Dorothy Hewett

(1923 - 2002 / Perth)

Go Down Red Roses - Poem by Dorothy Hewett

O when shall we two meet again
In thunder and in lightning and in rain,
By what strange waters and by what dry docks,
By what mean streets alive with summer frocks,
And girls, and men with grease across their lips,
Who fire the boilers on what lonely ships?
By the waters of the Yarra I sat down and wept
For you, timber-cutter, cane-cutter, black-faced stoker on the Ellaroo,
Melbourne to Newcastle, Sydney to Rockhampton...
Shipped out of port, anywhere, anything new,
And the Yarra waters are muddy with a thousand tears
Of shop girl, typist, process-worker and whore,
By the pitiless street light, the park and the empty door,
And the train in the cutting whispering nevermore...
When the footsteps die at the end of the empty street,
When the faces die in the neon sign and the pub closes,
The door shuts, the ship pulls out of the dock, this is the end—
And go down all my red roses.
I weep for you, my love, who will not be loved,
You wandering men with a swag of dust on your shoulders,
Carting a holey blanket to the world's end,
The Southern Cross over your right eye and your left
Turned inwards, fist in your pocket, punchy and warm,
A hole in your heart and a star where the blanket's torn,
Walking, ah! God knows where, the Yarra streets under your footsteps.
Look out for the bodgies! They swing a hard bottle at night,
And the Southern Cross has a wan and a wandering light,
And the neon sign's blood-red, blood-red as a rose.
Oh! tears and mud and regret where the Yarra flows,
And the seagull screams on the ship and the wild wind blows. Go down red roses...
‘Dining in town tonight, a warm welcome awaits you.'
Arms and kisses and Melbourne draft at the London pub.
The bed is warm, the woman is warm and willing,
A breast to fondle, an early start to curse,
And promise is easy, conclusion is something worse.
Running before the tide out of Sydney to Rockhampton,
Do you carry my letter in your pocket like a promise of love?
Continents swing between us, desert and sand and scrub,
The plane dips, the Bight arcs in a sunlit dazzle of surf,
Two thousand miles measure two thousand years,
And you are gone ... over the rim of the Tasman Sea,
And the Yarra mud has swallowed up all my tears.
I sleep alone with a kiss-print on my lips,
The thud of my heart beats in the engine-room,
Ah! the ship is hollow and hollow thuds my heart,
Ah! hollow, hollow, the cormorant flaps and crows.
On the Yarra bank the red rose blooms and blows.
The flowers of spring sink in the muddied river,
And go down, go down all my red roses.
O when shall we two meet again
In thunder and in lightning and in rain,
By what strange waters and by what dry docks,
By what mean streets alive with summer frocks
And girls, and men with grease across their lips,
Who fire the boilers on what lonely ships?
Timber-cutter, cane-cutter, black-faced stoker on the Ellaroo,
Melbourne to Newcastle, Sydney to Rockhampton,
Shipped out of port, letters are following, anything new!
Nowhere to go, it's late and the last pub closes.
The pillow lies like a stone under your head,
The prostitute's shoes grow cold under your bed.
The bed's still warm in the last port where you slept.
By the waters of the Yarra I sat down and wept
Go down, go down all my blood-red roses.


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Poem Submitted: Monday, August 25, 2014



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