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2 poems by Damen O'Brien


Some said it was an inverted crucifix, a sign of the devil hanging

in the sky, others who craned their necks the opposite way,

swore it was their saviour’s cross, a symbol of hope and


Those inclined to mathematics saw a plus sign, to optimism, a

multiplication symbol. As the crowd gathered there were those

who laughed and said it was nothing but a plane, look, there’s its

wings and there, its fuselage. A sober city councillor was not

convinced, swearing they stood beneath the shadow of a bomb,

that he was sure it was a missile. The impressionist who keeps

his studio down Rosie’s Lane, squinted into the chlorine blue day

and saw a man, his arms outstretched. To hug them all? To sing?

The arborists wondered if it was a tree, but did not say, for how

could a tree be floating in the sky? And so it went. A spaceship,

but not the traditional saucer? A satellite? Too low and far too still?

The sweat beaded on their foreheads and their noses and the sun

crept through its allotted arc and the thing hung there silently and

indistinct, taunting all who gathered with its obstinate unknowability.

The philosopher was intrigued, the scientists, alarmed, a man


read his classics long ago shaded a circle around one eye with his

cupped hand and called it a shiny sword, which got some nods,

though many who’d been standing there were now dispersing to

their businesses or to the bus that had pulled up at the Union Street

Bus Stop. The little girl (because there’s always one) who hadn’t


to school that day, since she was feeling sick, or because the day


far too nice for school, stopped pulling up the grass at her mother’s


and asked what will happen when it lands.

The Wave

No one has ever really held a wave:

pitted and pleated as the smutter in a rut;

glossed and glassy as the gather in satin;

twitchy as the muscle of a horse;

stippled as the flutter on a thrush.

Whatever I have taken from a wave:

the comb-over and the coif, the ruffle;

the lather, the lazuli and the lathe;

the scour and stamp that swirls

the bite of metal through the blade;

whatever I have taken, still remains;

the welter, like the shuffle in leaves;

the devour as the gluttony of wind;

and none of these, though frothing

as the collar ruffing on the mantle of

a mushroom, or slippery as lush inside a

melon, has stolen what they did not own,

each has taken a kiss from a wave, a

token from it, a remembrance, a gift,

enough, but not enough to be the water.

If ice is more than ice and stone not stone

then I have had words washed through

and lines all roughed with tidal wrack,

but that was merely ghost of wave, that

was all we wished for from a lover:

the flush, the fever and the lift and roll.

Haven’t we all been clutched and flattened

by the rush and suck of water in its heave,

too heavy and too earnest and too keen,

too suffocating, too intense, who hasn’t

rolled and thought they’d never rise,

scrolled in the knuckle of the wave’s desire?

Who hasn’t felt the desperate sea’s craving

cradle them in sand and salt and spray?

But no one has ever really held a wave,

not painter, poet or photographer has

caught the tremble and undulating weft,

perhaps that’s why it grasps at what it can,

acquisitive and avaricious in its bed, perhaps

that’s why it took those two young men,

out of their boat on New Year’s Eve, to falter

in the headlong current of its heart, to

hold them after life and love and hope,

and all the searchers had nibbled down the coast

and darted bay to bay and found no sign, to

hoard them with its trophies of disdain,

too much loved and longed for, too much

held, but nothing ever held a wave and so

what we have of water is its mirror,

its thunder as of bison in their charging, the

coil from a snake and slick from oil,

and what we have of it are bones long given up,

swept down, till wave has died to little wave

and spiteful wave to shaken sand, and done.

For no one has ever held a wave and loved.


Damen is a multi-award-winning Australian poet. Damen's prizes include The Moth Poetry Prize, the Newcastle Poetry Prize and the Peter Porter Poetry Prize. Damen has been published in Cordite, Southerly, Overland, Island and many other journals. Damen's first book of poetry, Animals With Human Voices, was published in 2021 through Recent Work Press.


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