With Coal to Callao [poem by E. J. Brady]

[Editor: This poem by E. J. Brady was published in The Ways of Many Waters (1899).]


With Coal to Callao.

They slewed her in to dump her load,
And cleaned her aft and fore;
They turned her out to take the road
She’d taken oft before;
All geared aloft, all free aloft, all tight and trim below,
To take the road and make the road, the road to Callao!

He kissed the girl ashore he’d found,
And said, “You’ll never miss me;
You won’t start weepin’ if I’m drowned,
But kiss me, sweetheart kiss me!
’T is miles to go, long miles to go, eight thousand miles or so,
With seas about and seas abeam, and coal to Callao!

Around his neck she twined her arms,
“Luck speed you, Jack!” cried she,
“And from the sea and all its harms
Come back some day to me.
I’ll wait for you, I’ll watch for you
Though well, dear lad, I know
There’s other girls and fairer girls — the girls of Callao!”

He took his sheath-knife from his belt
And said, “’Fore God, my beauty,
Yon sun from out the sky may melt
But I won’t turn from dooty.
This lock o’ yourn, this curl o’ yourn,
Goes with me where I go —
Across the world, around the world, to Death — or Callao!”

Her eyes were like two shining stars
That sparkle through the rain.
All sail was bent upon the spars,
He kissed his love again.
’T was “Come aboard,” and “All aboard, and let her shore lines go,
And take the road and make the road — the road to Callao!”

They swung across Newcastle bar
And sou’ by east away;
They saw the Cross hung out afar
Below the Milky Way;
They saw the land die down a-lee, and heard the rollers go
Across the road, along the road, the road to Callao!

The sun came up on sixty days
And set on sixty nights;
Beneath the star-lit heaven’s maze
She kept her course to rights;
And while the cool winds kissed her wings, as white as driven snow,
She drove the dancing spray ahead — laid down for Callao!

They heaved her log for sixty days,
But on the sixty-first
Her greasy cargo went ablaze,
And then the hatches burst!
’T was “Man the pumps! All hands to pumps; and curse her as ye go;
A broken ship, a burning ship, ten days from Callao!”

They tied the air-pipes throat and neck
With canvas triple-fold,
Then passed the wet hose down the deck
To flood her flaming hold;
All cursing hard, all praying Christ to heed them in their woe,
To bring their feared and sinful souls alive to Callao!

The yellow smoke that trailed a-lee
It clouded in her wake,
The steam that tore the lashings free
Hissed like a scalded snake,
And, blinded, beaten, driven back, they watched the Fire-Fiend grow,
And cursed the hour and damned the day they sailed for Callao!

Death’s Angel bared his flaming sword
And smote her hip and thigh;
Her foremast splintered by the board
Like twig three seasons dry;
But when the mainmast crashed to port they sweltered in their woe,
To see her useless boats drift by — ten days to Callao!

The prisoned gas shot out aflame
And licked her Cro’jick yard;
Her broken bones against her frame
Jammed home again and jarred;
They flung the hurried scrawl adrift to let their fellows know
What fate was theirs who’d fought with Death, bound out for Callao!

She lurched abeam until the brine
Began to lap her rail.
Till Doom and she with level twine
Were reeving neck and tail.
They dragged the rum-keg aft at that, and let the liquor flow,
To die the death they had to die, ten days from Callao!

But when she gulfed the water in,
And when her stern heaved clear,
With God’s good grace to shrive their sin
They rose a British cheer —
Then choked like men who pay the debt all men to Nature owe,
On either road, on every road ’tween this and Callao!

* * * * *

They’re swinging coal aboard the Star
’Longside Newcastle quay,
And out across Newcastle bar
Far spreads the lonely sea;
And Jack’s fond lass has found a friend to love her ere he go
Along the road, the level road, the road to Callao!

E. J. Brady, The Ways of Many Waters, Melbourne: Thomas C. Lothian, 1909 [first published 1899], pages 74-78

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