Sport 17: Spring 1996
Damien Wilkins — Sleeping Arrangements
Before you die you shall still be taller
Than me though your height will have the good height
Of some cosy household item, broom or
Walking stick, and we, your children, will want to
Rest our hands on your softened, woody, girlish head.
Sometimes I have thought of myself lying uninjured
In the ambulance you drove. You drive well
But where are we going, Daddy? I'm a healthy thing. I run and
Sing. Through the little window that separates us I can see
Your hair, that nickel-plated curtain pressed out
Beneath fingertips. At night when my own daughter's baby
Refuses to sleep, the baby's father takes her out
In the car. He will turn on the car's strong heater and smell
The towelled, library smell of laundry cupboards. And she will see
Her father's hair turning in the turning air.
2. The Ogre
I shall sleep in a tent
in the backyard.
And I won't hear what's inside
my six children.
Two will bring me breakfast.
Here they come beautiful pair
affecting me by the way
they knock on the flap.
3. Jefferson City
Strange ailments is how we imagine
the future binding us together. My bursitis,
though denied by the specialist, will continue
to balloon, coming out to meet the inflammation
on the right side of your neck where a seed
or something lost its way, blocks the duct.
Your reflux, my troublesome spine—our special
pillows, yours firm, elevated, mine goosedown, some
feather, makes of our bed a private hospital. Hello
a little visitor! Put your head down and sleep.
Several of our complaints have their origin
in America. You hated winter. The morning
you woke with a fever and it took us an hour across
ice to walk the ten minutes to the student medical centre.
Everyone was there, ill. They had to clear the room
because of you. What's wrong? They don't know but
they're sending my blood to Jefferson City. Suddenly
it all seemed miraculous—the black trees dripping
onto the grass in its display case of ice, the wonderful white
of doctors' coats, us in this place, our belief in the benign, and
on its way to the state capital like a bill hurried
through or a citizens' red hot petition, your blood.
4. The Garden Pig
In Oamaru before my mother was born
Her father, known later for his dainty way
With strawberries, the egg he set on its noon
Throne, the hinge of shell, the tiny hill of spotted
Salt, the anointing silver, loved his garden pig.
Did he name it, sentimentalise its pink
Belly, stroke its nose like the cross-section
Of a leg. Or did he give it a good
Kick, as he would to send the leathery mound of
Schoolbags down the school's dark hall.
They shared the nights, the nights' weather, the teacher in his
Tent, the pig in his tended patch. And did the teacher
Get up in the dark to give the pig pleasant
Dreams of water, the childish outsiderliness of rain.
5. Lil Igloo
She hands us things for us
to name. Ah. Thank you. O
thank you. Red and blue.
Tyre. A comb. Comb. Lovely
fluff from her cardigan. The contents
of her mouth. A button on the end of
the tongue. Ah. Button. Our laps are full,
our pockets. A drum. The rabbit's
trousers. Who, she says. Hoo. Here, we say.
Please. Here. She coughs. She, too, would like
her mother's chest infection. The keys
to the station wagon. Wagon. When she cries
we think she doesn't like us much. The antibiotics
rattle in their cage. Oh. The medicine
is glum. The buzzy bee. On the wall beside
the stove hangs the gun. Gun, we say. Gun.
Oh, she says. Bub. Exactly. Music will be
the way she says I live in the plump socks
of these ankles. She will never have
a language. She will always give the world
her shoe. When she cries, there is too much
of her and not enough of us. Igloo. The igloo is
on TV. We shiver. Bring us dinner, Lord, deliver us
pudding—lemon—in our bright we house. Bless
the ice on the windows of these
words. Bed. Kiss. Wind. Wind. Night.