Four Oceans (Toby Davidson)

Turn Back

You have come in the least
of your free time
to here,

for no fit reason and against
the predominantly

wishes of reasonable people.
They would have
you decide

what’s the point of it, surely
it pays to err on
the side

of prose. Don’t fall through
the cracks in lines
from a friend,

you won’t know what’s in
them. Worse yet,
you’ll get on.

Absorb only under strict
medical care,
or that

of your innermost homeland
minister, or find
you once

had a storied future, then
things were in
the wind.

You were seen with poetry,
jaundiced, spare.

even, a neighbour flared.
Settlers’ and soldiers’

are no excuse. They’ll
launch into


Indian Pacific

From the waters of the Western sea
To the Eastern ocean sand,
The Indian Pacific spans the land.
Oh, the Indian Pacific spans the land.
           Joy McKean, ‘Indian Pacific’, performed by Slim Dusty

your rails
your thin
your thin paper wings
get up in your sun
fly high
your window shattered in the wind
          Underworld, ‘Juanita: Kiteless’

Into the bracing cloudless distance
two lines run as one, shake scales of rust
from an East Perth Station footbridge,
down where the Indian Pacific thrums,
its sand-scoured doors flung open, filling.
Eight hundred metres to a brawny engine
the first of four-point-three thousand ks
to Sydney, best part of three sleeps away.

The seats inside are tired, red-ribbed,
two to a row, with grey headrests, arms.
Our cabin speaker cracks to life, hectors
families, riff-raff, stuff: Ensure visitors
have left the carriages. Secure exit doors.
Blown kisses sense a threshold closing;
passage to now a rehearsal for this.

I’ve walked the same roads late enough.
I’ve tasted the sea since before I could say.
I’ll miss my crew. I’ve one friend East.
Got everything? Now it’s down to just this:
a whirling door, pledges to call,
doona, snacks, an old backpack of clothes.
Mum, Dad relieved by my iron deliverer.


I’m in ‘Red Kangaroo’, a non-sleeper in three states, third row right,
behind a family from Zimbabwe.        Trans-Australian motion rouses
imperceptibly at first: a crank release, low buzz and we’re off!

in figment-ligament-firmament-line, the undergroan intact, intact.
        We pick up pace over diesel-stained sand, weeds bejewelled
with last night’s rain, wobbling pools like the trails of divers.

Maylands, Bayswater, Bassendean pass, a Midland stop—then out!
My dual window rattles its dice of stiff, iridescent green flies; three
madcap friends to go the distance, half their luck (now they’re out of it).
        Gutted utes of last-chance suburbs, rivers of glass through a hole
in asbestos, whooshing billboards that can’t win us back, then vineyards,
boys nursing BMX bikes under tinny rings of a vacant crossing

and, over the seat, obsidian eyes. Hi, I’m Elijah. That’s my brother.
He’s four. He’s shy. Guess what? I’m gonna be an actor. The best.
What you writing? Hey, you listening? Mum, I’m not, I’m justbye!


Jolting on with white tea, coffee, thin sachets of tourist history
(typhoid, gold and all that money) served to thirty carriages.
We fought the land and won the flag. Died to thrive now.

End recording. Brief orchestral air.        Points of interest fade
to a country song (upbeat Slim, as they lay it on thick): From coast
to coast by night and day, hear the clickin’ o
f the wheels …

        The Indian Pacific tacks up trenches where they made the cut
through blackened granite, sick-green lichen, grass trees,
frenzying bone-dry canopies; shadow a film reel snagged on

my cell (quick wave to my flickering opposite). A tipping point
hurls blood to the front and we kink to the floor of the Avon Valley.
        Relief sets in as axles sigh, thrust assumes an even clip

of three point three thousand horsepower clattering. I doze,
headphoned, to lush electronica: Sasha’s San Francisco set
with Narcotik’s ‘Platform’, its respiratory rain effect muffling

cabin elders, parlour games to ignore dying farms, chimneyed altars
to a burning land. Skeletons of industry flake around a few terse gums.
Old salts chide GM canola as beats thunder up into calcium.


I rove the cars, each flying can of numb and scowling air, shuffling like
a hospital patient, party to a malevolent gravity. Gold, Red Kangaroo
classes mix in the 50s-themed diner car to jags of dashing scrub.

Gotta do it, I s’pose, see something … Can’t sleep in a seat, rather
pass out pissed in the bloody smokers’ caboose … Ay, can one-a-youse
buy us a pie? Pay ya in Adelaide, serious.
Girls make moustaches

of sun-tipped plaits, writhe about, fall bored.    Somewhere out past
Kellerberrin, fences lose their grip, become entangled in hypotheses
stretched to a state beyond dimensions: mercy stumped for answers,

circumspect as the last post, a last bird’s bugle racking brassy glyphs
into an ambient topsand.        Along an ocean floor now—to surface
is to disappear completely like oar blades of cloud retracted at a whim. 


These poems are excerpted from Four Oceans by Toby Davidson, published by Puncher & Wattmann and available for purchase online





Toby Davidson is a senior lecturer in Australian literature at Macquarie University. He is the editor of Francis Webb’s Collected Poems (UWA Publishing, 2011) and author of the critical study Christian Mysticism and Australian Poetry (2013), part of New York publisher Cambria Press’s landmark Australian literature series. His first collection Beast Language (Five Islands Press, 2012) has been anthologised in Contemporary Australian PoetryThe Fremantle Press Anthology of Western Australian Poetry, The Weekly Poem & Best Australian Poems. His most recent book is Four Oceans (Puncher & Wattmann, 2020).