Janine Baker

Six and Eight
(Letter to My Sister I)

Do you ever think about that old stone hut
with gaping holes for windows
and a wooden stove that didn’t work,
that made wifely duties even harder,
but forced the family to stick together
‘cause there weren’t enough rooms to escape to
when the quiet was stifling
and the boat didn’t come.

Do you think about the time we made a shrine
for the dead seahorse, because it seemed somehow special,
like the pictures in those fairy books —
it couldn’t be real, even thought we touched it,
and we cried when it shriveled up and stank,
which drove the point home
that beauty is a passing fancy
and even our icons die.

Do you remember counting steps in the lighthouse,
seventy one or two, stopping at those tiny rooms
where ghosts or Lilliputians lived, saving the ships and scaring the shags,
and waiting for the mail each month, which meant bills and bad news,
and maybe a fight, if being married to the job didn’t compensate.

But the next day was always OK
when Mum tried teaching us to tell the time, but we ran off finding routes
through island bush that you and I and lizards knew,
pretending we were lost, or marooned.



Janine L. Baker lives in South Australia as a mother, marine scientist, and poet. Her poetry, with environmental and social themes, is influenced by an itinerant upbringing, when she lived in many places around Australia and in Papua New Guinea, including cities, small towns and villages, and isolated islands. She has written poetry since childhood, when she won 2 medals in a Council-sponsored writing competition in Queensland. She writes poetry in brief spurts, and has had approximately 115 poems published intermittently during the past decade. During the mid to late 1990s, Janine’s work was published regularly in southern Australian print journals such as Poetrix, Centoria, Spindrift, and SideWalk, and her poems have also appeared in Vernacular, The Write Art, Blast, and several Friendly St readers. She has read at poetry venues in South Australia and Queensland. During the 2000s, her work has been published in e-zines such as Retort (March 2008), Thylazine (Australian Poets No. 10), Divan (2004, and late 2009), kipple (2009) and Jack Magazine from the US (15 poems, in the Spring 2009 issue). Recently, poems have also appeared in print journals such as Verandah, Tamba and Blue Giraffe. A first collection, Circus Earth, was published in 2008 by Friendly St Poets Inc. and Wakefield Press (South Australia), and 4 poems were chosen for the book Mindscape (proceedings of the Poetry and Poetics Symposium, Adelaide, April, 2008). One poem was selected in 2006 for use as a teaching resource in British schools, and she has written a chapter on the relations between poetry and science, in a book being edited and published by Erica Jolly (South Australia). Janine was a guest poet at New Voices festival (Eltham, Victoria) in 2008, and has recently completed a new manuscript of 80 poems, mostly about dysfunctional post-war family life in Australia. She is currently co-editor of the 34th anthology of poetry from Friendly St Poets, to be published by Wakefield Press in 2010.

Baker writes: “The poem is about a time when my sister and I lived for a year on Troubridge Island off the coast of Yorke Peninsula in South Australia, during the early 1970s when the lighthouse was still manually tended (by our father). It was a remote area for youngers aged 6 and 8, with no friends to play with, and virtually no interactions with other human beings. Our handicapped mother had the task of teaching us, assisted by the radio (School of the Air).”