A kayak for Clive James


Less than four weeks out from the Winter Solstice, Australia has experienced the warmest May on record, revelling in mid summer temperatures and azure blue skies.

Across the world, stricken with emphysema, the great writer and thinker Clive James is stranded in England where ‘his lungs of dust’ cannot endure the long haul flight home to his beloved Sydney.

In his new poem, ‘Sentenced to Life’, Clive writes of the English autumn, that the sky is overcast, ‘but my mind basks in the light I never left behind.’

To honour Clive’s yearning for the Australian light, I paddle my kayak down a river that empties into an ancient coastal lake.

Mid stream I rest from my labours and drift with the current, wrapped in silence, the sun daubing the water with gold. I look up to see a great white Sea Eagle overhead, surfing the winds.

For Clive James, this heroic  and flawed man, who says walking is like ‘wading waist-deep in clay’, I pray his spirit soars and flies free.

And even as the Pacific sunset is but a dream in his nights made long by coughing, Clive counts his blessings.

Thank you.

Sentenced to Life

Sentenced to life, I sleep face-up as though

Ice-bound, lest I should cough the night away,

And when I walk the mile to town, I show

The right technique for wading through deep clay.

A sad man, sorrier than he can say.

But surely not so guilty he should die

Each day from knowing that his race is run:

My sin was to be faithless. I would lie

As if I could be true to everyone

At once, and all the damage that was done

Was in the name of love, or so I thought.

I might have met my death believing this,

But no, there was a lesson to be taught.

Now, not just old, but ill, with much amiss,

I see things with a whole new emphasis.

My daughter’s garden has a goldfish pool

With six fish, each a little finger long.

I stand and watch them following their rule

Of never touching, never going wrong:

Trajectories as perfect as plain song.

Once, I would not have noticed; nor have known

The name for Japanese anemones,

So pale, so frail. But now I catch the tone

Of leaves. No birds can touch down in the trees

Without my seeing them. I count the bees.

Even my memories are clearly seen:

Whence comes the answer if I’m told I must

Be aching for my homeland. Had I been

Dulled in the brain to match my lungs of dust

There’d be no recollection I could trust.

Yet I, despite my guilt, despite my grief,

Watch the Pacific sunset, heaven sent,

In glowing colours and in sharp relief,

Painting the white clouds when the day is spent,

As if it were my will and testament –

As if my first impressions were my last,

And time had only made them more defined,

Now I am weak. The sky is overcast

Here in the English autumn, but my mind

Basks in the light I never left behind.

— Clive James

clive james



3 thoughts on “A kayak for Clive James

  1. Barb, what a wonderful work. I have only recently begun to read poetry, and I am finding it more and more intriguing, more engaging, and I am still trying to figure it out. I will have to find ways to work the phrase “wading through deep clay” into my posts, because that is exactly what it feels like. Thank you so much for sharing this. Take care, Bill


  2. Barbara – Each time I read your writing, I think to myself, this is the best I’ve read, she’ll never top this it’s so good. Then, you appear on my screen and the magic of your words dance in glee because once again I’m in awe of your mastery of storytelling. Your prose so lyrical they should be set to music. And, it’s absolutely brilliant that no one has to click on anything to read the awesome work of Clive James. You are indeed a work of art. I’m blessed a thousand times over to have found you and your writing. Now, if we could just get together for a song fest. Sheri


  3. Hello Dear Barb,
    I too adore your sensitive style of writing . Your imagery is fantabulous.
    Thanks for including this soulful & uplifting poem written by the incomparable funny man Clive James .
    I wrote a very heartfelt long blog a few days ago which seems to be no longer there . Perhaps it was way too long, Sorry.
    Off to do gentle exercise you have truly inspired me not to be such a wuz.
    All my love to you both , Jules XOX


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