Posted in Antarctica

Backwash

That irrevocable feeling
what is born on the tongue as throwaway
falls flat
wrong
and thoroughly inappropriate – flatulence at a funeral.

McMurdo was a navy town
reception was the quarter deck
washrooms were heads
dining rooms were mess decks
the kitchen a galley.

Galley slaves was what we called ourselves
mess attendants the official title
vegetable peeling, dishwashing, table bussing
scrubbing and swabbing.
And cleaning
toothpick, white glove check, everything.
Anybody standing still would hear the refrain
“ if you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean.”
True.

Kitchens, hard work. Hot and dirty
where there’s dirt there’s gold. Well-paid
but status poor.
Mess attendants, kitchen hands, galley slaves
hired help to the Navy
the basement to the Navy’s downstairs
of the upstairs downstairs of science.
Bottom of the heap
for trips, accommodation, exemptions.

But God has a sense of humour
we had the best showers on base
an old 60s era plywood box barn
once bright now faded to rust colour
known affectionately as the redhead.
A comfortably worn cave of dim light
aircraft hanger space
hot, hot water
and magnificent pressure. It was our secret.
Word trickled out, the odd trespasser in
women welcome. Men tolerated.

Time and place and people often coincide
an interloping scientist often arriving as I finished
“caught you naked again,” he says jovially
“I just like to expose myself,” the unthinking, unrehearsed reply
lips rigidly tight he turns and leaves.
One afternoon I am wiping tables
he is sitting with two colleagues
looking conspiratorially in my direction
all three get up and move when I approach.

For the back story click Backstage

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Author:

Most of my life has been spent on the bench, occasionally called into the game by extravagance or attenuation. Waiting has turned a loner into a recorder - nondescript and inconsequential, more not noticed than overlooked - the non-vantage point of children not yet considered old enough to understand. Orphaned Islands (Un)poetry is a lifetime of picking anecdotes up and not throwing them away. Stories collected like odds and ends placed in a box in the basement, the garage, the garden shed - uncertain as to what their use might be but knowing that one day there might be one.

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