The Rime of the Ancient Travelers

Cape York Tour 1991

It is an ancient traveler

who stoppeth one of four.

"By thy long grey beard and haggard look,

you seem near Death's grim door!"

The traveler stops him with his gaze.

"We were a merry crew.

The bus was clean, the driver keen,

the kitchen filled with stew.

 

We trundled down the beaten track

like sardines in a can;

Martin, our leader, named each tree

and expounded on his Plan.

 

John the driver rode each bump,

ignoring every plea,

remembering how once he nearly

won the World Grand Prix.

 

Martin named each tree and bird

-and anything that passed-

each name at least two syllables

longer than the last.

 

The bus stopped dead and Martin said,

"Let us walk a mile or so

because the sun is bright and warm

...and because the bus won't go."

 

Four times we walked, while John stripped off,

and muttered muffled curses,

while Martin named each branch and leaf

from scraps of Latin verses.

 

Said John, "I'll try real petrol next,

and curse the mongrel who

sold me that cheap but secret mix

of hydrogen and glue!"

 

We sat and glanced as birds flew past,

gone just before we looked,

starved through the days so we would praise

whatever Brendan cooked.

 

Next day, "This spot looks good," John said,

with an apologetic cough,

"for food and rest and swim,... and because

the wheels have fallen off."

 

 

So Martin took us off again,

and baffled us with Latin,

while John said things as dark and black

as the pool of oil he sat in.

 

When suddenly a flash of flame

seemed to suddenly engulf

a strangely smiling man with horns

whose perfume reeked of sulphur.

 

"Who are you, some great forest spirit?"

we cried, trying to grovel.

"Why, Martin and John's command of Latin

has summoned up the Devil!"

 

He took them both; and starved and drawn,

just as you see me looking,

we wandered lost for fifteen years,

surviving Brendan's cooking!"