This poem (published in Poets & Artists, #24) is posted as part of the Aotearoa Affair Blog Fest, celebrating writing in New Zealand and Germany leading up to this year’s Frankfurt Bookfair, where New Zealand is the Guest of Honour. For me, it’s an honour to work with Dorothee Lang and the many diverse writers joining the Aotearoa Affair festival.
This poem and other recent reflections on New Zealand’s landscape and people have inspired a new project, “Flashback: A New Zealand History in Micro Moments” — for which I’ve recently been awarded the New Zealand Society of Authors /Auckland Museum Library National Research Grant for 2012. I am thrilled by this news and looking forward to diving into the Auckland Museum’s collections.
I wrote this when I first dreamed of sailing to Stewart Island.
Down South was always home,
mint tea and my brother and me
skipping stones in the creek
out behind Papa’s house,
while Patti knitted sweaters
for winters that never got too cold.
Now the world’s on its head;
tea is dinner and Papa is dead.
Creek dry, house sold, and
my brother and me skipping
birthdays ’cause we feel old.
I bought a map and drove all over
but I still don’t know
if I’ll ever get used to
looking right and shifting left,
or finding the sun obliging us obliquely
as she squats low, old and tired,
to the North.
My birthday’s tomorrow. Used to be
we’d suck crablegs and chug Rolling Rocks;
we were summer babies, Robbie and me.
Now I’m wearing extra socks
And wishing my ma were here
But I know she won’t come:
she’d have to buy a new coat.
Down South now means August cold snap,
the forties roaring my wool cap
off my head. This island’s my home now,
ol’ Stewart sees to it
that I open my heart somehow
and throw my anchor down
Kia Ora, as they say.
And I will: no one dragged me here,
sailed in on my own Pegasus
and fell in love with more wilderness
than I ever knew existed.
But on my birthday I’ll drink
my usual bourbon and hear
the ice in glasses, tink-tink,
as I see my ma pour one more
Julep from her cracked pottery jug,
And I’ll smell the mint and hear
Robbie’s big man-laugh and wonder
why he moved to Canada.
And I’ll feel
Papa’s creekmud between my toes,
and I’ll face east and dream
of going North.