Title: Sport 32

Editor: Fergus Barrowman

Publication details: Fergus Barrowman, December 2004

Part of: Sport

Conditions of use



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Sport 32: Summer 2004

Ashleigh Young

Ashleigh Young

page 149

Turning Twenty

At the top of the hill you can read
your fortune in tree leaves
congealed in the sky, where cloud
has been drinking this morning.

If you follow the line of birches
on the banks of the river
you'll come to a small lagoon.
Sit down, write a pantoum. This is where your heart line ends. Or skew
off to the left: the black path is your money line
you'll see one or two saplings, tethered to dollar signs:

to the right you'll find feathers of a pukeko
that fell out of a tree and, still deluded by last night's moon,
plucked itself bald. The pukeko will sing
when it finds you. Join in, this
is your love line.

With your pockets full of leaves
and your mouth filled with feathers
of humming, hold on to this arm
of supplejack as you swing over the fence. Fall
in the mud. In your knee-prints
see the two faces of the man you will marry.
In the wedding-veil white

of the sheep's skull at your feet
you'll see eyes made of air, the bone
of all the days of the week, smooth
as morning paper. In your hand
page 150 it's light as a milk carton. You will
never be as old
as this. The tyre-swing is heavy with rain

but climb on. Go swooping through the air
on the wheel of someone's hollowed-out car:
each turn counts for one letter
of the alphabet,
each letter counts for a town
you will drive through or live in.
If you look up at the spinning tree
your breath will catch
like a kite there. Let go now
and your centre of gravity
will pull you upright.


He was a small man
at first, with shoulders that fell;
his hands were of
a coldness she had felt before
on a bivouac's inner wall. They had

camped at the edge of the bush
on their way to the Sounds.
Morning stars
visited their mesh window:
awake, she surveyed the sheer slope

page 151

of his face, how his cheekbones
rose like footholds
on the stave
of his skull. The unknown kisses
of his climber's feet, browsing her shins

like eels in the river.
When sleep got inside him
at last she could press
the cavity in her chest
to the heavy lids of his shoulder blades

which, with tact, could be pried gently loose
so to venture into the warmer
interior, her tiny pen-light darting
through the blacknesses
she met along the way

that draped their arms on her arms
and tried to turn her back. Wetas
on the ceiling! A single rock
falling: one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand,
she heard it knock the water. There were no glow-worms

there. Far away or close by,
the stitching and unpicking
of oars
on the river. Voices,
young laughter, students touring

together. She travailed the roof
with her single file of light, found only bodies
of black rock, stretching, craning lips
into one another's necks.
The rocks bit at the soles

page 152

of her feet. She missed the moon,
imagined it rolling
back in the sky's head,
appearing again through a cloud
and following, bony old thing
and pale, still travelling.

‘If you ever get lost, just follow the river.’
She had always been told this
but whether it was because the river flowed
to another, safer, cave
or because a boat might cruise alongside
to take her home, she didn't know—
were there boys inside, who each had

his closed face and
his closing eyes?
Sometimes her feet bled,
but he said nothing

and in the morning
she felt the push and pull of the water still
as if she had been swimming.
Then the slick curve of his eyes turned,

warmed to her like she was a stone
in his hand.

Go Skating

I know when your eyes freeze over, a brackish pond
you will not skate over
that the old chords are creeping up on you,
a tremor in the white alley.

page 153

You are lying on your bed
and they come and stand over you
like aunts over a baby.

voices are melting together where friends
have gathered to turn twenty-
one in your living room

and the song is sung three times,
each a half-tone too low;
it is a body sliding down a mountain.

Sometimes you are at the summit
watching it go. Or you are at the pond
looking out over the brittle water;
through the black mohawked trees

comes the slithering sound.
Sometimes, now, you stand at the window
of your room. You lever

the pane to lean out under
the porchlight, look down
at the street, find it leaden with ice.
The old chords make a hollow sound.

It is the rattle of the piano keys
under your hands
when you don't turn the power on.