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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 12: March 2022
Cheribun: 350 words
+ Judge’s Commentary: 68 words
By Hazel Hall

Culture Shock

Maharashtra, India (1992)

Our philanthropist host has invited us to visit one of his charity institutions. A servant has harnessed the ox cart for our trip to the station. There, two men are waiting. One carries a long staff. The other is a new student. Both smile as they recognise our host’s familiar steps and voice. They are twin suns, shining greetings. The first man boards the train. The stick is his vanguard, one end offered to his friend. We wait while the second youth steadies himself.

unknown horizons 

hard to let go 
his routine comforts 

vision dwindling 
a raven flapping 
in each eye 

When we disembark, a building is in the distance. The newcomer walks behind, hands on the other’s shoulders, like the carriages on our train. The stick taps foot-tread rhythms. Outside the school, waiting staff rush forward. Greet our host as if he were a prophet. Usher us to the lawn and waiting chairs. Our student and his rookie disappear into the mob of assembled teenagers.

recalling days 
before the glaucoma 

wind blown saplings—
cross-legged children 
row by row 

he crosses his fingers 

Not another female to be seen. Few students will distinguish the blur replacing this woman in faded jeans and sneakers, pretending to be important. Trying to hide the flood of adrenaline, I face the assembly, each youth chancing an escape from Bombay syndicates. Hoping to find his roots in a trade.

So little, yet so much. I want to weep at the sad happiness. The intensity of gratitude. Their benefactor’s generosity. The Principal addresses the assembly. Then our host speaks. At the end everyone applauds. Later, we are offered the gratitude of chai and sweets.

When walking back to the station, I almost hear the happy-tapping of a stick.

employment still uncertain 

he navigates the future 

step by step 
guidance provided 
from his staff 

On disembarking at our home station, we find the ox cart is still waiting.


Author’s Note: The first Indian school for visually impaired children was set up by Annie Sharp in 1887 in Amritsar [in the state of Punjab, India].

—Third Place Winner of MacQ’s Cheribun Challenge

Commentary by Guest Judge, Margaret Dornaus

The writer of this cheribun, like the other winning poems, also takes us on a quest—this time to India, where we follow the narrator’s journey to address students at a school for the visually impaired. Again, it was the writer’s use of sensory details—most notably, the sense of sound—that set this poem apart from other entries. A touching piece that reads like a memoir.

Hazel Hall
Issue 12, March 2022

is a widely published Canberra poet and musicologist. Recent collections include Step By Step: Tai Chi Meditations (Picaro Poets, 2018), Moonlight over the Siding (Interactive Press, 2019), Severed Web (Picaro Poets, 2020), and a verse play for radio, Please Add Your Signature and Date it Here (Litoria Press, 2021). Hazel’s sonnet collection A Hint of Rosemary is forthcoming. When Covid-safe she coordinates Poetry at Manning Clark House in Canberra, Australian Capital Territory.

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