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Sport 4: Autumn 1990

John Newton — Epithalamium

page 3

John Newton



From the beginning they are utterly confused
for they want to travel like they never wanted anything.
They want to be doing it for the first time.
They want to stop their errantry miscarrying. So they have
slabs of grungy chord-power grinding through the tape machine,
treacly chocolate biscuits to excite the blood.
They are looking for a landscape like a foreign country
which will make them feel so small no one can see them.

Travel they remember as one long procession
of stick figures scribbled in the murk inside the windscreen.
Spewing in the toilet at the petrol station.
Mother like a big child, racing beside the goods train.
Now, they say, it's time to put the past behind them,
hearts set on some lost & uninfected corner
they can crawl off into, somewhere they might hear their own voices
for the first time, clean as someone tinkling in the frost.


They have diet pills & amyls & pink champagne
& thigh boots & novelties of all shapes & sizes.
Grubby R & B, also white funk from Sydney
(vocoders & squirty little synthesisers).
Nor do they omit to take Literature with them —
he quotes: When we kiss, we have passengers.
Ballast of beer cans hanging off the bumper.
Sugar in the fuel tank (remember that story?).

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Their present to themselves would be a place
untouched to the point where it looked back at them openly
The Brussels sprouts march straight into the surf
& this seems to happen unpremeditatedly.
Corseleted in shrivelled grey fruit
they lurch like an army of lagerphones.
The sea has a smell which they recognise, instantly,
the same way they recognised their first horizons.


They begin by skirting the falling debris so nonchalantly
they couldn't give a bugger. The palomino
shivers from neglect while the chestnut is sheltered by the old
man macrocarpa. The squattocrats' children in their brick prisons
never see the light of day. Etc. This is pleasure.
God invested His Son in you. She likens the second-growth to scar
tissue & laughs. She can hear herself repeating
herself. She can spot trouble coming a mile away.

Lagoon full of kaimoana. Udder full of milk.
Dairy full of spare bread. No spotlighting
Brand-new landscapes, tacky with memory
Highways choked with the presumed dead
Eyes on the white line, pedal to the metal, hoarfrost
on the tarseal. Lurk before you leap. She listens
to the blue road drumming in her bloodstream.
A glossy orange pictograph alerts her to a slip.


He takes in the gaunt orientalism of the winter orchard
& is almost undeceived. Frostily
the leafless apple solicits him with its apple-green fruit
but he has seen all this before, in a poem, he knows he is simply
hungry, he looks away. Then when the little
chocolate donkey foal swells up in his mind's eye
it undoes everything. At first he's merely worried that his heart
might break. But it's already too late for that. He's history.

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Cotton seeds stream past, picking out the airwaves
in white fluff, windsocks fill up with wind.
With this kind of signpost he is comfortable enough.
The gales have bent the tree-trunks into isobars.
But more & more the countryside dissolves in fog,
the same old local colour he could find them
anywhere: here, a child flagging down the schoolbus;
here, the cocky with the beautiful eye dogs.


German wasps are quartering the riverbed
killing everything that moves,
This morning the hot smell of Friesians in the drizzle,
a dazzle of pink & white candy-coloured foxgloves.
Every time they speak they need to hurt somebody.
Sometimes when she looks at him it makes him cringe.
German wasps are quartering the riverbed:
each one hovers like a tiger-striped syringe.

It's not their fault, but it may as well be
for all the decades it sets them back.
The little screech owl sings intermittently
all night: the tension keeps them awake.
Yesterday the rusty orange water looked innocuous
trickling through the floor of the cave.
Meanwhile the poison was sleeping in the brain.
Soon they will have wiped out that layer of the foodchain.


Holed up in the safety of a clean motel
they plug into the TV to shut out the melancholy.
Shortly the night frogs start up their chainsaws.
The football from Australia excites his body.
He thinks about the rustle once of someone's
parka, wiping a mosquito off her cheek with a sleeve.
Likewise the sassy alligator wrestler
has pursued the stolen child into the underworld.

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They know that when they kiss they mean precisely what they say,
although their bodies never let on what they talk about.
They know that in the morning they will wake up
to find that they have moved on & left themselves behind
in their sleep. Perhaps they will be frozen into postures
of hostility, their bodies knowing too much for their own good.
Happily for now she is too canny to speak, though
she can feel a voice from somewhere trying to butt out.


The fishing port on a still morning
reflects the snowy guts of South Westland.
Foreground, a pert little black & white cormorant
cruises the edge of the local tip.
He'd like to find a language clean enough to drink
but there's always someone soaping himself upstream.
His pronouns have been getting him in deep trouble.
Pollution keeps sucking him into its slipstream.

You see, Shag, they have a mind to piss in your mouth,
your body is a weapon they plan to use against you.
They intend to make you cry uncle. Frankly
their semantics wants a piece of your ass. And it won't help
to plead that you were just minding your own business, you were
fishing or whatever, you have these mouths to fill. . . .
Strung up on the fenceline, you'll be no more than a sign.
Trying not to think about it makes him ill.


In her dream they're wandering in a pink salt desert.
They crawl in under gum trees. There's an old hotel.
The publican rears up in the middle of the highway
pointing at them, holding out a sugarbag full of mail.
How. . . ? she starts to ask him, but her mouth's too dry.
She's prying open parcels with her fingernail.
One contains what seems to be a paper flower,
one gives up a kidney. One's a doctor's bill.

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She wins herself a shoulder of pork in a raffle.
There's a woman in the ladies' room who hates her guts
but keeps on plying her with vodkas & milk
until she throws up a gutsful of complimentary peanuts.
Someone stubs a cigarette out in her beer
& she tips it back anyway, stylishly.
Complete strangers keep trying to bail her up in comers:
I've never told anyone, they say.


So why can't their story end happily: sticky yellow
auslese, wicked sinsemilla, taste of rosehips, high country
April? Secreted in an armpit
vanilla essence violates the pomotopic Natural!
(Meaning, in any less private dialect,
I never saw you before in my life
& what's more, I can forgive you for that if I
concentrate.) Why can't they stay out of trouble?

This could be the triumph of dissolution —
the dream, they would like to say, dissolves
like the mist dissolving,. rolling off the riverflats,
like sugar, bubbling in their blood.
Sometimes they think about the cabbage trees in
flower & admit they can hardly believe their luck.
Just when they thought they were going to have to
hump it, they tin-assed a ride with the poison truck.


Everywhere the cabbage trees are weighed down with blossom.
They say that means the summer will be happy, she says.
This might sound like the beginning of something
if it didn't have its head still buried in the past.
But is it really too much to hope for, they
Wonder, just sometimes to be wise after the event?
Couldn't they demassify that breasty-looking
permafrost, & actually get on with it?

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Or do they back themselves to let
go of the idea somehow, brown as a berry, fit as a buck
rat, gold-tops, rosehips sunning their nipples:
do they think they're going to find a way back to
beyond that? We last see them trit-trotting out across
the walkwire, edge-wise on their horny little billy-goat feet.
Spiny pink biddi-bids star their ankles.
Merrily they sign the intentions book.