Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Tuesday Poem: "My Father"

I do not remember my father as a demonstrative man,
but, hobbled though he was by a pre-war psyche,
we never doubted the depth of his affection for us.
His love of nature shaped our own perceptions of life
and his love of sport showed us the path of true competition,
that the essence is not to better others but to better oneself.
He transfused the ocean into us so thoroughly
that we will go to our graves with salt on our lips.

At all the painful pinnacles of growing
my father was there like a crampon you know will not fail you.
A towering lighthouse in his hat and dark suit
as he led me through the convent gate on my first day
and gently cut me adrift in the cruel seas of education
where the nuns patrolled the playground like killer whales
in search of seals.
He went ahead to each new town to make things ready for us
when I started boarding school he let me go in confidence
he bailed me out of scrapes with the law,
he was as certain as the mountain of his beloved Taranaki
and as solid as the beams of a whare runanga.

When I returned from overseas
my father and I found a space in our lives
where we could really get to know each other.
Through a winter that sparkled
he led me on odysseys into his soul
through the walkways, forests, rivers and coastline
of the city of his birth
which will, one day, witness his death.

If I were allowed only one memory of my father
it would be this: seaweed expeditions.
The northeast winds blew a bounty for his garden
onto the reefs around Belt Road
and at low tide we descended with our gumboots and sacks
to gather the fleshy harvest with its nitrogen-rich pods.
He had a system.
We heaped the seaweed on a number of high, dry rocks
then bagged from first to Iast to allow time for the seawater
to drain and the burden to be lessened.
I watched him as he moved around and about as deliberately
as a crab,
gathering the morsels,
bending to scoop the necklaces from the sea,
the sun's purple fire in the white, white, white of his hair.
He had seaweed in plenty at home,
it was the experience he craved.

The poet would like to acknowledge WA Ink (an anthology) in whose pages this poem first appeared.

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