A stout toddler on points duty at an impatient intersection: Red: Stop. Green: Go go go! Cool. Cooly cool. Intense, Staffy-like gaze and acceptance of rules.
This is toddler country, where direct speech means just that: Direct. And where words mean just what they say, And are tossed around like toys in play.
We can order whatever we want from today’s menu. Book. Garden. Digger digging. Tiger taming. It is simply a matter of naming.
Even the colours here have simple names, Like the beat of a drum. Red, blue, yellow, green. Go. Come. Run RUN! And all is shiny and unbreakable. Just like the sun.
I would like to live in toddler country Where words can be thrown like Duplo blocks. No like. Go ‘way. Come back. Out! – to communicate Needs, moods, opinions, each syllable with a shout.
Where I now live, old people land, Words, like washing in the wind or clouds on a summer day, Deceive, change shape and can even blow away. Sometimes they can be like the thinnest ice, Or brittle spun sugar on an anniversary cake That previously I’ve never had time to bake.
In toddler country no one is a permanent resident But I wish only for a one-year work permit. I want to swagger a bit, order elderly retainers about, And say “No like. Go ‘way. Come back. Out!” Without reprisals, recrimination and responsibility. Dinner ready. Get it. Now. Read-eeee!
I could leave behind my should I, shouldn’t I, My wishy-washy, my shilly-shally, my doubt.. I could break a carefully laid train track And throw the trains across a room.
Then later, when I feel like it, and for no reason, I’d put them back together again. Cooly cool. With no trauma, no drama, no guilt. Oh to follow this with pure sleep on my quilt.
In my garden is a manhole cover over a deep chasm –
Not an ancient well where women with clay pots on their heads
Would come to swing their thin arms down, and fill the pots
And pad, rhythmic, dignified and slow, back to a dusty home.
No. This is the council’s drain inspection trap for our neighbourhood.
I sit beside it and hear the unseen subterranean tumult.
I am so grateful for the cleanliness of neighbours,
Their early mornings’ antimicrobials from toothpastes and shower gels,
Their caffeine. I feel energised just listening to the flow
Of water with amphetamine, Ritalin, statins, maybe Covid 19.
The manhole’s heavy metal top is etched with circular grooves,
An ideal train turntable for Thomas and his drug-free friends.
We line the little trains up, Percy, James, Thomas in the lead,
And push them round and round above the cascade
Of water with amphetamine, Ritalin, statins, maybe Covid 19.
We like the sound of Alph, our sacred river, running
Through the caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea. I am so grateful, too,
Because I have no need to buy from Mitre 10
An electric pump-operated waterfall to run
Down the ancient lava flow that is my parched and prickly garden.
My memory is curated by Apple.
Today my phone selected a photo for me:
Baby grandson snuggled into his father’s fleece jacket,
And me, soft skin, springy hair, long ago.
‘Where were we?’ asked the now teenager with blue hair.
‘Top of Mt Eden,’ said his balding dad.
‘But the background,’ I said. ‘It’s a white sheet.’
Where was the bridge, the Rangitoto slopes, the Sky Tower?
‘Fog,’ said my son. ‘Remember?’
I didn’t, but there we were, atop Auckland’s highest point,
Unable to see the present view, or the future.
‘Just like now,’ the teen said. “We live in uncertain times.”
It’s over. Christmas shopping and over -eating. Ham, and cake and chocolate. All gone. But where was the baby, gift-wrapped in hay, Watched by shepherds and sheep? Gone. Why did the kings from the East Become a red man from the North, And the manger become a sleigh?
Boxing Day kerbside; rubbish bins gape, Like seagull beaks above us shrieking More! More! Sun-softened plastic bags slump, streth ,and split Spewing polystyrene avalanches, almost snow. Flies gather, gorging on glut. Insects, birds: will anyone ever clean this up? Anyone? No. We still crave the glory of glut.
Days later. What day is it? No one knows. Sweep round comatose Uncle Jack. Mind his drink. The lawn cracks. No time to water. Shops are no longer shut. Join the brawl at the mall. Sales! Credit! Bargains galore! Glut and glory. More. Caw! What for?
Back at home the-parched lawns crack. Stained deck chairs are slack, the courtyard a mess. The pohutukawa’s red shedding its Christmas dress Or is it bleeding out, Showing us its bruised distress?
On Auckland’s summer streets I seek the shady side
Under chattering clattering palms.
I tread on crisp puka leaves
That shatter like toast.
How long have those old people been slumped
On rattan chairs on that verandah
Under black karaka trees speckled with orange berries?
Those young fluoro people with flossy floppy hair,
How can they leap about, batting yellow tennis balls Into the damp whiteduvet air?
It is a long way between driveways–
Like a swim up river– to pick up a child from kindy
Who will want to walk home bare foot,
Even though the pavement burns.
On a concrete step in the shade
In my nightdress I sip tea.
It is 7 am. There is no wind.
The birds are singing.
Bees bulldoze the borage.
To my right shine chillies, basil, tomatoes,
To my left one red plastic dump truck
With a yellow tip tray,
And a silver pedal car which is full of sand.
Soon the day will begin.
But right now it’s just me and the birds,
Ad there’s the neighbour, two doors down, Having a noisy shower With his small giggling daughter
In a bathroom with all the windows open.
When he feels, on his hunched shoulders, the first clasp of cold
The squirrel becomes acquisitive rather than inquisitive.
He must aggregate, accumulate, hoard then hide his gold.
He will eat it later but now he shivers and collects.
The rich fear the cold hatred from the poor at the door.
They fear hard times must come. They acquire rather than inquire.
They aggregate, accumulate, hoard and hide their wealth
In storage lockers in freeports, in Geneva or Singapore –
Exquisite art painted to display life and defy death,
Shelved in darkness, appreciating but unappreciated.
The dead painters weep , feeling cold creep to the core.
I see a damp hut,
The only light a coal fire.
A coal miner comes in, with a dog,
A faint star shine falls through the doorway,
And a draught turns the coal fire smokey.
See the coal miner,’s black eyelids
and red-veined eyeballs misty with cataracts
Bulge and overflow with grey tears.
See him stamp slush off his boots
And peer at what he found near here
When walking his dog who chased a squirrel
One cold evening up on to a rubbish heap
And together they dug up this fine picture
That no one else had cared for at all.