Gregory O'Brien

The non-singing seats

In memory of Maxwell Fernie, who, from the church organ, conducted the choir at St Mary of the Angels, Wellington, for forty years until his death in 1999

It was air that gave the grand thing
life. Like a sailboat

or newborn, it was sprung 
to song, drawing us up

the encircling staircase
to its loft

where the choirmaster directed
his forest of pipes.

You should sing as though running down
a grassy slope,

we were told, and here it was
our three sons drifted

gull-like, amidst the rackety cylinders,
and came to know this world

by measures. We were all ears,
aloft, and this way,

mouths firmly shut, we were taught
to sing—Max’s head

a rising sun above
the keyboard

feet as busy upon the pedals
as a pedestrian

taking Allenby Steps
two at a time.

Mid-song, I would lift my children
so high

above my head they became
the tallest people

in the world. And so it was,
we were, and will remain

running down a green slope
towards a town called

Palestrina or Johann Sebastian
or simply an outline

of Wellington airport
embalmed in fog,

planes unable to land
and us, the chosen few

about to lift off.

Author’s Note


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