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
I stand atop a volcano beside a museum
Commemorating the upheavals of war.
Men dead in mud.
All that rain.
A crying shame.
From under my sun hat brim
I admire a younger volcano, Rangitoto,
The way she hovers above the Gulf
In her ember-red Christmas gown
Making sure she doesn’t get it wet.
Thee’s a giant stingray, beached,
on top of the War Memorial Museum.
It’s underneath eyes overlook dried up seas
Of summer cricket pitches.
A crank? A student prank?
Such lack of respect. The suspect,
I expect, is an architect.
I wade into the dryness.
The only greens are the oases
Of synthetic turf between batter and bowler.
I beach comb for bottle caps,
The ones that have flipped over onto their backs,
Their sharp frills waiting to cut toddler toes
Or a diving fielder’s fingers.
On the edge of this caldera
Where shells are occasionally unearthed,
Prevention of injury is all I aspire to.
I’m just helping to balance water and fire
It’s over. Christmas shopping and over -eating.
Ham, cake, chippies, 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, by the bleeding tree,
Our rubbish bins full, their lids tilted
Like open beaks pleading more.
And we want more. We are insatiable.
Days later. What day is it? No one knows.
Sweep round comatose uncle Jack. Mind your toes.
No time to water. The lawn cracks. Who cares?
Same slack stained deckchairs. Same courtyard mess.
Same pohutukawa bleeding out,
Turning hard pavement into bruised distress.
Or is the tree just shedding its Christmas party dress
Preparing for New Year’s Eve, more fake happiness.
Insomniac, I wander the garden.
Moon wanders there too
Or so it appears, as the trees sway
And jiggle and jerk to hook her.
Avoiding the tangles her shadows make
I plant myself in the dark centre of the lawn.
The grass falls away into nothing
And I float, an astronaut.
A tall white plant glides towards me
But I have forgotten its name.
M… Marigold? No!
“Moon, you don’t forget or turn your back.
You are reliable as only the long-dead are,
So long dead they are oil or diamonds,
A man’s or a girl’s best friend.”
“Be grateful you can forget,” says Moon.
“My gaping craters forget nothing
Whereas, nightly, Earth decomposes the day,
Forgetting is healing. Just forget.”
“Dah de Dah. Mignonette!” I cry.
The moonlit tentacles of mignonette
Swim into my world of words.
The garden’s now lit up with music, story, poems, glory.
“Be grateful,” says Moon. “Don’t regret.
But write about it soon, before you forget.”
Crouching beside a low table, and folded like a leaflet,
I help five year olds to write the alphabet.
Charlotte points her pencil: “ What’s that on your finger?”
“Something must have bitten me in the garden,” I say.
“Ugh.” She shrinks away.
Maggie asks, “Why is the skin see -through around your eyes?”
“Like very screwed up tissue paper,” adds Alice.
“Like I blew my nose on it,” says Jason S.
Their upholstered, velvet skin is so unmarked,
The eyes, nostrils and lips seem to pop out of it, surprised.
I say, “You start your ‘I’ letter from the top and go down,
Not from the bottom up. I will show you. Again.”
They stare in horror at my knuckle bulges, at how the grey veins
On my hand, swollen and uprisen like worms on a brick path after rain,
Cross three bone bridges before disappearing.
“Is that a wedding ring?” asks Leo.
“Did someone give you that?” asks Aiden.
“Concentrate. You start at the top and go straight down,” I say.
“Do we have to do this?” asks Jaden.
“Everyone has to,” I say. “And everyone does it this way.”