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.”
[I’m undergoing my fourth corneal transplant tomorrow so here’s a humorous poem to lighten the atmosphere…]
On his lunch break he slices an avocado in two.
Holding the half that cradles the round brown stone.
He enjoys the way the firm green flesh
Curls into the bowl of his silver spoon.
He guides the spoon around the brown stone
Which is soon balanced on the tiniest green plinth.
With tongs he then extracts the stone.
He enjoys swallowing the last green spoonful.
Now it is time for two surgeries:
One full thickness transplantation of cornea,
One extracapsular extraction of crystalline lens
And insertion of artificial one. Easy!
Later, he will enjoy going home , re-reading Freud
And feeding his child an egg, soft boiled.
The only people who position themselves to watch
A view all day are pensioners and bosses.
The boss in his 20 storey tower,
His swivel chair and plate glass.
The old man on the sagging verandah.
They both sit. They both stare.
How far can your stare take you from your cares?
Whether it be the city traffic,
The desert sand, or the blank ocean,
The watchers wait to see change beyond their causing.
It’s the view’s stretch that matters.
The boss wants to be surprised
Away from the routine of his day,
From the predictable exercise of power,
The way his people slide away.
Today it’s maybe a wave’s rubbery slope,
The whale’s tail folding then gone,
Like the flap of a damp envelope.
The pensioner sees through his telescope
Straddle carriers loading container ships,
And the eagle circling its kill as twilight slips.
He waits and watches through cloudy eyes
For what will come from far skies, soon.
He looks because he doesn’t want surprise.
He says that’s all he hopes.
She’s driving south in a tiny hatchback
Full of boxes and two violins.
I wish I’d taken a photo.
Every wheel turn, every road turn,
Takes her from the chuckling harbours,
Generous flat land, draped volcanoes
And the wide-open welcoming trees.
I bet the car’s swallowing the road’s white lines
Like a Waitemata snapper catching piper fish.
Shared Auckland moments will become for her,
Like carousel horses that curve away, vanish,
To return another time maybe up, maybe down.
Non-living, complete, unchanging.
Memory turns Time into re-visitable Space
Where photographs can act as road signs.
But she’s too young to use the rear view mirror
And I never saw her take a photo.
Discrete clouds, long and low, pose as though for an art class.
We are sitting on a sea wall, at the end of a winter day,
Admiring brave teens swimming at Mission Bay
We shiver in our bulky clothes and see
Babies wheeled along in a blanket-piled pram
And a girl in sequinned shorts pose for Instagram.
We promise to not argue anymore.
Slow dogs, heavy eyed with responsibility,
Guide their couples round the bole of a pohutukawa tree.
You smile up at Rangitoto. I prepare to take a photo
Just as a cloud skylight opens and throws its glow cone
On those teen swimmers in the golden sea below.
We now hope the volcano ‘s arms are wide enough
For us to be embraced, hugged snug,
Inside his warm green polar fleece.
We have made out peace.