Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Tuesday Poem: "For Thomas on his First Birthday"

Thomas, it’s part of life’s strange design
that these fresh days
of your green bud years
will be lost to your conscious memory.
You enjoy each laugh, each bath, each hug, each kiss,
each new discovery of taste or touch
and then it evaporates into past tense.
Amidst the daily demands of the ordinary,
your mother and I
try to cage that steam.

For two weeks prior to your birthday,
we drive around Canterbury, Otago and Southland
connecting the dots of your mother’s heritage.
The sky is big down here, Thomas,
and the stars burn with diamond clarity
in its grape-dark canvas.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Tuesday Poem: "Nerves" by Sarah Jane Barnett

The bridge has been
washed out,

the river bank
camouflaged with debris.

Last Waitangi Day
I saw a soldier buried

in the crowd -
his face gave nothing away.

Your lips sticky after kai
teach me a new language,

ka mate ahau
I te aroha e.

That night I dream
my family has arrived

for Christmas,
with the military police.

Arms cuffed
I am pulled from our bed,

held in an austere room
and made to explain

my position.

This poem originally appeared in Deep South '07.

Sarah Jane Barnett is a writer, tutor and doctoral student who lives in Wellington. Her work has appeared in a range of literary journals including Landfall and Sport, and on the e-zines Cordite, Snorkel and Turbine. Her poem, “The Drop Distance”, was selected for Best New Zealand Poems 2007.

Sarah is currently completing a creative writing PhD in the field of ecopoetics. You can find more of her work at http://theredroom.org.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

A Call to Alms

This is that time of year when many people are thinking about the act of giving and compassion towards those less fortunate than ourselves.

I don't know if it is the BOFEE (Boring Old Fart Evolution Effect), but as I get older, I just witness the whole commercial frenzy of Christmas and it makes me want to barf. Anticipating the bulging cash registers, the shops start advertising Christmas in early October before the general populace has given it a moment's thought. Then if you don't put a "No Junk Mail" sticker on your letterbox, the glossy missives start engorging the letterbox, nearly choking the air from true mail such as letters from your Mum or bank statements. You cannot relax in front of the TV without the clarion call to "Buy! Buy! Buy!" screaming out at you from the box.

Get your children IPods this Christmas, buy your old man a new car and, hey, why not chuck in a boat while you're at it, buy the missus a 14-carat diamond ring and the list goes on.

Remember when you were little and your parents told you to finish your dinner because "think of those starving children in India". Those starving children have grown up now and are starving adults assembling IPods in a sweatshop in Mumbai.

Jesus or Buddha or Mohammad or Zoroaster or Baha'u'llah or Krishna or Abraham or Moses wouldn't be rushing out to Harvey Norman Ross Smiths City K Mart to buy IPods and 50" TVs and Home Theatres. They'd be giving each other a hug, a hearty meal...
"No pork chops for me, thanks," says Jesus.
"Just the roast spuds and some asparagus for me," says Gautama Buddha.
"What Jesus said. Ditto re the pork chops," says Mohammad.
"I'll skip the beef noisettes," says Krishna.

...and they would be spreading love not Chinese plastic. LOVE, it doesn't cost anything and the more of it you give away the more you get back. That's better than any deal you'll get at Briscoes!!!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Tuesday Poem: "Medea Clocks on at the Mint"

I took this job down at the Corinth Mint
after my marriage went on the skids,
I was bored at home on the DPB*
and I was sick of those two damn kids.

Jace shot through with this bimbo called Glauce,
her name brings to mind an eye disease,
and her old man wants us out of Corinth
even though I got down on my knees.

I feel like the serpent who was Golden Fleeced
when Jason slipped the snake oil past it,
but, since I've been working at the Mint,
I can spot a twenty-four carat bastard.

* For international readers, DPB is an acronym for Domestic Purposes Benefit, a welfare payment made to solo parents.

The poet wishes to acknowledge The Press in whose pages this poem appeared.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Tuesday Poem: "Let's Do Lunch"

Mading relieves Manute from guard duty.
They share a meagre meal of millet porridge before
Manute returns to the refugee nation of southern Sudan.
The noon sun is a harsh sentence for a parched tongue but
they talk not of coffee or juice-laden fruit and
rice and lentils are mountain memories their stomachs can ill afford.
Instead they curse the clear skies that rain only strafing jets and
pray for their dry-breasted wives on pilgrimage to the aid station
carrying children swollen with the promise of death.
They snarl rumours about al-Bashir’s lapdogs
in Khartoum growing fat on food intended for them.

Jason waits, informed by cell phone of Laurie's imminent arrival.
He orders a wheat beer, its earth tone inviting on a silver tray and
its musky sweetness washing away a morning of phone business.
The noon sun is a warm blessing through the picture window but
they talk not of haloed hills or the light-laden river and
recession and retrenchment are market memories their ulcers can ill afford.
Instead they debate '63 cabernet versus '74 chablis and
moan about their reconstructed wives driving halfway across town
carrying children swollen with the promise of private schooling.
They snarl rumours about Key's cabinet
in Wellington while wolfing crayfish and Steak Diane.

With the Christmas season fast approaching I don't wish to be a Christmas Grinch, but I can't help thinking about the people in the world who have nothing when the junk mail and TV ads blast their clarion call for us to consume. Isn't all this consumption the reason our planet is under severe stress?

The poet wishes to acknowledge that a different version of this poem first appeared in the pages of The West Australian newspaper.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Tuesday Poem: "Practising Joy"

You should practise joy more often,
it becomes you
and the radiance in your eyes
when you receive what others take for granted
is, for me, the greatest gift
and the deepest sorrow.
For you should not have to live on the crumbs
and these small kindnesses are your due,
what you deserve
not what you should have to crave.
I cannot understand how one so giving of her love
has received so little in return.
So, like a beautiful antique bureau that has been moved
too many times by careless owners,
your burnished mahogany heart
has been chipped and scarred and
my cargoes of love often find anchor in
a harbour of doubt.
My words may fall short of your hesitant ear but
perhaps your mouth believes my kisses,
your body believes my arms
and in my eyes can you see how your joy
begets my joy?

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Tuesday Poem: "Poem on My Father's Birthday"

On the train to Haifa
I think about my father
in wartime Palestine,
a different time, a different name
but the same place.

His memories of oranges and beaches
and warm, Mediterranean swimming
are the times he chose to rescue
from the six years when the world
was drowning in its own blood.

The weather is blue and grey
but the sun shines
like my father’s medals
on his blue-grey air force uniform
that entranced me as a child.

As the helicopter gunships prowl over Mount Carmel,
speeding north to Lebanon,
I wonder what times I will choose to rescue
from a land built out of longing,
but paid for in blood.

The poet wishes to acknowledge The Press in whose pages this poem first appeared.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Tuesday Poem: "Stealing the Dreaming"

I wake to sirens in the night
the voice of flight
black on white
a symphony of despair
rising and falling in the still night air
crossing the light
black on white
we stole their children
bred them bled them white
now we have bedlam in the night
read them their right
black on white
school work jail
set up to fail
feeling most alive when the sirens wail in the night
black on white
parents clan tribe totem language all recede
speed fills a need
hotwire ramraid let's give these Wetjalas a fright
wake them screaming from their dreaming
fair exchange              too right
I wake to sirens in the night
black on white

Wetjalas is the Nyoongar (South-West Western Australia tribe) word for "white man". When I lived in Perth, Western Australia, there was a lot of concern about young Aboriginals sniffing glue and then stealing powerful cars and taunting the police into high-speed car chases which often ended in serious injuries or fatalities.

The poet wishes to acknowledge Micropress New Zealand in whose pages this poem first appeared.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Tuesday Poem: "Ruby, the dark-haired girl (1887-1987)"

O grandmother,
though we are Pakeha you had great mana.
You lived close to that taciturn volcano, One Tree Hill,
and its scoria scars were like the lines on your face,
etched out by the evolution of that city.
And, grandmother, you remembered the beginning of the cycle
with the lucid vision you could not afford on the recent past.
I always wanted to tell you that I loved you, grandmother,
with a sincerity you would feel long after you passed
through the gates of heaven.
To tell you that when I was a child,
I believed you would be here always,
but then I listened closely to the silence between your words
and I knew you were weary of this world.
You were the last bridge
connecting us with a pioneer century
and I feared we would lose ourselves if ever we lost you,
but we never did
for in our children and in our children’s children
we will see the face of Ruby, the dark-haired girl.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Tuesday Poem: "Venus' Slip"

Like a sailor returning from a long sea voyage
to find his village wiped out,
like a soldier returning from an unpopular war
to find the gates barred,
his eyes traversed the terrain of his longing,
but the landscape offered him no point of entry.

She no longer keeps the home-fires burning,
she stamps them out
lest they betray the flicker of her ardour.
Across a vast plain of darkness
he sees her there, working in silhouette,
methodically cooling, dousing down their history
from the bottomless bucket of her frozen tears.
Here a memory, there a moment of affection
and over here
every moment she ever arched in ecstasy
or ached with longing at his touch.
“No more, no more,” she whispers, her head bowed
over her breasts, “all fire is consumed by ice.”

His loins and heart debate constantly,
but they are separate animals now and he rises
above them with the lightness of suffering.
Up here, he captures the clarity he was always denied
and he sees her like Venus in a half-shell
attempting vainly to cover her nakedness.
As she recedes from view, she lifts one arm to wave
and her flimsy cloak falls down.

The poet wishes to acknowledge Valley Micropress in whose pages this poem first appeared.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Tuesday Poem: "Triptych: Hope, Bond, Loss"

A flower opens in the dawn.

Drink the dew,
dispel the night,
feel the warming of a new light.
We go under different names,
but only one sun warms us.
The rainbow is but the refraction
of pure white light.

You are awash in me,
that singing sea
that gives me beauty without artifice,
forgiveness without guilt
and love without qualification.

One day
while beachcombing
I will come upon a magnificent conch
and putting it to my ear
I will hear your voice
calling me through the honey of history.
Then an urge will seize me
and putting the conch to my lips
I will sound a single sad note
to carry the stream of my tears
across the ocean.

The poet wishes to acknowledge Valley Micropress in whose pages this poem first appeared.