Friday, December 27, 2013

Poem: "Disjointed on Wellington Railway Station" by Peter Olds


Where the night ends & the pallid day begins 
several dirty old groaners lie & stand around 
the railway station. One sleeps, a boot under 
his head, a plastic shoulder bag clutched to his 
belly, his pants half down exposing a white bum...
I sit on a kauri bench & light up a Capstan, 
place a boot on my rolled-up sleeping bag 
a free hand on top of my canvas pack.
A skinny man with a battered nose drops down 
beside me, requests a smoke - his red eyes 
unpicking my duffle coat, travelling over my 
tennis shoes to the tailor-made cigarette in my hand. 
'Non-filter,' I say -
'Better than nothing' his reply.

I light him up & give him half of what's left of 
the pack (about five) which he tucks away on the 
inside of his overcoat, then runs a hand over 
his smooth grey hair - the only tidy part of him. 
Two mates stand off talking with another guy: 
secret laughs, hands in pockets, knowing nods. 
An air of deliberate disjointedness. Last night's 
close shave. An agreement to rendezvous 
at an early opener later. Nervous like stage-fright 
children ill at ease in a moneyed world... 
They produce a bottle of sherry, which gets my mate 
off the seat like a shot, but they don't want 
to give him a drink.

Seems he played up last night, allowed himself 
to get done over by the boys - took a lot of shit 
on himself. The sight of him turns the others away – 
seeing themselves in his snot-smashed face, blubbery 
lips & puffy eyes.
They drink the sherry, smiling, rolling back on flat 
heels like heroes having come through a horrific night
unscathed.

Another man in a cowboy hat joins them, all belly 
&. beard, carrying a guitar. Wears moccasins - long 
grey frizzy hair poking out from under the hat's 
brim, an intelligent twinkle in the eye.
But when he opens his mouth &, speaks his previous 
demeanour changes from something strong & sure 
to something weak & gone. His speech practically 
unintelligible.
One asks the cowboy where he slept last night & he 
somehow conveys 'Here' (at the station). He gets 
the poor bastard look...

Suddenly, they take off on separate paths (in case 
they're followed) toward the city centre, to meet 
up later for tea at an all-night shelter. 
My mate with the cigarettes tucked into his chest 
waves a gloved hand (but not too revealingly) & 
disappears in a swirl of railway grit...
The next time I see him (on Courtney Place) he's 
battered more than ever, looking like he's been 
rolled. Clothes ripped, hair dishevelled wild pale 
eyes, paranoid pallor - charging apologetically 
through the clean crowds heading God knows where 
from God knows what.

     -- Peter Olds

Spare a thought for the homeless and the destitute over this festive season. Christmas is not a time of joy for everyone, sadly.

About the poet:

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