Child of Gath-hepher by Anna Murchison

In accepting the 2021 ACU Prize for Poetry, I would like to acknowledge and thank all those whose leadership continues to guide and inform the University’s patronage of the Arts. The ACU Prize offers succour and encouragement to those whose daily leap of faith into artistic expression is both a fragile and necessary endeavour.

This year poets were invited to address the theme of ‘resilience’. In public discourse we see the word mythologised; politicised and touted as our national trait. Seldom do we see it represented as amenable to our private corruptions – to the attaching of ‘strings’. Surely it is our fallibility (among other noble faults) teaching us our own strength, coaxing  us forward, encouraging our communion with whichever source we deem insoluble from the circumstance of life’s inexorable struggle. Eventually we set aside childish notions of the unconfessed and strive for what might by any creed be termed morality. How refreshing, then, to be afforded the freedom to discard saccharine, surface  notions  of resilience  and give it its due.

I sincerely thank this year’s shortlisting judges, Emeritus Professor Margot Hillel OAM and Professor Robert H F Carver, and chief judge, M.T.C. Cronin, for elevating my humble offering to this place of recognition.  We poets inhabit quiet spaces wherein we turn the wheel of our aspirations with hopes of fashioning some small article of truth, some modicum of the essential. While the writing act is solitary, the ACU Prize endows us with a collective moment in which to unite to create an instrument of hope.

With warm wishes from nipaluna/Hobart.

Anna Murchison 

Child of Gath-hepher

for JS

from there it passes along on the east
My hands ask my fully upright tray table,‘How
are you today?’ 36, 000 feet is a bad height
for worry. But it’s a good height for signing
and I’ve been stumbling through classes –
‘AUSLAN for Beginners’ – like a child
finding movement. I think of the poet’s
allegiance to suffering: out of life’s unsteady
business some magnificent stroke, some nobility
or grace; some captured solidity where all else
is loss. Narcotic air now breathes him new;
I incubate tears, smelt hope from its invisible
ore, and fall through clouds to Terminal Four
and an eon of twenty minutes: ‘What, no canapés
on this bus?’ ‘I’ll be the one wearing a mask.’
(When God decided humour, he was
anticipating crisis.) At Southern Cross Station we hug hard,
our fears a raft. We head for an arcade where
we down coffee and wine and pick over whatever
food we ordered. Then comes the call: a flurry
of fluorescence and blue-striped walls; a smile
portends a soft-lit room, and there, upon his
naked shore, my child of *Gath-hepher. As we walk
from the hospital across tram-tracked roads,
I think of the times I have fallen out of boats.
Or driven into lakes. And though it was only
one boat, only one lake, it is true, I have fallen
in and out of many things. And I think of the letters,
all of them gone – the letters and them; in the end,
I couldn’t bear to hold either. My son dreams
forward while I crawl through the world, slung
low and small; part-actualized and animal –
slackened and blackened from the cobbles
and blows. Time claws at me for attention;
it is tearing skin. I am a split-through log,
a thing of splintered halves. And though to
no fixed view inclined (yet as if to prove point),
I listen to the teacher whose job it is to be wise
suggest we might all try passing to our children
only half our neuroses – it’s one of the more
reasonable propositions I’ve heard. Life is fiction
and fiction is myth – a sort of comfort, a sort
of everything. We quote centuries; obscurity
becomes the mean. No bugle or blow, just this
fine oblivion – what some are calling progress.
Yet there is something true in nascence, in the
tight-furled flower – it is, at least in theory, a
conquerable nub. As the crow flies I sense you, longitudinal
and near – a point on a map, or a map on a point.
Under the shower you will sing like Pavarotti;
before me, *the pit, the subduing of the lights.
I raise my baton and the orchestra makes good
on its promise of coherence. And with so little left
to hold us you ask, ‘Do you want me?’ And I roll
over to face the dead knight on the wall because
I no longer know how to answer such a simple
and important question (but that dead Duke
of Normandy could really do with some socks).
Love has grown cold and military; it is anti-reality.
I lurch toward heaven or hell – whichever comes
first – where I may yet find the right intoxicant.
Please forgive me my new habit of conversing
with furniture: I cannot take the weight of
people – these items are my friends. Saint Dominic, said
to have denied himself a bed, would have us look
to the shape of stars in their ragged constellations,
for there, amid the galaxy’s notations, springs
relentless hope. ‘Give me a dead saint over
a live sinner,’ said my paternal grandmother.
Or perhaps it was the sinner she claimed to
prefer. My child of *Gath-hepher writes standing on
street corners, and out of that flash comes a beauty
so resilient it stills me to awe. The window fogs,
sentient and breathing. And through it peers
the morning. But only one of us is here.
towards the sunrise to Gath-hepher
(Joshua 19:13)


*Gath-hepher: ‘winepress of the digging/of the pit’
poem line count = 76

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