Peter Skrzynecki: Three Poems

My Mother Disliked the Sea


My mother disliked the sea

after we arrived in Australia. She would say,

“Four weeks on a ship. Waves. Waves.

That’s all it was … And

the horizon never getting closer.”

Once, going on a picnic

with friends to Shellharbour

she sat with her back to the water.

“Seeing the waves makes me sick.

That ship was a prison.”


Was it nostalgia or homesickness

for Europe that made her feel as she did?

Or the Polish word zal to describe

a spiritual and physical longing

for something forever lost ?


Enticements to go to Manly on the ferry

or Bondi’s famous beach

fell on deaf ears.

“I’d rather stay home

and work in my garden,” she’d say.

“See how beautiful the roses are”.

Or, “The marigolds are out. Smallest of flowers

but their colour is so deep.”


Returning from her day job

she would bring home

seedlings and packets of seeds

from the nursery

to add to the flower garden.

It took me decades to learn

that’s where she belonged—

and she’d reached her horizon

by turning her back on the sea.

Peter Skrzynecki


My Mother Hangs Out the Washing


She carried the clothesbasket

on her hip—from laundry to clothesline

and from clothesline back to the house,

her hair tied back with a scarf

of red roses and green wreaths.


Happiest doing what she had to do,

uncomplaining, whatever the weather.

“One step at a time,” she would say.

“Go slowly and you’ll go further.”


Given opportunity, I wondered

what she might have otherwise become—

shopkeeper, dressmaker, nurse;

she would shrug off such suggestions

and return to my father in the garden

where they grew flowers and vegetables

that fed us all year.


My mother, content in her backyard,

hanging out the washing,

unburdened by a scarf

of red roses and green wreaths.

Peter Skrzynecki


The Poems Are Looking for You


The poems are looking for you

all the time—day, night, when your eyes burn

from lack of sleep

or when rain washes them


and you laugh in relief.


A door opens

and you think

there might be a poem

in the next room—

sometimes there is, mostly

there is nothing except shadows,

furniture, paintings on walls,

a bookcase with too many books.


When your dogs

run inside to hide from thunder

you pat them,

reassure them, share their fear.

They lie at your feet

and the poems are in their eyes.


The poems are there

in images of your father

working in the garden—

picking fruit off trees

that he planted

while you watched and played

when you were a barefoot child.


The poems are there

when you discover a hill,

climb to its top

and the view below

takes away your breath.

The hill, the view

melt into the dark

by the time you reach home

and the poem you’ve carried

on your lips is written.


Fragments of words

will take hold of your tongue—

will become words

that become clouds, forests, rivers.

They are homeless children.

All you have to do is bring them home.

 Peter Skrzynecki


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