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Anthony Burge

(16/06/1962 / Australia)

Old Man Artist


Old man artist on a hospital gurney

Rattling lungs tell of life’s hard journey

Old man Vincent gasping for air, rattling bones distant stare

Bubbling babbling lungs full of slough

Old man artist Vincent Can Cough

Riverbank Pandanus hangs limp offering shade

Stripped bark and crushed ochre scattered tools of his trade

Does the tannin stained water that flows fast the river

Note his absence on the bank where the spear grass now shivers

Does the red ochre dust that now settles on history

Care where it lands or ponder the mystery

Does the snake that now skates across his Pandanus mat

Recognise the impression where his bony frame sat

Where are his brothers, daughters, mother and sons?

Once one of many of his tribe now but one

Where’s his kinfolk, his tribe his ‘Saltwater’ people

Place of worship his land with the clouds as his steeple

Doctors stand around and jargon above him

I can’t help but wonder where’s those who have loved him

Chocolate brown eyes opened wide knowing fear

Assumes the position on one leg leant on spear

Woomera cocked hunting his dreaming

Chants wailing song only he knows the meaning

If he loses his battle will his song die with him?

Will his art talk the talk or his story walk with him?

Full moons yellow path shone through hospital pane

Draws Vincent home like a moth to the flame

Gargling, gurgling lungs full of gravel

Barefoot on the wind twixt the trees he must travel

To his land where river snakes to the sea

Where his vessel can berth and his soul can drift free

Old man Vincent fought the good fight

Now hunting he goes into starry night.

Submitted: Sunday, April 07, 2013
Edited: Thursday, October 10, 2013

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Poet's Notes about The Poem

Penned from my hospital bed after sharing space aboard a light aircraft (Careflight) during a journey across Arnhem Land. We stopping to pick up a old man (from Lake Avella) in transit to the Royal Darwin Hospital. Vincent and I shared a room during his short stay.

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