Erin Shiel – A branch where there are no trees

shiel LE P&W 5 Nov-Dec 2023

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14th Anniversary Edition, Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Volume Five Nov-Dec 2023.

A branch where there are no trees, poems by Erin Shiel.

A branch where there are no trees

Sometimes our bodies know before our minds. I see
my four-year-old, plump legs pumping back and forth
over a branch on the beach. I sit fifty metres away
indulging in the rest from the rolling questions: how deep
does the sand go? where do seagulls go to bed?

His baby years are over. How foolish I am to think
of him as grown up. He still senses his path through
his days directly in his limbs not mediated by the brain
with half thoughts of details like how far we are from town,
what type of tree that branch came from and why a long

branch would be on this beach where there are no trees,
only scrubby bush. Leaping over and back, feet dancing
in the heat, sand slipping between his toes. He stops to look
closely at the stick, squatting down low. I see him freeze
from the corner of my eye as I scan the rippled horizon

thinking of words to form a line. I hold back for a moment.
The peace will be over. The line is nearly formed. But then
I run. He is silent as I hoist him up and step away
from the brown snake. It wakes to my heavier tread
and slithers like a quickened creek back into the scrub.

His hands clutch at my neck as we watch and breathe in time.

A photo of Eleonora

At the Hotel Fiordaliso
the old men sit in iron
chairs watching the haze
over the lake. Humming
boats drag in whitebait.
Thousands of tiny fish

flickering a last swish
before they become antipasto.
Late afternoon sun trapped
in their tiny scales:
fairy lights in a net.
Eleonora focuses on the lights.

When they are too bright
she looks down in the water
at a landscape of pebbles.
Hard on the feet, yet
they look like little pillows.
It’s only early spring.

The water is still cold.
She closes her eyes
regaining her composure.
He wants a Peaceful
Madonna in the photo.
The old men try to avert

their eyes from her nudity.
It is so quiet she can hear
their conversation tinkling
across the flat lake. Ripples
from the fishing boats rock
his boat. He almost loses

his balance. She suppresses
a smile as he dries the camera
lens. Later she will lie
in the boathouse and think
of the photos she will take,
on her day off.

© Erin Shiel

Erin Shiel lives and writes on Gadigal land in Newtown, Sydney. She has had poems published in journals and anthologies such as Mascara, Meanjin, Cordite and Australian Love Poems.  In 2022 she won the South Coast Writers Centre Poetry Award. Her debut collection Girl on a Corrugated Roof was published in June 2023 (Recent Work Press). She has worked in the health and community sectors, particularly in cancer prevention and early detection as well as in support services for children and families. She is currently training to be a counsellor and is enthusiastic about the role of creativity and poetry in therapy.

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