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Poem: Catalina

Books & Poetry

In this week’s Poet’s Corner, David Harris remembers an iconic hunter patrol seaplane of World War II, the Consolidated PBY Catalina.

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Matilda Bay, Swan River, World War II
Aviation Heritage Museum, Perth, today

The plane you see there, friends, now high and dry,
no longer flies. Restored
by loving, understanding hands to what it was, they’ve left
the bullet holes, repairs and dents,
and yet, is it not strange
how battle scars degrade it not at all,
and such a weapon still remains a thing of grace?

A child, I saw it first moored off the river shore,
the ocean bird, at home among the clouds, at rest
by night, a moonbeam ladder on the waves
reached to her hull, slap slopping in the still,
warm air of starry summer night.
My uncle was its pilot.
That night we were at war.

Next morning, with her weapon load renewed,
her tanks refilled, her crew of half a dozen men,
so brave, so young would once again
take to the sky, to hunt and to be hunted
far above the lovely, island spangled
ocean to the north, or skim across the waves
in darkest night to lay its dragon eggs
amongst their navy’s ships.

The Catalina, high in tropic sky,
scourge of the sub-mariner,
the eyes, and, too, the fangs of our defence
patrolled the air above the Timor sea,
the Torres and Malacca Straits
beneath the threatening shadow of Imperial Japan.
But now she rests, not as so many of her kind
in ocean depths, inhabited by spirit crews,
my uncle and his friends.
She now grows old with grace.
In dedication to the shrinking band of aging men
who flew in her, I, who was that child, salute you.

David Harris is a retired engineer born in Perth and living in the Adelaide Hills. He flew Vampire and Meteor turbojet aircraft for the RAAF during the 1950s, the “golden age of flying … no guided weapons, no electronics, no radar”. He has kept up his flying, and today owns a Czech light aircraft, dividing his time between flying, Celtic folk music and poetry. His first published poem was in a school magazine. From occasional poems and song lyrics over the years, he became a Friendly Street Poets Mentored Poet in 2011, and took up poetry more seriously. Today’s poem, is from his first full-length collection ‘In a Subjunctive Mood’, released in October last year.

Readers’ original and unpublished poems of up to 40 lines can be emailed, with postal address, to Submissions should be in the body of the email, not as attachments. A poetry book will be awarded to each accepted contributor.

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