Poems from the Van: James Hart

The Turnoff

by James Hart

it seems as though a reel of film

is stuck on loop

outside your passenger window.

the scenery’s on repeat:

bushland, farmland, bushland.

there are fields demarcated by

a grid of low, rickety wooden fences

from behind which the cows

peer mournfully as you pass.

you spy the odd servo, adjoined

by a roadside restaurant and nearby

a series of nondescript homes.

it’s pleasant enough, but listless.

over this rise and the next

and the one after that

there’s more of the same -

only the mountains grow closer

the weather varies

and the signposts change their names.

yet the Turnoff draws you on:

that sublime place where green hillsides and cliffs

preside over crystal tunnels

and lazy pointbreaks.

and the small-town vibe of yesteryear

hides well-known secrets

down back roads and sandy tracks.

and in the afternoon

with paddle-weary arms

you’ll find

the clink of schooner glasses

the gentle clack of billiard balls

and friendly laughter in a faraway pub.

you can see it already.

your car eats up the kilometres.

the odometer grows fat with distance.

and the Turnoff draws you on.

Winter Magic

by James Hart

There’s a certain type of magic

About those winter days

When the offshore winds are blowing

Yet the crowds all keep away.

You pull up at your local beach

To be greeted by a pleasant view

The parking lot is vacant—

There’s no one there but you.

The lookout yields a similar sight

Of dunes all neat and kempt

Of lonely turquoise water, waves

And a blue sky overhead.

Like a shot of coffee

The sight enlivens you --

But you have to ask the question

‘Where’s the ordinary crew?’

Could it be the wintry chill

That’s crept into the day?

Or the banshee breeze a-howling

That keeps the crowd at bay?

Could it be something more sinister

Something lurking out the back?

Could it be that grey finned Thing

That’s said to bring bad luck?

Stop thinking! instinct warns you

Never question for too long—

It’s only every now and then

These chances come along.

You race back to your car

And pull your thickest rubber up

You check the car door’s locked

And with board underarm you run—

Up the sandy track you sprint

Then down the wooden stairs

To plunge into the shock and cold

Of this blue wonderland

You scrawl your white graffiti

Across the long blue walls

Your wake’s a long white signature:

Claiming each wave here as yours!

Yet you know that in a moment,

Everything could change

The news could get out

Or the trade winds interchange.

Storm clouds could roll in

And rob the sunlight from your day

Bringing with it that dreaded southerly

That blows magic away.

So you catch as many as you can

While conditions hold

You make your last your second last

Until the day grows old.

And only when the sun’s gone down

And warmth has fled the day

And when the light has grown too dim

That you call it a day.

Now in the frigid semi-dark

You trot back to your car

And fumble numbly with the lock

Toes wincing on the tar.

When you get it open

You towel off your frozen face

You scrub dry your nose, your lips,

Your hair, with the greatest haste.

Headlights fall into the parking lot

As you peel your wetsuit down

He pulls up next to where you stand

And asks, ‘How’s it out there now?’

'Not too bad,' you shrug.

'Just a little bit of fun.'

But he sees the secret in your grin

And a lesson for everyone:

When the winter wind

Is fresh as minted breath

And there's still light enough to see

Out to the darkling west --

When the parking lot is empty

And the sky's an eggshell blue

Brave the cold and check the surf

Winter may reward you if you do.