Sport 29: Spring 2002
Morning spent where the sky
goes up to heaven.
First a ship drifts by, then
a dragon, then Jesus beckoning
from a doorway. His donkey's
tethered to a tree below the castle
at the edge of the medieval garden.
Down into blossom with our swords
and arrows. Children lost
to the trees. Home through lilac—
thyme in our pockets,
a crumpled moth.
Poor children—they're all tired
of the walking. The French
children, the Italian children,
the children of the Néo-
Zélandaise—they're all tired.
The feminine beach and the
masculine garden, the boy dogs
and the girl cars; they've been
past them all. They have
fatigue. They want to go home
to their motherly houses.
This little one, why, he has
so much hunger he doesn't
rain, he pours.
Your tooth falls out, the fairy comes.
You're pleased someone invented hands.
The days go by in cloaks and masks.
You fight and love the other one
and sometimes long to be alone.
Buy flowers for your room.
Amazed at what your hands can do
you shape the tunnel the train moves through
You wonder how the fairy knew
to find you here.
She might have heard
your younger brother, in distress,
lying awake at night
whispering your home address.
It's warm and raining and
we're on our way home
after coffee and biscuits with
jammy middles, when we stop
in a dishevelled but happy state
outside Claudio Coiffure.
We've been considering
haircuts and while we're standing
talking, Claudio comes out and says
that we'd better come in,
all of us, so we do, and in no time we're seated
in a row—me and Felix and Greg—with
Claudio, Bruno and Sofia washing our hair.
Bruno asks about Felix, and when I say he has
a fringe, there's uproar—impossible, a fringe
in France—so Felix has the time
of his life, with spikes and gel and Bruno's
earrings, and I'm talking English to Claudio
because he says it's cheaper that way
and Sofia gets so carried away
that she washes Greg's hair twice.
Then the three of us have scalp massages
and Claudio says he'll make my hair
all supple, and as beautiful as his wife's, and Sofia,
she's drying Greg's hair and blowing air down
her front—all the way down to her beautiful, decorated
middle, and we're having such a good time
that we want them all to come and live
with us. But then we're finished and have
to go, so we say ciao, and Claudio gives Felix a
page 14 sports' medal and we go out into the late
afternoon looking much better and a little more
Italian than when we went in. At home
we take photos of our new selves and Felix
hangs his medal on our bed head
and we go to sleep that night in our award-
winning bed and dream Italian dreams and what
our lives in that other country
might have been.
Saturday morning and I'm
on the phone to my friend
Maree. This is not something
that happens often at the moment
because I'm in France and she's
in Wellington. Suddenly
there's the sound of something
crashing on to our balcony.
I rush out to find Greg holding
a metal crutch. We both look
up—there are seven floors
above us—but there's no sign
of anyone. Greg heads for the door
I say to Maree you'll never guess
what's happened … and we're both
laughing, though it's not very
funny because what if it had hit
someone. Then there's a knock
page 15 at our door and I say hang on
Maree and open it to a man
in red shorts standing very firmly
on two stocky legs. I point upstairs
in the direction Greg headed, then
get back to Maree who tells me
that Fiona Farrell wrote a story
about something falling onto the balcony
when she lived in this apartment
in Menton. It's obviously something
that happens here, we say.
Then Greg returns from upstairs.
He went to the apartment above
where they all appeared to be in good
health, then the man in red shorts
appeared. He was from the sixth
floor—exclamation mark—and Greg
said très dangereux as he returned
the crutch. The man looked serious and
nodded and headed back upstairs.
I related all this to Maree, then we
finished our conversation.
When I told my mother what had happened
she said well, she wasn't surprised,
given our family history.
A week later a friend came to visit and
offered the perfect ending to the story—
it goes like this: There's a knock
at the door. I open it to find a man
leaping up and down waving his other
crutch in the air shouting cela tient
du miracle. I wish I'd thought of that.
Say yes to lunch
and it's as easy as walking
to Italy. Take the track
by the train line, left
to the end
of the nameless street. To
a garden. To a house. To a
garden, where a big stone table
stands under magnolia.
Lunch then ping pong or
the other way around. Ducks,
visiting pheasant, a Scottish piper
flown in arrives too drunk
to play, except perhaps the reel.
Is my mother all right? I don't
know. How do you figure
loss? Nets for leaves, boys build
a home for Harvey. We'd like one
too. One that would contain all this,
built by the pond
where bright frogs make sounds
much larger than themselves.
Tea under magnolia
then up a valley
to the river.
Water green and cool.
Some swim to the falls,
we stay around
moving in and out
of our depth,
climb to eat perched
on a ridge of rock.
My foot rests on ‘fuck’
painted white—hard word
to fit into a poem
but found often
Bats flash at dusk,
frogs surface, bodies
pale at full stretch
against the current.
river-sound, the moon
three days off full
and somewhere up there
are the 88 constellations,
89 if you count the map
of the Cimetière Montparnasse
which has graves marked
like stars against
an evening sky.
I was happy
in the South,
so happy with what
I smelt and saw—
wild mint near the washing,
peppery roquette on opening
It was so good
that the moon
hung around for much
of the day, anxious not to miss
anything. And the light …
the light on her blue shirt,
descending … the
lights … even the fig tree shone
All transport lived
in a suitcase
and the children travelled
in search of the past
at the speed of two
horses, but carefully,
so as not to break
So happy were we
at our friends' house
that I emptied my
pockets, then emptied them
page 19 some more, then
surrendered my pockets
to the wall.
Three quiet skirts
circled over all.
(The title of this poem is taken from a work by artist Pip Culbert)