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.
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.
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.
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.”
Parents bunched at the start/finish line
All leaning in one direction,
Eyes on a corner of a classroom
Across the playing field
Where tall trees cast dark shadows
On such a sunny day.
They had temporarily lost all knowledge
Of the whereabouts of their five year olds
Who had run away from them
Around a much nearer corner
And gone, who knows how far away.
Some grandparents among those waiting
Remembered Apollo 8, Christmas 1968
Disappearing behind the moon
And we on Earth waiting in the dark,
Not knowing what to say
Or even how to pray.
Three crosses in the trees,
Three small white tee shirts,
The first children out of gloom into glory.
And the parents not knowing
Till this moment -Who ? Who? –
How their five year old had measured up.
The three front runners raced past, waving, winners.
Back then the astronauts had quoted Genesis,
Mission Control jumped up and down,
And Earthlings squared their shoulders and knew
Three of their own had come out in front.
Transformed by What He Digests
They are doing monarch butterflies at school.
The caterpillars rear, swivel and stretch,
Turning their leaf pages slowly.
After school, on the couch the boy lies long,
Black shorts and black and white top,
A big illustrated book wide open in front of him.
He has emerged from the classroom chrysalis
And morphed into a bookerfly.
I lift his tense body, making sure
The special blanket is wrapped round him
And not caught in the ruck of bedding.
I stagger to the couch in the bay window
Half of which is bathed in street lamp light,
A soft white on the tired grey upholstery.
4 am. Quiet. No cars on the road.
I massage his plump feet and sing the cramp away.
4.15. Still no cars. Not one.
“Is that better now?” I ask my grandson.
“Sing more songs,” he smiles, eyes shut.
And I do.
The hut was made by a child
Who wove storm-broken branches,
And made an open-fronted, one room shelter,
A place safe from which to watch out
And to guard her back.
A place with no shower, mail or electricity,
A place to be animal again, ruled by the here and now,
To feel individual hairs prick the back of her neck,
A place to crouch.
In her life she will cross many thresholds,
Reach out to many coffee tables,
Slouch on many couches,
But nowhere will she have everything she needs
Except in her forest hut.