Channel Crossing

Above decks the blue sky cries seagulls
and a dragged pull of cirrus cloud.
Children against the railings
hauled back by parents:
‘Can we go for chips, mum?’
The ferry heaving under,
bulging a cargo of fruit machines, TV lounges
and cheap french wine.

Below decks it is quiet with the stink of petrol.
Stephan shifts
feels the push of Jolanta’s foot against his thigh.

Fourth run today.
The captain, thinking about home, wonders what’s for tea
and will he be back in time for the match?
They could do with a washout, his team,
that or a miracle.
They never should have sold their striker to United.

The lorry is hot, sealed against curious eyes,
lettering on the side advertising a supermarket chain.
The swell of the sea
shifting bodies against each other in the cramped space.

A prayer comes to Stephan
a meditation.
He speaks it silently to himself, careful of the precious supply of air.
He thinks of the dress he will buy Jolanta
of the children they will have.

‘I feel sick, mum.’
‘Go to the toilet, then. I told you not to have them chips.’
The ferry heaving
the sky blue above
the hold airless, petrol-laden, bumper to bumper full.

After,
when Stephan comes to me at the refugee centre,
the only thing he can remember about the boat
is the moment that Jolanta’s foot
stopped moving against his thigh.

© Anne de Gruchy

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