Bicheno

First poem I’ve written in a very long while. Too many things have happened since the last time I wrote, and somedays I think I’ve swallowed and regurgitated the narrative of working life so hard that I’ve lost my own inner voice. Well, after reading this poem, you can be the judge.

A little background on the poem: I recently travelled alone for the first time (woop woop!) to Tasmania in June and met a whole group of lovely people on the backpacker’s tour that I signed up for. One of them was the lovely Tania from Paraguay. On the night we spent in the little town of Bicheno on the East Coast, we became enamoured with the night sky and sat outside on the deck in the cold after dinner trying to photograph the Milky Way while the rest stayed warm indoors playing some silly game the Korean ladies taught them. I believe this was the night when I really got to know Tania, and I’m grateful for the precious moment we spent together.

TAS246
The lousy blurry photo of the Milky Way that was the best my Nex-5N could manage.

Bicheno
for Tania

The first time I saw the Milky Way
was on a winter night in Bicheno.
Engulfed by darkness and dwarfed
by a celestial canvas sprinkled with stars,
with cold-numbed fingers I struggled to count
them all and failed, my city-dwelling eyes
unaccustomed to such vastness.

On the table beside me Tania lay,
her beautiful down-jacketed Latina body
supine, at ease with the world, her eyes
two sparkling galaxies as she sighed
in wonder, drinking in the moment
like the bottle of beer she would drink
tomorrow on the street outside the bottle shop,
staring the shopkeeper in his scandalised face
as I, afraid of the law, tried to tug her away.
I, however, sat upright, back straight, the way
my Asian parents had taught me: proper
posture of preparedness, my battle stance;
I’m always at war with the world,
my body tensed to subdue the shaking —
I now realise it’s not the world, but myself
that I’m constantly battling.

Tania congratulates me as I tell her —
while consciously suppressing my native accent —
that in all my 28 years this is the first time
I’ve been so far from home on my own.
At 26 she is wiser than I am old,
having lived alone in foreign lands
I can only dream of visiting.
I shiver in the cold and excitement
(or is it that the cold made me excited)
as I said my favourite season is winter
because we don’t have it at home.
She zipped up her down jacket while recalling
16-degree winters in her beloved Paraguay;
she still felt that being warm was best.

“How do you spell your name,” I ask
as I helped her to photograph the stars
on the camera she doesn’t know how to use,
frustrated that mine just isn’t good enough.
“T-a-n-i-a,”, she says, like the heroine
from her favourite English novel.
“Tatiana Metanova”, I reply, and she gasps
as I tell her it too is my favourite. Nobody
she knows has read the book, she says
but continents away, unbeknownst to her,
we have read and cried over it together.
And, just like that, under the starlight sky
on a Tasmanian winter’s night, with the raucous
laughter of our tour mates in the hostel kitchen
flitting through the dark like the night breeze,
two young women so far from home —
one looking out to sea and the other facing inland
but both with eyes set on the starry sky —
travelled the world to find themselves
and found a kindred spirit in each other.

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