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Fumbled knots (A refugee and his family)

Elise Ho  |  09 August 2019

Elise Ho’s father came to Australia as a refugee from Vietnam. The following poem was written after she interviewed him about his journey.

My Dad, lines between eyebrows
Push back and forth,
In stumbled recollection
Mum gleaning, has him seesawed.
Far flung words of both tongues
Bend my ears for the fog.

I peer, Dad had a boat.
One hundred and sixty-eight did.
Older, his glass eyes crisper,
Much lonelier,
Lacking family.

An egg for a family’s dozen mouths.
They clutched each other, wretched.
Dad clutched and fell through.
So, he heaved his younger brother.
Who was drunk in anguish,
Confinement in his own throat.

Pierced parents scrupled to split
Seven children to flee.
Stitched with prayer,
By their buoyant eldest,
Free in Australia, a haven land.

Dad fixed on the dream waters,
Left the tug of his other siblings,
Raised to God to touch their loose fingers.
They were barely fixed
With fumbled knots.

He departed on a boat that rocked
In light of despair, the vastness of hope.
Glue peeling from ties.
Loose fibres, split,
Held in quaking hands.

Dad, crammed in a portrait
Of one hundred and sixty-eight faces.
‘No spirit. No compass. No Captain.’
Leaking wood also sapped blood,
Of gushing beaten hysteria.

His bare stomach warped his eyes
In delusions of screaming bones,
Festering as the awake.
Babies of empty tears
Gaped gasps in hollowed eyes.

Fleeing ‘to jump off the boat.’
Boxing at a coffin to quit.
Begging parents at his feet.
A soul draining stone-caved cheeks.
He was breathing to drown.

Dad was caught by Mother Mary’s beads.
Rain pearls for his brother’s cracked voice.
Brothers at the pit of the boat,
Clinging to earnest mumblings.
A Mother for their own mother bone dry.

Scattered letters, of cash and sun drops
Took months across boundless grey.
Yet it tied, bounded, winded
A family’s messy knots
A little warmer, tighter.

I asked Dad, for the scene he took
When a scattered family reunited.
A riot of clumsy words.
Flares scorching, warming.
His ‘Overjoy’ leaped out. ‘Overjoy.’

My Dad and our family,
An array of chaotic ties,
Simply taught Mum
‘Be tolerable and tolerant.’
A constant bicker with too
many mouths.

But Dad in ‘Overjoy,’
Taps my shoulder.
‘We belong. We are love.’
Knotted arms cradled my Dad
From jumping off that boat.

Elise Ho, St Aloysius College, North Melbourne, was one of the student guest editors of the 2019 Australian Catholics Spring edition.

Illustration: Becky Xie


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