What Water Brings

By Renee Pettitt-Schipp
Cocos Island, by Reneé Pettitt-Schipp.
Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Reneé Pettitt-Schipp

we are learning archaeologies of loss
rummaging along edge of island
turning each gift left by the tide

meanwhile, unseen at the edge of the atoll, fifty-eight
Tamils are escorted in; navy ship grey, fishing boat festive
jubilant in sunlight

within the lagoon’s still waters officers
insist on life jackets, clothing refugees
in orange irony

from SIEV to zodiac, zodiac to Customs, Customs to shore
shore to bus, they are watched, guided, guarded
a headline brews

but here we are oblivious, searching amongst the seaweed
finding thongs, whole bulbs and bottles, a toy soldier
minus his head

later, we drive through palms beneath tall towers of cloud,
past the Quarantine Station where the bus has just arrived
and the dust will not settle.

This poem is from the collection The Sky Runs Right Through Us, that covers a period of time when Reneé was working on Christmas Island with asylum seekers until her return to Australia. As Gillian Triggs says of the collection, “These beautiful Christmas Island poems capture both the despair of asylum seekers imprisoned by rock and sea and their ancient will to continue.” The poem was first published in Going Down Swinging and the book can be found at UWA Publishing.