Title: To the Roughhouse

Author: Ken Edlin

In: Sport 3: Spring 1989

Publication details: Fergus Barrowman, October 1989, Wellington

Part of: Sport

Keywords: Verse Literature

Conditions of use



    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Sport 3: Spring 1989

Ken Edlin — To the Roughhouse

page 41

Ken Edlin

To the Roughhouse

(Scan, -5 months)

Who taught me to clap hands?
I couldn't do it in the womb, I know
   since I saw my baby
       and miss
swimming through a fuzzed sea in a cupboard

This time the screen showed it all — feet
hands, virtually a face looking out of the grey
     waves. And a heartbeat
a perfect mechanism, pumping like a limpet
against the glass
                 no thought of stopping

(Still talking)

I can't leave you alone, and you can't
leave me.
It's no wonder we get no work done—
we notice silence and track each other down
     What are you reading?
     what are you doing?
page 42 Six years of remembers, talking
touching conversing even
                in our sleep
this long discussion
left off
the sound of your voice
from another room,
across a corner
of table

Sitting here suddenly I think
it's a special occasion,
   a holiday
Let's forget what we're meant
to be doing
           have a cup of tea, debate
           the death penalty
                    all over again

In the blank room of blood
the world comes muffled
               through pipes
distant clangings of actions
and voices.
          Everyone wonders
who's in the room,
who kicks back language
               through the walls?
Whoever it is has their suspicions
they're not alone
          the flying saucers of our fingers
bend her sky in, our voices call her small planet
through impenetrable cloud
page 43 Hello baby
          anyone home?

Sweet taste of blood, in heavy
  syrup. listen with all your new
fish bones
          to the thunder...

          It's almost as if 1 was trying
          to tell you something.

Stephen's mother got put in Porirua
for following a woman home
to her house
and refusing to leave, refusing
     to believe
that the light warm kitchen
wasn't hers, the cat and the children
weren't hers, that the woman
     standing dialling
     dealing with it all
was entirely
      another person...

What did you want
to re-paper the kitchen for
     here you are as big as a house
in tears because you've made a mess
of the stripping, dirty, tired
and angry
page 44           nothing done, the bed not made
          hard yellow shavings of paper
everywhere. And you're heavy
and you're clumsy
and you haven't got enough money
and I don't care about the kitchen

     And this baby bobbing about
     in all the frustration
has just stripped away one more
     making only 5 to go. In the middle of the night
those soft nails
move in a kind
of impatience

we do our best
               to do our best
but she's coming
whether the kitchen's ready
or not


During the early part of their marriage
he would still jump on his bicycle
and chase a fire-engine. When he was
at work she was often
     lonely all day, and it seemed strange
she had to leave her mother
for an empty house.

The first baby she had
     she held
and cried. How would she ever
be enough?
page 45 And the bicycle was sold for a car
and the world changed
     amongst other things
fires becoming far more formal,
invitation only.

We gardened in the dark for you
pushed your seed well down
until our feet walked your season
      The moon screeched up like an ambulance,
      in its wet light
we grasped your hair and pulled
You came
       new potato of a baby
slick with all our
old oils...

You cut your lungs on light, squeezed
out of her heart's racket
           your whole
collapsed universe
People crowd into your life, huge
eager to struggle with you, teach you
a lesson
     you'll never forget...

Welcome to the roughhouse, I've seen you
once before — minus five months
          flipping perfect
          through your world

You didn't know you weren't born.

page 46

(Tamata peak)

I was afraid my brother would just
                step off
because he was a teenager. Or that
he would grab me and wrestle
close to the edge.
          The mountain
was only half there, the old head split
  and fallen, a string
of cars like drops of blood
across the hairline.

The wideness appalled me,
               the whole
draughty butter-coloured world
crammed into view

How could you not fall
when there was so much
to fall off?

(She's staying on)

There's three of us living here
     Already when she cries the cat
     doesn't bother to raise his
     head — perhaps
like me he imagines she's going home
at the end of the week...
page 47 But it's too late: there's the size of her luggage
for a start
          the stuffed dogs and bears
          spindly baby furniture
          odd bootees between the cushions
buckets of cold water
and drawers of clothes labelled too large
     and too small

It's too late: there's no point getting used to her
     she's going to want change
to do one thing different every day
to leave nothing
of this
        shitting french mustard,
        waving beautiful fists

When the house was pulled down
   after eighty years
gorse sprang up on the bare
rectangle of earth
          split straight out of seeds
blocked by floors, seeds ticking slower
   than footsteps
holding faster than three families'
draughty lives
     across the sun

page 48

(The four steps)

1     I look at her

2     more closely

3     place a hand
      across her body
       tunnelled under blankets

4     with the tip of a finger
      stroke her ear
          lightly, once

      She sighs.

      She's still alive.

From sleep suddenly she stutters
into life
     an engine of grief

Our baby who never cries
cries and cries and cries
face bent and pulled
into misery
          legs beating invisible scalding water
nails trying to tear strips
off pain
page 49 Lifting her, her shrieks
swarm with questions
I feel her breath
go hot
     into my shoulder

(Our house is an old house)

We went to plant a tree
and found a green china woman under the ground
     discomposed into pieces.
You gave her a wash in a saucer
and I found the way her skirt
fitted together. No head, or arms
     but a foot with very straight
     white toes

Put to dry on the new kitchen-sill
in the same slant of afternoon


when her mother baths

          Katherine laughs

page 50

(for Katherine)

Summer baby at the end of the land's lease
rolling in crushed wax comb
Summer baby in the ploughed crisp furrow
the fingerprint of a farm, you're a tiny
     moving piece of shade
Summer baby adrift with the insects
a lizard warming itself on your heart
you find things to play with
               all ticking
straw, corn, sunlight greasing chrome
kissing bumpers to surf
black sand brilliant days and islands
     green in the sea
Summer baby you swim wherever you are
slow rivers and lounge tables
     moving whatever limb
comes before your eyes, determined
to row this season
behind you

A man lifts his baby to his shoulders
and walks off down the beach, swaying hugely
like a Christmas tree
               with a fat angel

The baby pisses down the broad back
     as if it's only his right
to ride his father along the sand, waves
tapping at the distant ankles, blond mane
gripped in both fists