2018 – For Stephanie
The strike of light
on a Rimu door frame
is something like a chisel –
dawn chips new
bright into the nightly stall
of consequence. Thirty six hours
earlier Christmas morning
starts on London, a terrine
of fatty cold and marbling grey
& what we think is a festive Skype
falls to those sombre cadences
no one wants to match. Your father
suddenly at home.
You’ve been playing
that game of going out over the bridge
weighing the number of birthdays
against the clean bill of health.
And now instant lost, loss, are
gone. The day is raw
& lunch becomes
tickets and packing.
Boxing day we are pushed back
In our seats – the miracle of flight pushes
our refusing bodies and creates
a wanting stupor, a cloak of disbelief
that settles heavy over any feeling.
Thirty six hours after we close
one winter red London door
we open another in Sumner.
That chisel strikes the frame &
we are broken by light &
pulled unwilling onto the broad stage
swept here by tides, love, lost.
The funeral director is coming up the path
his acid-sharp suit doubles the prickly heat
on the parched lawn. The buzz of mowers
states the case for the ongoing cycle of life
& already we have to talk details. The Catholics
are good at this, there’s an order
that you can lay the experience onto –
rigorous enough to guide Rob a trillion
miles to the target of his expected
heaven, yet personal enough to hold
godless mourners like me inside it.
The priest with an accent like sheep dip
& oldish & round & properly
wonderful, covers the cancerous spot
on his head with his bible as he stands
out in the blaze and blesses the house
so we can enter. In the front room Rob’s shoes
on the floor, like he’ll be back any moment.
We sing hymns to break the silence.
The priest asks Baxter and Tim to take
one shoe each and place them neatly
by the fire, as their grandad would.
From that moment of holy theatre we are lost.
The real, barely nudged away by the fact
of travel, steams at us. Now I notice
the hundred pairs of his glasses
scattered over the house – some on chairs
more in the workshop, the bedroom,
the kitchen, beside the bath. Each pair is soaked
with a million words – the war histories
the spy novels, the formidable bank
of english romantics, the manuals –
remnants of the curious mind
now bending the air with
their perception, now empty,
now still, now watching us
& marking our ritual as he would
with dry amusement,
a critique of the phrasing.
I have to step back. It’s her father after all
and while I am helping decorate the casket
it’s for Hilary to do it – she wants to
be in control, it’s her job now.
We drive down to Mitre10 & settle
on a litre of Deep Pacific Ocean.
Baxter paints the lid of the casket. He takes it
as well as someone who spends their days
on an xbox can – slowly, sticking his tongue out
like his grandad, taking as if forever. The sides
have maps and tickets and badges glued
to them. Travels, late in life, mostly to see
old friends and runner mates or students now in
America or volunteering at various
commonwealth games. There’s even
the turquoise jumpsuit to prove it. Kuala Lumpur 1984.
I have figured out a neat way to get paper
to go perfectly around the handles
with a small cardboard template and a blade.
Sebastopol even. A ticket to the Moscow
underground. War graves.
Moments and maps drop out of boxes
bright and new and freshly breathing.
Pieces of history crammed into corners
decades ago and unmoved since
now ambush us – a curse and a blessing.
The shed door is open to let the fumes out
& the lawn is brushed by a dry wind. The towels
on the line dance, bright shamen in
the pakeha vernacular of meaning.
This is the doing of things in a time
that is full of things to do. This is the doing
of things he never quite got to, a benevolence
of chores. But all of the things are empty
of the one loved thing
we wanted to do all the things for.
Acid softened with milk the
drifted bay eases out of time and tickles
a song from nothing. Children’s laughter
Gossip. Friends lie about
protecting the sun
from the earth with their bodies.
The water itself is mottled with warmth
a lazy rhythm of hot cold hot
as we wade into it. My son
seems different again, indulging me
& judging but neither with any sense
of malice. He is so far not of this world
that I have to teach him how to
flick water into tails. Fun
We are here different. An hour
inside the summer that is inside the winter
that is inside the other side of the world.
Kayakers pass the mouth of the bay
moving wands through bright arcs
conjuring movement out of time, pleasure
from exertion. The waterlight spills
from everyone as they move, a wave
of time crushes us with a fizz
of perfection. I struggle to remember
what I was doing last week & just drop
everything into the bay; a stone,
a flight plan, a piece of somewhere else.
I relax and London dissolves
in stringent alien beauty.
An hour turns, time to go.
Baxter hasn’t even missed
his phone, he laughs
and forgets to be travel sick
as we re-thread the loom one
hairpin at a time towards home.
Back in the bay our shadows remain
& drift loose of time. Some benevolence
watches them – ever there, here, there.
The funeral director talks
like my grandad did, a man of the forties.~
‘Righto’ he says, ‘terrific.’
The sextant is safety orange, leans weary
on the side of his truck. Yesterday he fainted
in the heat as he dug the grave. His accent
and his rough tats give him away – he did a runner
decades back, slit his life from London and rolled the dice
in the new world. He talks about New Zealand
as if he has just arrived, his blue eyes
tension the skin around them, his face
bark-gouged with daily light.
He says ‘now you’ve started you have to finish’.
So challenged, we strike into the pile of earth
with an attack of townie vigour.
Everyone takes a turn, long enough
to feel the burn, the heat of the effort
coming through on the breath.
I am, casually included, family.
It’s taken me decades to see it
& only now through loss. I am bro
to the sis and bloody Allen to
the other bro, sticking my beak in
putting my neck out as family
to see if it gets broken. So now
I am digging too. Later I hover
as they line up and scoop
the fine sand into the grave
with the hand trowel, repeating politely
what we have just done
in fact. I am in the second line
after my son, the grandson who
pours his attention in. It’s not so much
that we are filling a hole
it’s more that we are feeding a lineage
one singing spadeful at a time.
When we come back from time
to time we always take a
bottle of gin to the plot and
sit on Patsy’s grave and take a
libation in her honour. It’s a proper
James K kind of place, nowhere and nothing
but cleaned by the sky and lazy laced
with graves. You’d have to know
it was here, up past the farmer’s house
the unmapped gravel road, among the macrocarpa
and the jewel green grass. A very catholic
secret, a quiet revelation, a strategy
to turn our habit of drinking our way
to truth back on to us.
Patsy & now Rob, have left us and you are
the oldest generation, no cushion
between you & destiny, nothing but
this man beside you, a curious
loving stranger, who pushes at the sky
& shares the scouring tonic of the sea
All around, hills. The close ones
right behind the house and the distant
a jaw of ancient teeth. Each one
shames anything in England. You shouldn’t
of course compare but you must judge
where best to live. With one aspect
there is no beating this place, from another
it’s empty. What is it full of
other than memory? To come back
you’d have to see it as coming forward.
You’d have to think it forward for
all members of the family.
And we’re not there yet on the whole
not by a long way. For the now
I am stepping into old Zeno’s creek –
the point is not just that the river changes
but that you change too. If the river
would just stop for a moment
you would see the trick of the light
& perhaps you would take
a moment where
the refraction became
an oblique happiness
& you could work out
a way back here now
that you understand yourself
as the river, the river
as self & the whole
& right nature
of emptiness & then
it doesn’t matter where
you live, nor should you care about
the wet foot or the old man’s curse.
We lowered him into the ground on nylon straps
our sun-baked backs and white shirts
slapped together in easy sweat as
spade by spade we layered him into the ground.
Robin Anthony Creed take your place in the deep press.
Turn the dial down to earth time. Return him
to the ground of being, the elaborated
eon-long compress where the body
is no different to a stone or a weed
a shovel, a blister. Everything pools
and pinches, folds and so lives again. All then
goes & goes on in one from
or other. From my pocket I take a hanky
I took earlier from his draw. I fold it once
and then again, bat at my brow and selfishly
wonder at the time of my own compression
how it will come to that, how I will face it.
If our measure is the manner of our cease
then Rob was a fine thing, even now as he falls
back to his reduction, falling like stone
like sweat, falling spade by spade
back to the primary bedrock of the beloved.
Looking down on a rubber mattress
that is forty years old or more, the must
drifts up like grassy heat. A kind
neighbour has given up pillows for the night.
The white rectangles are windows –
cutting through to modernity, they lay
against the flowery seventies sheets, the broken
rocking chair with it’s tartan blanket, a rattly
fan heater, a yellow lampshade in plastic
and the bright blue curtains, slashed with suns.
This tin house he made. It’s a triumph
of thrift, or neglect depending
on how charitable you feel. To heat the bath
you fill it with cold water and place
a kettle element in it suspended up a long flex
and a convenient length of twine. An hour later
the water is good enough for a splash.
The point is time is beside the point.
Out on the balcony, the infinite birds.
They lace the dusk with threads
of song while behind that
pips, buzzes and squarks scatter the air –
handfuls of deep space thrown at a mountain.
Standing here, standing as the night
softens us and the birds
stutter to silence, a great clatter of rain
drops from the sky like an untethered boom
falling to the deck. Twelve blessed hours
of that song that London tiles mute –
the holy chorus of rain on a tin roof
the verses of old holidays and youth sung out
by the southern weather gods, the same
who sing the waves around Antarctica and beyond that
the stars. This tin bach, worn out and bleached,
a temple of Zylandia, a distant pole
to my bricky normal. Now the pilgrimage
feels complete, Rob is laid to rest. We have
shovelled dirt to keep him safe and
I need nothing more than sympathetic water
To wash all distance from my face.
We all know there’s only one
fine day in Wellington a year
& I have hit it square on. The harbour
is copper soft, gamelan
rubbed with shimmering fingers.
There are layers beyond hearing too
deep strata of memory, old dreams
and lost causes. Old haunts, sun-struck
are empty now or animated with new players
& I am profoundly irrelevant
& happy enough with that. Twenty five years ago
& trouble, and troubled and searching beyond
for something I already had with me, I left.
Twenty fives years is a mountain. You can’t
come back over that in a day
or maybe even a lifetime. This transcendent
place belongs to those who live it most.
& I freely let it go. It belongs for Hannah
taking it back sentence by sentence for her iwi,
the slow hard work of taking bad history
& making it an earthed future.
I am from here
not living here. Here makes me different
elsewhere. It’s an attitude etched in –
comfort in weather, on steep hills
& happy with cold rain and wave
as big as ocean liners. Here made me by turns
remote and chill, close and hot, a boiled mess
of uncertainty and ill-expressed ambition –
Pakeha I guess. Never quite belonging
even as I belong here with you,
I am grateful for the full catastrophe
of experience, your friendship, my shattering
life even as it hides itself inside
the broad cloak of a perfect day.
Here everyone has
so much more of everything.~
In London we have a flat that’s
dinky. No garden, a square
of gravel at one end & a post-box red door
at the other. It’s narrow
like a ship with cabins off
a dark long corridor. Inside we have two
beds a kitchen table, a day bed, a coffee table
an easy chair and three chests of drawers.
Of course assorted other stuff
x-box, computers, many clothes horses.
But here everyone has rooms
that stretch to the horizon, garages are full
of canoes and bikes and garden furniture
whole catalogues of plastic shit made in China
and tipped into lives like an assortment
of cheap, unwanted sweets.
Too much really, too much shit.
Rob’s house, now without an animator
is a catalogue of stuff held on to just in case.
Depression era, no waste. A legacy of stuff.
Some of it is even interesting in itself
the old maps, five percent of the books – I slip
one into my suitcase for later – trinkets.
But the things that hold the most value
are the cheapest – the array of photos
that cover every wall and surface, tacit
proof of a wide ranging love.
The space is empty, scoured with silence
& the space is full, it wraps the air with loving
care. If you took that space and listened to it
it would tell you great things – there
the dawn chorus, a love of mountains,
a cup on the edge of a table, three kids
clattering around, full of beans, winsome.
There are riches enough to those who
listen. You need less things
You need more time
to rest, to listen
to remember, rejoice.
A stroke then. The smallest catastrophe –
a black hole pulling everything into it –
a skull flashed with galaxies &
meteors of thought and memory. Then
the starving light shatters inwards –
hole books made paragraphs then words
then floating syllables & gutturals
slapping like a lazy tide on rock
& inside that the sliding primitives of life
come apart in a staggered cease
from the last moment’s chisel that
parts breath from its purpose.
There is also grace in light.
I think of his God reaching down
and touching his brow
showing the wonder of his creation
in a moment of beauty and
kindness. Come back to me son
let me take you home, come
now & he brushes Rob’s cheek
& reveals everything to him
in a strong trade – the knowledge of
his creation, his body of light, in exchange
for the one mortal body of clay.
Here the past keeps falling
out of my pockets – awkward
metallic, larger than the house.
Or maybe something
like a shadow, a certain
shape, creases in
the air so full of dark
they cast shadows into night.
In here there is frail light, a dryness
concealed inside the art, while
all the water is in graves lashed
to the ceiling. Removed from
context I am a puzzled solved
waiting for a clue, a tube
of conjecture and uncertainty,
pavlova spread with oils.
Here I am a willing &
long victim in the crime
of dismantling self and finding
dissociative voice. Here I am
echo, victory, death, response.
I am, here, unravelled
when I am left alone
and to myself for
three hours I become with
the artist again, a black cross
on the orange idea
of a dissolving safety.
It’s a long way out now
if we’re lucky half a life away
& that rammed with meaning and enough
of pleasure to get us by until we are ended.
Or next year, or one or two beyond that –
something cruel & lingering
something where the best you can do
is cope. We don’t know what
or where or when but we do know
the moment stands there. A gate
a door, a portal, a lapse, a strike, a stir
we can dress it how we like. We can try
camouflage, we can call it a bridge
a reconnection, a mercy. It is a fact
with nothing more to say & nothing more
needs to be said about this, yet.
We are back on the plane. Baxter
throws up three times in quick order
and I put my hands out to catch it –
the old parent reflex, now useless
& embarrassing. We measure lives
in birthdays & these flights, these
grand crossings. The miracle of flight
itself flies against the primal truth of it –
the airport is a ford, with us wading
groggy through the flood of time.
We complete the ritual by buying gin
and anoint our return
with 37 botanicals. One for the parents
lying together now at the bay.
They live on, their best traced out in
Baxter & Tim, in clever & kind.
It’s not a push to say my son
is my greatest achievement
& all I need for eternal rest
is for him to one day honour me
in this way – to push me out
across the ocean of return
in a small paper boat with a sail
& blow me over the threshold
with a breath full of flowers
& a sweet spell of dissolution.