Kamikaze by Beatrice Garland

Her father embarked at sunrise

with a flask of water, a samurai sword

in the cockpit, a shaven head

full of powerful incantations

and enough fuel for a one-way

journey into history


but half way there, she thought,

recounting it later to her children,

he must have looked far down

at the little fishing boats

strung out like bunting

on a green-blue translucent sea


and beneath them, arcing in swathes

like a huge flag waved first one way

then the other in a figure of eight,

the dark shoals of fishes

flashing silver as their bellies

swivelled towards the sun


and remembered how he

and his brothers waiting on the shore

built cairns of pearl-grey pebbles

to see whose withstood longest

the turbulent inrush of breakers

bringing their father’s boat safe


– yes, grandfather’s boat – safe

to the shore, salt-sodden, awash

with cloud-marked mackerel,

black crabs, feathery prawns,

the loose silver of whitebait and once

a tuna, the dark prince, muscular, dangerous.


And though he came back

my mother never spoke again

in his presence, nor did she meet his eyes

and the neighbours too, they treated him

as though he no longer existed,

only we children still chattered and laughed


till gradually we too learned

to be silent, to live as though

he had never returned, that this

was no longer the father we loved.

And sometimes, she said, he must have wondered

which had been the better way to die.