Recently I put together a tiny poetry collection to apply for a grant. It was an interesting exercise, writing a set of poems that worked individually but also told a story together. I haven’t really done that before.
There’s six pieces in total. They each stand alone but together they create a picture of living with chronic illness.
‘The politics of illness’
2. Stretching Days
3. The politics of Illness
5. Conversations with Wolves
6. A Poet’s Process
A round chicken
Peers around the front door
A single throaty enquiry
One foot raised
Assured the all clear
she darts into the kitchen
to sit on the egg bowl.
Looks behind her and
slides slowly into the pool
Ripples spreading from her rippling arms.
My lover wears a lace
bow on her wrist, and
a dried feather
on a leather string
She only meets my eyes
When she’s naked.
In the darkness,
with dry eyes open
begin to think of
the funerals I didn’t go to
and the children
I couldn’t claim.
Sometimes I go for a walk
in the afternoons, when the rain is still dripping
from branches and letterboxes
and the clouds on the hills are fat and empty
While I wander, I think of
friends I don’t know anymore
walking on parallel streets
Their chins up,
unused umbrellas swinging
Maybe we’re all
going in the same direction,
are also watching trees
bent over with the weight of water
and pocketing leaves
If they turn the right corner
and so do I
We might spot each other
will stand and wait
to see if they cross the street.
The Politics of Illness
“The place for politics,” says Dave, anchoring pint with one hand and drawing a stick figure in the condensation
“is in a bar downtown on Friday, when you’re all a bit pissed and still wearing your work clothes and you can get lippy about the gov’ment, cos nobody’s going to remember on Monday.”
“The place for politics,” says Ruth, while wrangling a squirming toddler into a Bob The Builder tshirt
“is not over the family dinner table, because grandpa likes to have a word too many and you’re just too sensitive for it love, you know that.”
“The place for politics,” says Neil, scratching his beard with three fingers and squinting a red eye
“is on the street, where everyone can hear it. They gotta be told someday. They gotta wake up.”
“The place for politics?” says Anne, sitting back on her heels, exposing knees covered with dirt and blocking the sun from her face with a cocked elbow.
“Well, I don’t know, dear. I think they’ve got it pretty well covered up there in Wellington, don’t they?”
“The place for politics?” says Frankie, applying a line of decisive lipstick and watching me warily in the mirror.
“It’s everywhere. It’s inescapable.”
“Don’t get political with me” says Dale, bouncing the baby against one thigh and scooping up the last biscuit.
“I don’t have time for that bollocks.”
“The place for politics” I think, leaning over the toilet bowl with one hand on the wall and the other holding back my hair
“is right here in our mouths.”
There is a type of sloth
who moves so rarely
people used to think
it was dead in the tree
It eats once a month
it takes that long to digest
It really only lives on one thing
but lots of things live on it
I guess it must think a lot of thoughts
that sloth, hanging upside down
inching along branches at 4 feet per minute
inching into sunlight
Sometimes they live to be 60
sometimes they really do die in the tree, still holding on for dear life
imagine being 60, dying alone in a tree
and no one noticing.
Conversations With Wolves
Talking to you
is like forcing myself
through a very small hole in a barbed wire fence
with the small brained certainty
that the field on the other side is sweeter
Halfway through and no way back
A final tearing heave
Only to see
Strings of fleece left hooked in the wind
and corresponding naked holes
in my belly.
A Poet’s Process
Herbal tea. Blank page. Pensive window. (Windows are not pensive, stop it).
Looking and looking and staring and dreaming and Oh! Tuis in the tree. Tuis in the Kowhai tree. My heart swelling with the song and if I could just find it, that ‘prolonged hesitation between music and meaning,’ the right words to paint the sound and that pretty pretty pretty picture, maybe I could –
It’s been done, a million times done, don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t.
But it’s just that they’re so p-
The flora and fauna,
the heritage, the history, the ancestral inheritance of dirt? (It’s not yours, of course)
The garden path the watercolour the cup of tea
Fuck the fucking landscape.
Just look at them, those two round comma birds, hopping and hanging upside down. They are –
Fat? Well, yes. Drunken? Better. Bristling arguing fat gentlemen, their melodic arguments punctuated by drunken vomiting chain-gurgling chokes? Well, at least it’s realistic.
And there! Kereru! Are they not just so–? No, they’re not. Resist. But are they not also drunken and rolling, their eyes peering wildly from whiplash necks? They might well be but you don’t have to – They do not argue now but they lurch into uneven flight like a pair of corpulent inebriated squatters, and I am breathless to-
Their white feathers are not handkerchiefs or napkins or gentlemen’s neatly tied cravats. They could be a whore’s heaving breasts. They could be the chest of a 17 year old solider before the scarlet bloom of bullets begins. They could be…
Birds. Dead birds. Perhaps I will find the corpses discarded on the path, the ivory coffer left cavernous by neighbourhood cats. A degustation for ants.
Beyond the rolling hills clothed in creeping Nikau palms the city sleeps in suburban ignorance (oh, no, alliteration? must you? Imust). The bush heaves in; the roots push up through the cracks. (What I mean of course is that my roots are showing through my cracks).
My cup of tea is cold and the dawn parade (I mean chorus. No, I mean parade. Do I mean chorus?) is long since over.
The battle in the garden continues. The roots through the path, the Tuis with drunken clasp to growing trees, Kereru with arrogant white palate, the cat who always watches, the ants’ slow procession of flesh.
inheritance of dirt.