
and our neighbours, the McFinneys’, Hill’s Hoist

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