June 2021

Arts & Letters

The Properties of Water

By Kate Jennings

Poetry from the late Kate Jennings



Stamp as you walk on the sand.

It is hot, but not too hot, when hot

is the only alternative.


Stand at the water’s edge. A wave tackles

your knees, and you lean against it.


Run, lifting your feet high, one after

the other, through the push

and pull, into the midriff of a wave.


Gasp your wits together. Quickly,

under the next wave. It fumes,

and your dark head bobs in the swirl.


Swim. Roll with an ocean-going gait.

Elbows rib the air with cathedral strokes.


This is all the freedom you ever wanted.


Over your shoulder, a wave swells.


Kick hard, harder, arms windmilling.

The wave rushes you

from deep-water shadows to figurehead triumph.

For a sweet moment, you are the wave.


The wave turns bully,

smacks down hard

and tries to drown you.


Play possum, lie doggo, let the wave

have its way. It is only sport.

The wave will boil to nothing.




Narrow beans became Narrabeen,

a suburb belly up in the salt and sun.


Couch grass presses the pavement apart,

and anything that isn’t flesh, and some

that is, rusts. The beach is as resigned

as a misused wife, and even less forgiving.


The lagoon stretches indolent limbs

and casts a calculating eye on the tide.




We surfed until we shone.

Our eyes stung. Our skins smelled of sun.


We lapped our way to dreams of Olympic fame

in the pool cemented to the rock of the headland.


We trudged from Long Reef to Warriewood and back, uncomplaining explorers in training for life.


Narrabeen billows in my memory.

I set sail for innocent times.


(Remember Lot’s wife.

And I do. I do remember her.)


Stand long enough on the headland looking out,

you see the future.

Kate Jennings

Kate Jennings was a poet, novelist, memoirist, essayist, speechwriter and feminist.

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