“Tug of War” — Stanzas 206 to 211

Res Publica, Book One, Canto the Third

In which the narrator describes how he left his wife and journeyed to his new island on a boat he named The Tug of War . . .

Rachel Hunter

Rachel Hunter


I finished packing the last container,
a misty, sterile, mid-afternoon
in ’96, the first of June,
and climbed aboard an old Purse-Seiner103
I’d bought with cash six weeks before
and boldly christened: The Tug of War.
A creaky, big-beamed girl with solid
timber hull (like you, my love!).
A group of friends and dock-mates all did
wish me well, while I, above,
on greasy, rain-slicked deck, between
the winch and hydra-crane did wean
my babe from birth. The motor thundered.
My waiving crowd, they must have wondered:


‘What type of fellow takes the dollars
granted by a doting, dead,
rich uncle [to hide the truth, I’d said
my uncle had died] and buys a trawler?’

‘Either he’s a man inspired
– in which case he should be admired –
or he’s obsessed; indeed, fanatical.’

‘Mad, no doubt. At his young age.
In that rust-bucket.’

                                            ‘Who takes sabbatical
from a life with weekly wage
paid by a wife as rich and hot
as Rachel Hunter?’104 (I told them not
to tell my wife I’d left).

                                            ‘Once gone, ’em
bludgers’ll move in.105 But hey, good on ’im!’


Then as the water’s rippling arrow
prodded forth my Tug of War
and drove me from the sand-rimmed shore
(which rising tide made extra narrow),
the mist spray-painted the scene behind
an ashen grey. My burning mind
was cauterized of doubt. I only
thought of what lay forward. The isle,
those rocks, the albatross – that lonely
bird whose sanctum I’d defiled.
To make amends, I’d packed some fish,
some frozen herring (I’d partly wished
we might be friends, that I could feed it)
but it turned out that I wouldn’t need it.


My darling rock, however, was waiting
at the rendezvous, as we’d
agreed. And trusty Tug – her speed
reduced, her engine room pulsating,
her pale white skin all varicose veined
with squiggly patches of rust – remained
on dutiful course; and soon that gentle
mottled hump of earth appeared
amidst the twitching, temperamental
sea. But just as I had feared,
that lovely rump, that winsome curve
of land which thrilled me to observe,
and filled me with the urge to snuggle,
put up a wanton virgin’s struggle.


Upon her sea-bed, my sweet, seductive,
callipygian maid there lay
with haunches daringly displayed;
yet when I groped, her sharp obstructive
rocks began to lash and swipe – and spit.
Alas (shy thing!), she didn’t permit
my larger, unfamiliar vessel
a place to mount (the way she’d let
my smaller skiff so smoothly nestle
midst her crags the night we’d met).
I lewdly circled – a bachelor Sheikh,
with trailing, gold-trimmed robe my wake.
I stopped, then tried to wrestle closer,
perhaps to better diagnose her.


But no! The surging sea (now higher).
My growing desire to land. The slap
of tide against her loins. Though gaps
and fissures caught my probing eyes, her
chiseled features wouldn’t dilate
for me. I trust you won’t berate
me, reader – a lesser ship; a greater
number of trips. I know. You’re right.
I could have saved some loads for later
and tamed my bride without the fight.
But as I’ve said before: My mind
is not – was not – that common kind:
a mind that plans, is shrewd and tactical.
When life means nothing, why be practical?

103 A fishing boat that carries large fishing nets (seines) which are drawn in the shape of a bag (purse) to haul up catch onto the deck.
104 Rachel Hunter (born 1969), New Zealand-born fashion model, actress, TV personality, and former wife of rock star Rod Stewart (born 1945).
105 Bludgers is apparently New Zealand slang for someone who ‘bludges’ or sponges off other people or the government, as in ‘dole bludger’ (ref. ‘Dictionary of Kiwi Slang’, by Dave McGill).

Zireaux’s comments on these stanzas
Thank you John, A.J., Helen and Penelope for the comments and wishes.

A lace monitor (Varanus varius) in Byfield National Park

A lace monitor (Varanus varius) in Byfield National Park

A few days break last week, after the long delivery of one of the five novels — non-identical quintuplets — kicking in my head. Walks in the outback, with xenicas, ringlets, browns, tortoiseshells, coppers, blues, swordgrass swallowtails, giant skippers, kookaburras, rosellas, black cockatoos, a sky clouded with little red beetles and dragonflies, and an enormous goanna, a monitor lizard (six feet long?) halfway up a tree, entirely conspicuous, but believing itself invisible to my eyes.

I snapped a digital image of the monitor, but, strangely, you can hardly see the creature in the photo, as if to confirm the instinctive hyperbole of our imagination, the genesis of phantasmagoria — dragons, gorgons, anthropophagi — found on 14th century maps. An image taken from Wikipedia, however, confirms the lizards’s tree-hugging propensity, if not its enormity (you’ll have to trust me).


Read from the beginning of Res Publica | Listen to the audio version (read by Stuart Devenie) | Buy a signed copy of the book

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