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 white duvet 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.
Because I am following you, a 6 year old, up the hill
We don’t travel on roads or gravel tracks.|
We grasp at roots and clumps of grass
And haul ourselves up the steepest slopes
Leaving no trace.
After our passing the trail is covered over
By swaying purple seed heads taller than you.
We don’t know where we have been
But know that we have stared into the faces
Of lions, tigers snakes leopards and cheetahs
In many a secret place.
Climbing up and up we touch Earth lightly.
Our movement history is a mystery to others.
But like a flicking fish or the narwhal drilling,
Or the submarine -shaped whale shark,
Keeping a steady pace
We travel with grace.
The best old folk know what it was like
To slide between trees without moving a leaf,
Run barefoot over gravel, camp in a cave,
Be travellers, messengers, scouts,
Moving, unnoticed from place to place
With unrecognised face.
When you are older, Tane,
An owner operator of the world,
And I no longer stumble behind you
Wondering which way you will go,
Still travel with grace,
From place to place
And leave no trace.
But for now let us both touch Earth lightly and with love,
As a blind child caresses her mother.
And, as we are clumsy, slow humans,
Let us, when we reach the mountain top,
Sing a hymn to Earth, there at the crater’s rim
Using carefully chosen words of thanks.
Like a wet swimsuit the cold day clung.
Outside the library, under the porch cover
An Asian teenage boy at an old upright piano
Gifted into the air endlessly chuckling Chopin
And everyone was smiling.
I followed the drifting notes across the road
Over the traffic’s wet hiss and horn,
Up rain-slick steps beside the Art Gallery.
A CD player and speaker, on the paving,
And eight formal couples dancing tango.
The mens’ legs between the women’s,
The women’s spines like spoon handles.
The couples’ eyes following their joined hands,
A boat prow through concrete seas.
Everyone walked past more seriously,
Thinking of their relationships.
The sun shone on glowing grass and paua puddles.
The Moreton Bay figs, wide apart feet in polished shoes,
Danced with raised arms joined together.
And then, across Albert Park in the university quad
Another upright piano , under a plexiglass awning.
A Polynesian woman smiled at the keys,
Repeated a phrase, all concentration,
Added more notes, then tossing her head back,
Smiled at her guy draped over her shoulder.
Raindrops beading the awning hung long.
Just me watching and listening this time,
Full to the brim with music, a jug about to pour.
With lightened heart and in celebration
I turned Symonds Street into a dance floor
And boogied my library books to the bus stop.
This is how people really are,I thought.
This is how they are.
With a finger flourished like a baton
I turned off my world news notifications.
I am on my knees on the bathmat
Scrubbing the toilet bowl
With Jif, “with microparticles.
For maximum cleaning and minimum scrubbing.”
Modest Jif, my labour- saving maid,
Standing in her stiff long dress.
I pay for her with cash,
And probably with all of living nature.
She can be a flirtatious lover
Playing the mixed message game:
“Unique creamy ingredients,” as well as
“If swallowed, remove from mouth.”
Then again her motherly low expectations
Protect me from exhaustion and perfectionism:
“Avoid prolonged rubbing on a single spot.”
Jif , my guru, is cleverer than I.
She “solves really tough cleaning problems.”
Was there ever a woman who solved problems
While kneeling, scrubbing the toilet bowl?
My problem today is the missing sock –
Tiny, black, with skeletons on it,
Rather than the Pacific gyre,
Microparticles in albatross chicks,
Or the volcano’s increasing fire.
Oh Jif, with your teasing language
So full of possibility and care,
Responsive to the gentlest squeeze,
Solve all my problems.
Think for me, please.
Old woman, gently rounded with no waist,
Rugged up for warmth, arms out for balance,
Shuffles down shiny white supermarket aisle,
Eyes cast down, head tilted forward,
Hesitant, hungry, needing to eat.
She bends to the bottom shelf for the cheap sardines,
Cautious, afraid of careless children
Bumping into her. She knows just one knock
Could send her sprawling
And bones could break.
She thinks of Antarctic penguins
How they waddle fast to the ice edge
On short legs and stare down at the sea,
Hesitant, hungry, needing to eat,
How they wait for young, stupid penguins
That they can push into the water first,
A sacrifice, to satisfy a lurking, slippery seal.
They leave the house to walk to school.
They must hurry. She has places to go.
“What are you going to be,Grandma?”
What career will she choose – at last?
No. He lives in the bold, blind now.
“I’ll be a roaring lion,” she says.
“No. You have to be a vehicle.”
“I’ll be a flatbed truck.”
“I am a flatbed,” he says. “You can’t be.”
“I’ll be a flatbed truck with a lion on it .”
“My flatbed has one of everything in the universe on it.”
“I’ll just be the lion then, on a bike.”
“Your lion’s jumped onto my flatbed!” he laughs.
“You’ll never know what you should be, Grandma.”
He wins the race up the hill. and they get to school early.
The gift of a gold-painted lantern wrapped in foil,
‘Oasis Living,’with star holes in the gold,
Reminded us of the oasis we live on,
A mere fleck of which is fresh water, friable soil.
Where to put it? Here, above the courtyard table?
Its light scatters a glistening rain
Over the guacamole, the oat crackers,
The sushi, ravioli, the caviar, the champagne.
In the evening breeze’s rising heat on its little hook,
It swings above our oasis’ homely homeostasis.
We now have speckled faces ,dimple dot.s. Look!
And now galaxies spin across our faces.
Around us everything we know is darkening.
It’s just us, under the lantern’s flicker,
The slick shower of pretty glitter.
Lazy summer night. Nothing could be fitter.
Just us. No one comes here from afar
With weary thirsty animals, and whips –
Creaking buckles, bound bundles on sore backs –
Or in inexplicable ships.
Look! The flecked food is nearly gone. Where?
So many mottled measle’d mouths.
The lantern fades to shades of black
Someone slurs, ’S’faulty. Take it back.’
But it’s just the battery. Flat.
We weren’t prepared for that.
‘I’m going to fight this,’ she’d said, a year ago.
Now, in this crowded Chinese restaurant,
A giant panda staring from the wall,
She is modestly marking, with her husband,
The end of the One Year War.
Outside their dome of soft candlelight
No one knows how battle-weary she is.
Such an earnest couple, nibbling like panda bears,
Conscientious, concentrating, heads bowed.
No one any more will visit armed with flowers.
No gust of friendship will nearly knock her down.
No one anymore will say, “Come this way,”
And “How are we today?”
And, please god, no one will ask how she feels.
It is all over – all that bright light attention.
No parade for her, with medals on her breast
Not even a certificate, and no breast either.
Just a discharge notice and the bracelet severed.
“Well,” she answers, fondling her round glass,
Not entirely pleased with his keenness to move on,
“I’m putting out feelers. Something will turn up.
I’m getting on with stuff.”
Getting on is what those in remission do,
Secretly, discretely, like a panda in bamboo