Chime

prose poetry

The flaws in his appearance

At uni a blind boy I knew recognised me by voice

in the dull brown-carpeted corridors of our residential college.

He could see vague shapes and shadows, nebulous, numinous movement,

carried his soup carefully, nose to the steaming surface to the nearest table

 

and ate hunched over. Once, I surprised him before the mirror

in the toilets wearing thick square glasses straining to see his reflection

and he whipped them off and pocketed them so quickly

that it must have seemed when he turned to leave

 

he had executed his sleight of hand flawlessly.

Later having beers in our respective fogs,

the light on me and him like anyone, I never spoke of it

but wondered was it so quick the turning for the door,

 

the lowered shoulder hurry that he never knew it was me

who had caught him looking for the flaws in his appearance?

 

 

Quiet rain

This quiet rain wets

the swollen skin of the earth

and now everything shines.

North of here, the rain

 

sheets down, frogs the roads,

pulls rivers to the sea.

You lived arms outstretched

against the clock face blending in;

 

every wet hour that came and

could not dislodge you –

the mad, flooded streets,

the obvious sun, the hemp-wear –

 

now this quiet rain has teased you out

with sediment and the smell of wild grasses

and long-legged water birds

who dip their beaks

 

searching as I have done

in the wet granules for a taste of you.

Full-circle back

You’ve come full-circle back, lost dog sniffing old scents still hiding in windblown leaves or concealed in straggly kikuyu. I saw you sans headdress by the sea in bad jeans and remembered how madness once gave birth to a child not much bigger than a bird, beak open in hope against the heat. Then, I hit golf balls onto a floating green hoping to win a car (having travelled so far from any sensible thing.) I remember you getting off a bus in your blue dress with things still possible, standing in the crater at Maungawhau feeling the rocks for a line to the earth’s core. So many moments wait to flare and find oblivion. So many moments and this is what you choose: skulking like a thief at water’s edge dragging a calamitous tail – the wreck of the Hesperus, all manner of flotsam and jetsam, a fledgling you tied to the mast with lies and clever, silver wires, his wings spread so uselessly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

what’s swallowing us

Happily, there are moments that wedge themselves

like the splintered bones of birds

in the throat of what’s swallowing us.

Paris,

 

the arse-end of the Seine,

wet woollen clouds, the sun barely dressed

above the rooftops,

me drinking Ricard and smoking

 

like Gainsbourg in my caleçon.

It’s eating our lives,

shitting our days and nights

in piles, but looking back some things

 

rise up full-bodied and clean

like this and my false-memory of you in London

high on a line of Tituba,

a beautiful, wild-thing with exquisite breasts

 

ready to fly from a bedsit window

in Herne Hill. Who can

regret the steady effacement when

such moments live like let-go balloons

 

defying extinction against the blue?

 

School Crossing

Roadside wreaths taped to poles

or set down in sad, ordinary places

mark moments that tick still

in memory.

 

People space can no longer contain

remain in flowers cellophaned,

weighted with rocks and thoughts

that settle like fog in airless pockets.

 

Passing, I imagine the terrible unpeeling of skin,

pith pulled away from the bones.

Someone’s child doesn’t come home

each day

 

and the mottled pattern in the tiles

shows a face that the light

breaks over and no angle

can take away.

 

God of wishes

Her life was a story. In the story, she went to the wishing well, one day, to make a wish. She wished to be married to a handsome prince and to live in a castle overlooking the ocean in a land that was always in spring. And she wished for everlasting happiness and children to pass it onto. She even had a coin to toss in the well when others who made wishes had to be content with pebbles or rusty nails from old horse shoes. She made her wish with her eyes closed and her heart all pink and open. She waited and waited for her wish to come true and even when the sun was sinking fraction by fraction, its inky colours spreading and fading, she held onto her hope that she might yet be blessed.

‘God of wishes,’ she said, ‘please grant me my heart’s desire.’

The god of wishes, who, as all people know, lives deep down inside wishing wells where the water is cooled by the earth, heard her heartfelt plea and answered, ‘Yes, yes my child, go find your heart’s desire, it’s waiting for you.’ The god of wishes never fails to answer a wish in this way, but there is a problem. The god’s voice is small and light and quick and sounds like the breeze through long grass and it comes to people’s hearts, not their ears. She didn’t know this. She waited, as so many do, for a voice that was clear and unambiguous, that told her where to go, what steps to climb, what doors to open, to find what her heart was craving. All she could hear was the sound of the wind playing in the leaves and the forlorn drip-drip of water deep down in the well. She stood there and waited through a long cold night in the implacable darkness with her fear dancing around her playfully, darting in and out of form, and her hope dissipating sadly like air escaping a beautiful big balloon. When dawn came, she turned her back on the wishing well and its morning backdrop of watercolours and went home and locked her heart and its wishes in a box she kept under her bed. She had to squeeze and knead her poor heart so it would fit in its new metal container and it hurt and she was crying. The wind was blowing her curtains so that she might have been at sea on a yacht, the sails billowing, the ocean spray wetting her cheeks. She lay down on her bed and listened to the voices outside her window of other children’s happiness and she closed her eyes and wept because it sounded so much like her own sadness. She didn’t see the little bird that was sent to her by the god of wishes to untie the knot of her misconception. She didn’t even hear its chirping or the fluttering of its wings. She had closed her eyes and her ears and locked her heart away. And anyway, she was in so much pain that there could be no such thing as magic. The wind was just the wind and a bird was just a bird with no special light shining out of it and there was no way she could have heard its voice half-singing, half-imploring, it’s-the-wish-it’s-the-wish-it’s-the-wish-that-counts.

That little bird is still there today and its voice is unrelenting.

It’s-not-the-answer-it’s-not-the-answer-it’s-not-the-answer…it’s-the-wish-it’s-the-wish-it’s-the-wish-that-counts.

The elephant’s bum

My father used to say this when we were younger. I have no idea where it comes from but I like it a lot. It’s even possible he made it up himself. It says so much about the need we have to experience things for ourselves. Give me cure not prevention (every time!)

“Son, son, stay away from the elephant’s bum, for when he poos, he poos a ton. Too late, dig him out.”

my other man

I drank too much wine;

my father’s standard phrases –

mark my words,

look at it this way –

the whole room washed with him.

 

My partner piled books

for my mother,

read the titles one by one –

this one’s about a woman who leaves her husband –

but my father never heard a word.

 

I would gladly kill him,

even though I can imagine the little boy he was

and remember the little boy I was.

My father how tall you are and if you were a mountain I would climb you.

I swirled my wine,

imagined it issued from the stem,

wondered what sent it up.

 

My partner thinks I’m sleeping with a man.

Her tongue snaked across her bottom lip;

she threw it back at Dad – the counsel he clapped her with –

said, no you look at this

and I waited with my other man inside me.

 

How do you leave the table where your parents sit?

We tucked them off to bed

and followed,

but I saw his pointed finger still,

the chop bone on his plate chewed to nothing,

heard him and said it’s not a fight and

wished I’d said it, my mother turning pages,

my partner fetching cheese and fruit.

 

In bed, she said, it’s strange, something’s not right

and left to be with baby.

I lay there with my other man

not dislodged.

 

Still the cars slapped the wet road outside.

Silt

as if you were paper-thin

and side-on could disappear

or be lifted by the wind

up up until you were neither a speck nor a slither

away from us.

 

no you are solid as river rocks

the water rushes over

and like the rocks you do not know yourself

keeping secret your fears of airiness

the dream you had that you were transparent

the whispers around that had you lifted from the silty mud of us

had you racing away.

 

when the water has receded

your shiny seal grey exposed

we’ll dress you in daisies chained

plaited reeds

rub cherries on your dimpled cheeks

 

you will wake to see us

know that you were never air or tissue

not brittle glass

 

but always silted in

solid, rooted in our earth

Hammer and nail

In Byron Bay, traces of you remain— your two schools, the laneway cafés, hempwear, prayer flags, clairvoyants. The sun like a bruise on the horizon this late afternoon with the kids in the pub by the beach, it could be you’ve come back to live here and I check each face, the strong sinew of young arms I imagine yours. Why wouldn’t you be young here with the ocean and long haired girls and boys and the Sea Shepherds and life lived in campaign against waste and for diversity? I want to imagine you somewhere in your bare feet, your skin drinking the heat, building something hammer and nail with your principles. It’s such a pretty thing, youth and why not let it flower hibiscus-like in the sub-tropics of ethical sustainable living? My own youth was grimy and aimless built as it was on parties aflame in the night or the blue-light disco at the scout hall and secreted bottles of cinzano, a drunken pash and grope with a girl. What a world, spinning madly through space and full of so much experience; mine here with my beautiful kids and you, my eldest, still missing – a fucking great hole in my heart I’ve no way of closing; yours, somewhere — here, I hope, wearing tie-dye, drinking chai with like-minds or standing on the rocks out at Tallows watching the whales gambol, maybe thinking it’s time to meet your little brother, play with your sisters again, see your dad who hopes you grow wild like the grasses and clean like the rain.

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