Sport 42: 2014
She was lonely so she went to the vending machine
for a can of sweet coffee
but it gave her something else.
It gave her half a walnut shell
a rectangle of paper
and four grains of white rice.
But she was lonely so she threw these
non-coffee, uninvited things
over her shoulder.
They didn’t fall far:
the paper curved into a sail
the rice grains unravelled into long strings from its corners
and the walnut shell was big enough
for the girl to step inside.
I’ll tell you for the third time she was lonely
and lonely people don’t always care what they do
so she got in this boat and lay back.
The city street lights
provided a phosphorescent river of sorts
and as she sailed along she looked up
at the neon signs on the buildings.
One by one the letters from those signs
streaked from the night sky like fireworks
into her walnut boat.
page 143 She was up to her chin in the alphabet
and now would have been a good time
to sit right up and make a haiku.
But this girl is not looking creatively inclined
so I will write one for her.
Except haiku aren’t really my strength—
I’ll pick a letter from the boat as a starting point,
then refer to Issa (1763–1827).
The letter is W:
‘Writing shit about new snow
for the rich
is not art.’
This one appeals to teenagers
and the horizontal girl laughs, sending the letters
fizzing back into the stencilled darkness,
which falls down over her
like a net or perhaps a blanket.
Let her sleep whispers Issa,
tired of life for his own reasons.
The grains of rice drop
from the corners of the sails
rolling up as they fall through the air.
The piece of paper goes flat
and the walnut boat moors itself
next to the vending machine
so the girl can have that sweet coffee
when she wakes up.
Because she will
In the very earliest time
In the very earliest time
autumn trees stretched to the sky
raking the reds and pinks
of the sunset.
The grass was an extended family—
When a human breathed its way into the painting
a house sprang up in greeting
it was that easy.
A friendly dog followed on the heels of the house
the wind sang a song—quite impromptu—
and before the human knew it
they had grown like the trees to the sky.
Time passed, and their teeth fell out like hail
but not dangerously
their hair lifted into clouds
and their skin glistened
when it rained.
The grass did not mind the human shadow
that now cooled the land.
‘What magic, what luck’
The green granddads and aunties exclaimed
page 145 angling their pointed bodies towards each other
and nodding with the wind.
‘A magnificent guardian
to complete the picture.’
And the sun? Well, the sun
was quite separate.
Its white arms
simply held the frame.
For day-long hours
for month-long weeks
I have been opening my hands
at inappropriate moments
like a heart does.
My eyes are shying from the air
that is, I am closing them more
than is necessary.
I have followed my legs around
rather than have them follow me
and now I am sat here, outside on the stairs
my knees empty runways
where shame could land
There are so many ways to write about dying.
Bees fly into rooms, souls slip out windows
there is silence and then the cleaner comes
to vacuum the hospital room
just as the last breath lets go.
Now details are missing and we don’t know
who the greenstone fob chain belonged to
which family came on what boat
and brought the monkey too
whose grandfather (great?) committed suicide
behind the butcher’s shop—
At first, only your body had left
but suddenly we are all weightless
with the things we can’t know.
In your last days, you reached up a ghost hand
to fit and turn the air.
(What are you holding? A piece of coal.)
Your father was a West Coast railways man.
He drove carriages of nuns out for picnics,
played the violin, and listened to a radio under his pillow.
As a child he was rescued on the way to a Welsh workhouse
and turned up in New Zealand in a tiny kilt
with a note safety-pinned to his jacket.
What did that note say?
Who brought him here?
The ground is soft around you
and I whisper my questions through the layers
but still you are not answering.
page 147 Not offering was more the problem.
I sat beside you at the hospital for months
and despite your overweight baggage—
surely too heavy for heaven—
you didn’t crack a suitcase.
What about the mining?
I went up to Denniston and said to the man
at the schoolhouse museum
All I know is that there was a horse called Nugget.
Ah Nugget he says, and finds a photo.
Later my mother tells me you were sole-charge teacher
for five years in that schoolhouse.
Mostly, I would like to know
what you thought about in the garden.
At a bookshop where I worked, somebody
was doing a thesis on the poet Ursula Bethell.
People, men especially, she said
sometimes transfer their affections to plants,
if they can’t express them to people.
Nurturing, tending, time—
Well, all those hours in the garden
and now, dust to dust: still a surprise.
Carrots on the coffin,
a short life summary.
The long times we spent sitting
quiet, but for the birds
long times spent sitting
looking at the view.
page 148 Aunt Tot strangling the chickens, artistic Aunt Madge,
Uncle Stan and Dougie gone to war,
illegitimate twins Roland and Rodney, Aunt Win the milliner,
Jesse caught by TB at 17, skeletal Uncle Pat—
Quiet, but for the birds
long times spent sitting
looking at the view so long
the hills came away in our hands.