This is part of my Urge to Archive/journal project.
There are about a dozen poems from the late 80s that nestle in one heap I am calling 'Seventh time through'.
Mostly they are about feeling. Having that, being in that state, wondering what it is exactly right to feel, being in and out of love with others and self, what shoud be let go, what kept, all the messy glorious richness of being young.
These are all 'phase one' poems - that is when I thought that I would write poetry 'properly', before I invested in Drama School 100%, so they are all from 1986-1989 and are from after the period I did the Creative Writing unit at Victoria.
Seventh Time Through
Some poems '86-'89.
When the cat is out
when lights are off
when you've made it
lost it again -- when words
wear frail, thinner than the last note
you are ready to write; when there's no
home to address yourself back to
when pills drop the wrong way
and brick your throat; when the house breaks
down around the cracking hill, glass ground
your eyes slipped down the ramp too
deep into the cold water; when your blood
freezes with the sun
when sets once again;
when bone to skin rots
and wave to friends when
the last drop has gone
the corridor ends and the dogs
no longer come when you call;
when we reach the dead weight of it
will we know how to let go?
Last time through
Let's have some quality in this, let's have
some decent food for a change.
Let's have a partnership of sorts, something
to do with covering distance, with light
through warm glass through
the tunnel and out the other side.
Quality of light.
Equality of light, like
defining ourselves with relationship
to each other - that's what it means I guess.
Lemons in Lower Hutt
Apples in Ava
Pistachios in Petone
Wellington and the weather
comes down again. Would you like
an orange? I said thinking
of bringing the car to a stop near the harbour
the momentum of our future
sliding towards the drink.
You sit in the couch
of an unknown tense of language
listening to the first shock of rain.
You draw versions of your future
from hats while I draw down
on what is here. My line walks
avoiding words, elaborates
an edge around emptiness
What I mean to say is
I am trying to do away with the words
even as you say goodbye and
the door half-closes behind you.
The heater ticks at the foot
of cooling air, a tap
of water at the door
and gusts kick over the sink.
You wouldn't believe it was summer
there is water all around
draining to the valley.
I close the door
the windows, the blinds
and the curtains. I take
the quiet ritual of tea by candle
and in the new dark
try to unfold your sheet of time.
Half blind sketching
falling into it again
trying to draw a line around
the certainty of your return.
I never could easily miss mornings like this
stilled, the anger taken out of it. You wouldn't
dare wear shoes, drag and scrape
your dull plated manners over it. The old man
you are looking after feels delicate
and shifts a little in his chair
to ease his back. I roll him out
to the back lawn with
his cup of tea. He smiles
trying to let me know
he knows me and forgives
the limited parameters
of my youth. He
was one of those
who never spoke
at the tree
and read the leaves
as he spat them on the grass
a kind of bitterness
dispatched with glee.
Let it be known
that no one else was up
that no one else saw
the precious glory
of his passing
fragile light on trees
time fall backwards
off the edge
and ever down.
Who is this who walks
in an upturned umbrella?
Who leaves yeast in the toes
of your shoes?
Who is this who tickles
your ribs when what you want
is to throw tantrums
away? What do they call themselves
when they sign cheques
with a bird wing and make
a crooked exit down
a blind alley dragging
coat tails through the mud?
Who is it lays beside you
wrapped in warm towels
and smelling of the fire?
And this one
this one here - see how it jumps
to catch drops of hail on the end of their nose?
Balancing small means
with greater ends,
tripping the alarm
with the grapes they bought you
and the door they hold open
is useless might as well be
a book of prayer and why
the habit of sliding under
or around the direct questions?
What is they see in you
humble student, victim, lover -
Who are you that they should care?
Cups and hands
tea held in, grazing the colour
bathing the room - it's so good
to see you again when
I'm not going to see you again
again. It's all been so distant
that to forget would be easier
than reworking memory and lying
and lying on rocks
in the sun legs dangling
over the side, wind
sails and the motion distilled
into the warmth in your hands.
Drawing in the blue liquid
like a tonic grief
afternoon waves are swimming out
to meet me - you
are coming out to meet me.
How uncertain of the water?
How deep? Hand over hand
a kind of alternative Tarot
made of leisure and absence
a promise against logic that says nothing
is an accident.
It starts with a synaptic click
then the hairs pluck and a string is pulled
and the diaphragm rises
taking in the fumes of yeast
while the back of the throat swells out
towards the ears listening in.
Listen then, rest your head on my chest.
The thin line of air presses out
the strum of ribs blankets the inflation
sternum rise shallow depression
lying in the rise, there is
a wave that laps over it
that's my heart, the pulse packet
shivering on the belly, filling
your ear as I would imagine it
heavy and reassuring on my chest.
I hold it in, longer, hold more
wait for the body to insist
not just the habit of it but the need.
Will you close your eyes then
and listen? I put a reed
to my throat and let it go
running to your ear
tingling with the voiced note
this long lying hum, low resonant
as the chest sinks again - all out
One note that fills the room
closes the curtains, climbs inside you
melds the spine to the floor
the house itself the body of the instrument
coming to rest, echoes drying out
stillness then, absolute but tidal
some urge beyond to life
starts with the synaptic click
taken for granted
held loosely - the held note
an invocation of eternity
its absolute denial.
Like I see you at the end of a corridor
something institutional, with glass doors
and the smell of green linoleum
a dozen echoes long. Standing close now
your dripping nose and a burial - I'm feet up
in your eyes. It's clear
there is nothing I can do
to save anything out of this.
The idea, the haunting, the memory
all over my skin crying out
for affection. The ghost on the line
holds on while I make up my mind
what to do. I ask and ask
what's next but there is only the open silence of the line
distance to the power of time.
They left us for dead while we climbed
the back of the pale headland inside a fold
of cicada beat releasing out over the top
and looking out onto the dusking gulf.
We surf the hill's static wave
splashed by endlight mixing time on the palette
of white rock, bones of the land
breaking the flesh, our young love
a green-stick fracture we couldn't make sense of.
The cows fall back into the distance of night
remembered only by the ticking fence
the loft of dry grass. Later on the cindered stick
points to the explosions we call stars
while below in the bay small eddies of time
settle and shoal and slow
into the lullaby of the lee shore.
They call it Calf Island. Bathed
in silver milk under moonlight it is still warm
as it passes midnight. A single delicate tree
drapes a shadow over our blanket, furled
over the small hours, then folded double
against the crepe air of early morning
where the you run your fingers
through our sunrise hair. There are always
secrets and there is a moment somewhere
in the decades to come where we will look
and look and find this to have been
the most precious of things
unalloyed caring, a night of nothing
full of everything, of promise and words to come
of cows and the soft sweet mooing
of the ocean and the oars dripping in it.
I almost went to Chile today.
Instead I think, drink water,
calculate the costs and realise
I am out of guts.
It's hard to accept
that it didn't work, sailor, I wish
it would. Still
there are things to go back to
again - things to go back with.
I failed with my leap. You'll make yours
as I spin in the air
to face the other way.
It's not a movement
without pain. I won't pretend
that it doesn't hurt. But I am also
looking forward to a time
when we can visit each other and say
lets sing and dance in the dunes
and kiss each other with toi-toi
across the warming gully.
The heart of the body, the body
of the heart - the river
flows underneath the bedroom, blue
under yellow, the light a morning smudge
made on the cold air. Undone ironing, washing
that needs to be done
now we are done with our pleasure. Will you
sit, sit and talk to me beyond skins?
Sometimes the room swells and tea cups
and books move themselves, sensitive
to the feelings crossing between us.
When we are too tired to argue each other
into nothing we can feel the lack of sense
we are making and hinge backwards
to each other by putting on a record -
we take up positions in the listening chairs
take in the strings, wrap ourselves
in sonic gesture. And when the side is done
I pick up the point and place it the edge
where it begins it's slow traverse
back to the heart of all this.
Light comes into the shape of wings, dim
to a whisper and lays its window
of four blonde squares on the table
like four perfect seas made for maps.
A fork is a rainbow at sunset
joins two of the seas, supports a finger
that pushes the prongs forward. There is
the shudder of protest and you remember
blackboards at school and lemon
on cuts. And there you are,
back in the scene, reliving the pain
of the recent departure, weighing
the value of silence
against the threat of night.
Seventh time through
Should have ended better.
There is a room somewhere over there
where the carpet slaps the moulding
drips from the wall, my aching fingers
trace the seasons in the ceiling rose
looking for sleep. This room is where
you will find the harpsichord player
going off on one, only half
the face lit the other dark
with concentration and fury.
He moans with the music
the wallpaper tightens
all the past mothers and fathers
all those hands on the keyboard
and those before them adding
voice to voice, beating
the hell up against each other.
This last time through is faster again
so many hands, heat, noise, smoke
love, so many things breaking.
This is not just the seventh time through
not the first
not the thousandth
not the last.
Let us embrace this, some kind of passionate
passion - it that's what this is all about
then count me in. I have a handful of fingers
and some old coin
warming against my thigh.
after saying good night
after a night spent falling off
exactly what it was
I was meaning to say. Sorry
for leading you up the garden path
and casting around in the weeds
for something old and valuable
when you were right here all along
new bright, spinning in the morning sun.