Tuesday Poem: ‘Addis Ababa’ from WORK

Addis_Ababa_excerpt

This excerpt is from ‘Addis Ababa,’ which is one of six long poems in my forthcoming collection, WORK. The poem is about a man who is trying to rebuild his life after his wife dies in the final skirmish of the Ethiopian Civil War. It first appeared in Sport 43, and on RNZ reviewer Harry Ricketts called it the standout poem of the issue.’ I actually made one of those excited half-squeals, the embarrassing kind you can’t keep in. Anyway, another excerpt from WORK was on Up Country last week (along with a little piece I wrote about Canadian moose being released in Fiordland in the early 1900s).

WORK will be released on Thursday 22 October. EXCITING launch details to come!

Tuesday Poem: ‘Mason’ by Scott Lindsay

Mason

I like to walk in these hills.
I enjoy the sense of isolation,
as if I really could be
the only person
for miles around.

The landscape is rugged here,
tufts of thin grass clumped around
rocks, stones, boulders.
Red flowers bloom in stark contrast
to the browns and muted greens of
the other alpine plants.

Should they make me less lonely?
These flowers, these symbols
of life, and continuity?
Should they make me rejoice
in the beauty of life,
and of nature?

I held you for a brief moment.
You were limp in my hands,
your arms and legs splayed wide
like a living rag-doll.
Ragged breathing.
Tiny gasps of air.

The labour had taken days,
my wife was exhausted,
and I couldn’t stay awake for long.
And when my eyes opened once more
you were gone.

I look from the blooms to the town below,
curls of smoke rising skyward from chimneys,
warm golden light
shining from windows, my heart
across gardens now turning deep blue,
the fading light of day.

I was so moved when I read Scott’s poem, and spent some extra time writing my feedback to him, basically because I couldn’t help myself. There’s a weight that comes when responding to very personal poems – those of love and grief, or most often both. How do I tell someone to cut lines about their loss because they’re too clunky or abstract? I didn’t have to do much of that with ‘Mason’ and reading it out loud to a friend last night, it still affects me. It makes me sad and thankful, and it also makes think, this is why I teach creative writing.

This is what Scott sent me for his bio: Scott has a wonderful wife and three amazing daughters. He also had a son briefly, and this event served as the inspiration for his poem ‘Mason’. Even though this was a traumatic time, he learned a lot about love and family. If you, or someone you love, ever have to face similar adversity in your life, please reach out for help as soon as you can. The pain is real and you don’t have to suffer by yourself. No one is alone in dark times like these, even though it certainly feels like you might be.

I’ve posted two other poems by 2015 students: ‘Jam Jar’ by Mary Fisher, and ‘My Mother in the Kitchen’ by Joel Pearson.

Tuesday Poem: ‘My Mother in the Kitchen’ by Joel Pearson

My Mother in the Kitchen

My mother is
banging and making noise
in the kitchen.
With bowls and cutlery,
searching with
needless clatter.
Her handkerchief
tucked at the ready
up the cuff
of her best black suit.

In the newspaper
there are two women–
twice my mother’s age–
campaigning to have
headstones propped back up
after they toppled over
in the earthquake.

Graveyards
are the afterlife’s kitchens.
The women are
banging around in it.
Making the bed.
Deadheading the roses.
My mother searches
for something real
amongst the tupperware.
Trying to rip back up
stones
that the earth lulled
into lying down.

Joel Pearson is a Massey University student living in Christchurch. His major is English and he hopes to continue studying creative writing. One of his short stories appeared in Takahe 81, but he also writes poetry. This poem was written for Creative Writing 139.123and came together after Joel read an article in the newspaper about the earthquakes, and also from being annoyed by his mother banging around in the kitchen.

This is a marvelous poem about the way we distract ourselves from grief. I admire Joel’s ability to balance humour with simple and poignant imagery such as the mother’s ‘handkerchief / tucked at the ready / up the cuff / of her best black suit’. If you want to read more poems by Massey students I posted one last week.

Tuesday Poem: ‘Jam Jar’ by Mary Fisher

Jam Jar

I’m wilting in the darkening kitchen
When my younger brother
Arrives to my grappling,
Ridges of agar jar rubbing
Fingerprints from my skin.

I’ve poured hot water around the rim,
Metal bands expand, steam melting upwards.
I’ve tried the tea towel grip.
My hands simply slide, leaving
Squeaking glass and solid lid.

As he slips in, pale-faced from the cold
I stand straight and sweep rogue,
Sticky stripes of hair aside.
His squint rakes my crumbling attempt
To keep the jar behind, benched.

Floppy curls, beginnings of whiskers.
When did he become the taller one?
I say, ‘Don’t worry’.
But his long arms already loop around
My torso, a slow warming like rays of morning sun.

And while I sink into his limby cocoon,
His fingers find the flaws
In the jar I’ve been wrestling over,
Longer than a fearless sister should.

He pops the cap with slender hands.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to post poems by my students. Massey University doesn’t (yet) have an online journal like Turbine or 4th Floor, and it seems unfair that these poems are not read beyond my dining room table. These poems are the ones that make me think it’s a blurry line between student and teacher.

The first poem is by Mary Fisher, a part-time Massey student studying towards a BA in psychology alongside representing New Zealand in swimming. She enjoyed creative writing at high school and wrote this poem as part of 139.123, which for her was an elective paper. Mary likes cooking and says there is a parallel between her and literal jam jars as well as an object which could represent aspects of identity.

Tuesday Poem: ‘Meditations’ by Maria McMillan

Meditations

All loss is about imagination,
or did I make that up? That
strands of grief, hung in a room
like streamers, are not so awful
in themselves but awful
because they are always there.
That sunny flat in Palmerston
North with the abundant grapefruit
tree and the men who would smoke
dope and play chess all day.
They were so gentle treading
around each other’s sadness
like it was a bluebottle. It was slow
but I was an urgent sort of person
and found even this thrilling.
I fell in love and from that man’s
bed only remember the sun
coming in at the oblique
angle of early morning. After
a while I didn’t know which
was real the staggering pace
of this place or the rest of my life
where actual things happened.
They taught me chords
and once for a full half hour
I had them before that too got lost.

A month or so ago I stayed at a bach in Raumati with twelve other poets. We brought our favourite poetry books, did exercises, and walked on the beach. We drank wine, ate watermelon, and took turns to read and talk about other people’s poems. The first poem I read to the group was ‘Meditation at Lagunitas’, which even after writing an entire and fraught thesis chapter about the poem, is still my favourite. It appears to be a favourite of others too, and Maria McMillan – a wonderful writer and social justice activist who has published two collections of poetry: The Rope Walk (Seraph Press, 2013) and Tree Space (VUP, 2014) – showed me her poem ‘Meditations’ which she’d written in response to Hass’s. The poem summarised the Raumati weekend for me, and the way writers inspire each other.

Read ‘Ghosts’ by Maria McMillan on Tim Jones’ blog
Read Paula Green’s review of Tree Space on Poetry Shelf

For more Tuesday Poems check out the hub.

Tuesday Poem: ‘Grandmother’ by Sarah Jane Barnett

Grandmother

i

I fly for thirty hours;
she seems pleased to see me.

Perched in her chair we talk about her new home.
She has made friends with Eva, a long-stayer,
whose lounge is filled with flower arrangements.

I prefer minimalism, she says.

When the sun breaks we relocate to the backyard
where I read her the story of a geisha
taking a young maiko apprentice

whom she teaches to care for silk kimono,
separating each section to wash
then sewing them back together –

of the graceful tea ceremony where a rhythmic bamboo brush
discretely exposes her wrist –
of the art of secrecy.

As we speak I notice her ankles,
a flutter of dark moths on skin.
They’re filled with fluid, she says
of the swollen splits and bruises.

ii

It’s raining.

She pops up every five minutes
to snake a hand through net curtains,
observe the retirement village – red brick units circling a fish pond –
and report on any activity.

Lois has made a dash for her car wearing a new parka.

The phone rings, Joss lost his sister last night.
He is the last of nine, and the oldest,
she says, her voice level.

The rain leaks colour from the day.
I scan the sky and follow individual drops
to the ground where they bounce up into pin-heads.

At 6pm she declares, The bar is open
and passes me a glass of sherry.

iii

Grandmother borrows a wheelchair.
I haul it out of the boot
to construct in the Whitley Court carpark.

You might push me in the lake, she jokes.
I park her by an ornamental gazebo.

Are you okay? She waves me away,
walking stick laid like a child in her lap,
her eyes stroll the central avenue.

I explore the blackened ballroom,
the arched conservatory open to the sky –
through the caved roof clouds bunch together.

Wheeling her to the fountain for the water firing,
she tells me the myth of Perseus and Andromeda
as they pose before us – she pale, her hair motionless
on the breeze. One hand gently wards off the serpent.

After the show she fixes her jacket and I give my camera
to a tourist. The photograph reveals my hand cupped
around her shoulder – my smile a head above hers,
her shirt stepped in stripes to her chin.

iv

England needs 11 runs from 24 balls.
My sister Linda was named for Rosalind, she says,
the Shakespearean character.
A sprint between wickets.
She had a baby but he died quite young.

10 runs from 23 balls.
I don’t want people knowing that Dad was a bankrupt.
A statement. He was a good man.
I suggest his troubles were caused by the Depression.
He just didn’t have the head for money.
Someone hits a six.
Owning a bakery sounds nice, I say.
It was a pokey little place. After we lost it we lived
with Dad’s parents and then kept a pub in Wolverhampton –
where I took the University exam.
Someone hits a four and she makes a little fist
in the air.

Did you go?
No. My friend did though. Her father was a chemist.
The wickets are pulled from the pitch.

v

The Proms are on
so I am taught to make a trifle.

She heaves a crystal bowl onto the bench,
breaks a sponge into large cubes, her hands moving
mechanically as fruit and sherry are secured by jam.

Jam’s the family secret, she says and takes out glazed cherries,
sticky doomsday buttons pressed into custard.

When my Aunt and Uncle arrive they sip sherry
and jump up and down with the audience,
my Uncle singing from his knees like a sailor.

She sits on her cushion, feet tapping
under a blanket, the union jack clasped in one hand.

*

The engine is running.
At the door my Grandmother hesitates
so I bend down and wrap my arms around her.

I wave as the taxi navigates the car-park.
She waves back, her hand a small pigeon
against a brick-red sky.

‘Grandmother’ was originally published in JAAM 25. For more Tuesday Poems check out the hub.

Tuesday Poem: ‘The starlings’ by Tim Upperton

The starlings

Anger sang in that house until the scrim walls thrummed.
The clamour rang the window panes, dizzying up chimneys.
Get on, get on, the wide rooms cried, until it seemed our unease
as we passed on the stairs or chewed our meals in dimmed

light were all an attending to that voice. And so we got on,
and to muffle that sound we gibbed and plastered, built
shelves for all our good books. What we sometimes felt
is hard to say. We replaced what we thought was rotten.

I remember the starlings, the pair that returned to that gap
above the purple hydrangeas, between weatherboard and eaves.
The same birds, we thought, not knowing how long a starling lives.
For twenty years they came and went, flit and pause and up

into that hidden place. A dry rustle at night, fidgeting, calling,
a murmuration: bird business. The vastness and splendour
of their piecemeal activity, their lives’ long labour,
we discovered at last; blinking, in the murk of the ceiling,

at that whole cavernous space filled, stuffed like a haybarn.
It was like gold, except it was more like shit and straw,
jumbled with their own young, dead, desiccated, sinew
and bone, fledgling and newborn. Starlings only learn

a little thing, made big from not knowing when to leave off:
gone past all need except need, enough never enough.

Tim UppertonTim Upperton is a writer, reviewer, teacher, and doctoral candidate who lives in Palmerston North, New Zealand. His poems have been published in New Zealand and internationally, and in anthologies such as The Best of Best New Zealand Poems and 150 Essential New Zealand Poems. He won the Bronwyn Tate Memorial International Poetry Competition in 2011, and the Caselberg Trust International Poetry Competition in 2012 and 2013. Upperton has two collections of poetry: A House On Fire (Steele Roberts, 2009) and The Night We Ate the Baby (HauNui Press, 2014).

This is, without a doubt, my favourite poem by a New Zealander. I find it difficult to say why; maybe it’s the vibrating language, or it could be because the poem is insistent, unpretentious, essential, aching, open, and shit-filled. Upperton states of the poem: ‘”The starlings” was originally an informal epithalamion, a poem to commemorate the wedding of my sister, Katrina, and her husband, Steve. That version was, appropriately enough, a lot more celebratory than the final version you see here. The poem includes details my sister would remember, such as the immense starlings’ nest in the ceiling of our family home. I kept revisiting and revising this poem following its first publication in the NZ Poetry Society’s anthology, tiny gaps (2006), and each time it got a little darker than before – notes of elegy seeped in. A last-minute change before my first book of poems, A House on Fire, went to print last year was the addition of the word “murmuration” – a lovely old collective noun for starlings.’ You can listen to him read the poem on Best New Zealand Poems.

For more Tuesday Poems check out the hub.