Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tuesday Poem: "Not God But Close"

Sometimes someone will strike
like lightning in your life,
setting your trees afire and searing their presence
deep into the bark of memory.
Such a one was Michael Parmee.

It was 1968.
Paris was burning, the Chicago Seven were protesting
the first war to be televised
and hippies were celebrating the Summer of Love
in Haight-Ashbury,
but 55 miles north of Auckland
the turmoil of the times did not touch
the sleepy hamlet of Wellsford.
New Zealand was enjoying its fat years as food-bowl
to Mother England
and downsizing, restructuring and employment contracts
were but distant nightmares undreamed.
Wellsford’s raison d’ĂȘtre was farming
and a large primary school catered for townies
and the children of the clover
converging from all points rural
in red and tan Education Department buses.

It was 1968.
I was 11 and our Form One class had a new teacher.
He was young and he radiated energy and joie de vivre.
I do not know where he came from or where he went to,
but for two years he had a profound impact on me.

Michael Parmee brought basketball.
The paraphernalia and American cultural colonisation
were two decades distant
and all he had to ignite our imaginations
was the celebration of speed, power and grace
that is the game of basketball.
It was more than enough.

He showed us the rules and bullrush gave way
to basketball as the preferred unisex pastime.
To go beyond the call of duty was second nature to him
so that he set up and ran a district competition.

In Form Two I had another teacher, but Michael Parmee
continued to illuminate my life.
He came up with the idea that the children
would write an original play and perform it
for the town.
About ten of us, in whom he had discerned
a passion and flair for writing,
were allowed time out of class to meet regularly
in the staff-room under his guidance
to fashion a full-length play from imaginations
still one step ahead
of being socialised into submission.

Brainstorming, seizing on a concept, plotting,
giving our ideas a structure, writing scenes as
individuals and melding them as a group – the creation
of the play was the highlight of each week for me.
And each week Michael Parmee fanned the flames
to burn brighter.
The brushfires he had started in our hearts
now towered the sky with their tongues.

The play completed, he auditioned actors and musicians
and I got a part.
My first experience of the stage
before drama sadly lay dormant for many years.
But at twelve years of age, it is a powerful thing
to see your idea born and nurtured into 3-D.
And it was only when I heard Michael Parmee say,
one night in the wings while witnessing
a minor disaster occur on stage
that I realised he was not God.

We all have those one or two or three teachers that we really remember who had a profound influence on us. Michael Parmee's father was a published poet, Frederick Parmee.

Michael would probably be in his late sixties now. I don't know what he did after he left Wellsford, but I'll bet whatever it was, it was impressive and creative. I hope he is still alive and I hope he has had a great life.


  1. Thanks, Orchid, and may I say what a beautiful first name you have. It would be a hard heart that did not love the orchid.