I saw you. Sunday 4pm, old hood
until then I hadn’t known for sure if you’d stayed on
although sometimes I’d find selfies framed with the familiar
white walls of a kitchen we briefly shared.
I knew what you were doing. Sunday 4pm
rounding the corner with your reusable shopping bag
well-trod path to TT Mart, well-browsed aisles of not-quite-fresh-enough bread
potato chips whether on special or not, the endless search for kale.
Most days we would laugh, dance down those aisles
criticising pop that blared through shop speakers, but falling for it too.
Wasn’t that always your way? The world is awful, you’d say
and move to its beat nonetheless.
Sunday, so perhaps you were headed for apple pie
to stand in front of the freezer door
staring into reflected childhood traumas
explaining away the guilt you felt at wanting dessert.
Deep-dish psychological reasons why
no one in your adult life should deny you your desires.
You could talk yourself into anything
with those qualifications of yours.
I don’t remember bad times at the TT Mart with you
but there were moments when neglecting to go
resulted in empty cupboards. I copped it.
And at least once we walked home in blue-stone silence
your face sinking to the shadowy state
that made my stomach flip and clench, my whole system in a holding pattern
until it could work out what I’d done wrong. Always searching for
that mysterious thing I’d done wrong.
Cobbled silence reached crescendo back in the kitchen
you hurled the filled bag at white walls, settled into that hollow place of yours
while I cleaned up scattered vegetables
smashed mushrooms, broken bottles.
Sunday 4pm and we were driving past your corner
on our way to play tennis. I hadn’t held a racket in years
six of us piled into my boyfriend’s car, a week’s worth of news
bursting to tell them we’re moving in together.
My new friends had heard all about you
so when I pointed to your shape moving along the footpath
they joked unrepeatably.
Jason kept an eye on you from the rear-view mirror
but I knew exactly where you were headed
walking solo with your empty bag.
Last week I spotted my ex in the neighbourhood we used to live in together. I hadn’t seen him in over a year and had at times been curious as to how I would feel if I did. I wrote this poem to show how that simple walk to the supermarket could be a microcosm of an entire confusing, anxiety-provoking and often emotionally abusive relationship. It felt so perfect that I was happily crammed into a car with some of the lovely new people in my life, being driven by a much calmer, kinder man when we saw him. Everything’s symbolic, of course, but it’s also just how things are now: safer and better; far less lonely and much more fun.
I didn’t realise the front yard’s potential until you took to it in gardening gloves, trimmed back the privet.
As last year changed from this year, and I could stop saying ‘last year’ with such portent, such regret; a phrase loaded with the weight of an on-coming sob-story, we were camping by the Wellington river. A settlement of pegged-out shelters, fairy lights and bonfires. I was miles from my Wellington home.
I say the h word again with a kind of inflection, trying it out for size, sighing out the həʊ, the m buzzes past my lips. I hold it in my mouth like a pill. This constant starting over exhausts me. Always has. Newness of a cleared front yard. I’ll dig in my toes, resolve to thicken like the trunk of a grapevine, let the porch be built around me for a change. Feathered things perch in my branches.
Disturbing the privet seems to be making my eyes stream, but on New Year’s Day I sprained my finger, slipped on rocks in flimsy jandals, a little drunk. There were bull ant bites on the tops of my feet and a blush of sunburn between my breasts. What I mean is, these things pass, they clear up. We heal and adapt. We look back and see fairy lights strung between trees, flickering with comforting regularity, we move closer to each other on an old brown couch. We look back and then we don’t look back.
I stand for the woman whose feet
strain at the straps of her shoes
stare daggers at the snorer
slumped in priority seats.
The 7.17 chorus tells
of a recent Greek wedding
her brother’s? The audience invested as
festivities fill the carriage from a phone.
Jason’s woken early, texts a busy day ahead
we’ll be promised an ending
as long as we plan the next beginning.
His paged namesake remains oblivious.
Medea’s children smile at her
and she breaks down again.
I give her one more station
to change her mind.
Did you see me at the platform
as your window approached, passed?
Or was my head down as you boarded
same train, different carriage.
I’ve taken a vow of silence in your direction
shifted bags so someone else can sit.
Conclusions are drawn
with sweeping gestures in the street
sparkly things catch my eye, I won’t stoop to collect
it’s enough just to know they’re there.
The optometrist prescribed looking up more
and I don’t blame her.
Look out the window through your own reflection
she could have said
focus your gaze beyond the tips of your fingers
as you stand, core engaged, legs strong
eyes on that chunk of universe
floating just ahead.
It always helps to know which station
is the one before yours
and which you’ll be at if you’ve gone too far.
Mostly it’s easy, the days I mean
text book teaching senior biology
free periods in the staffroom. It’s a good life
I state as fact, not like saying, ‘she’s lovely…’
an epigraph to the gossip I write.
Suspicious of superlatives, endlessly
but hard-wired for romance
tell me I’m capable, resourceful, reliable
adore the way I follow through with things I say I’ll do
let my eyes be an after-thought.
And I’m probably on the brink again
because what else is there to do with this
flesh-covered universe we call body?
System of lungs and blood and gravity
tugging at us to love.
Anyway, turn to p80 that picture of the genome
looking to you like Dante’s hell
tumbling headless towards a fiery cell
because you’re still sixteen
and haven’t understood any of this.
(hello) apparently there’s only so much
the body can absorb
excess passes through the system
I overdo it anyway, hedging my bets as always
conversation plates spinning across platforms
waiting for someone to fall
for me, me for them
now here I am living in the cadence
of your poetry
like a blush of tulips brought to my door
when I thought I just needed tissues
soft & gentle steeped in aloe vera, but still
just tissues I thought.
So I’ll learn to accept chocolate bunnies
perhaps even eat them – and the deeper meaning of emojis
(am I really so awkward, so unused to sweetness?)
Run through thunder to hear you read
make plans to catch trains irl platforms
irl smiles, trade a giggle for the view across your pillows.
Things you probably already know about me:
So you’ll not be surprised to learn that Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson is my new favourite movie.
It’s a poem in itself structured with stanzas like days of the week, repetition that imbues deeper meaning with each encounter, a homage to the poetry of lives being lived without judgement or drama. There’s ambiguity, subtlety and I’m sure it would reward re-watching, just as there’s always more to be gleaned from re-visiting a good poem.
Paterson drives the bus in Paterson, New Jersey – the home of WCW and Allen Ginsberg. Lines of poetry pace through his head as he walks to work and he writes them in his notebook sitting at the wheel in the morning. It’s a quietly persistent art form that exists in his every day – the conversations he overhears, the familiar scenes of his home town – contrasted perhaps by his quirky and lovely Laura who expresses her artistry by staying home painting the curtains, the walls, decorating cupcakes and buying a “Harlequin” guitar to match her aesthetic. The bold black and white is hard to miss, but she’s just as gentle and poetic as Paterson and the sweetness of their relationship is one of the most heartening aspects of this film.
I totally believe poetry is the antidote to a high-conflict society, where everything makes us mad and nothing is ever good enough. The calm world of Paterson reminds us, but doesn’t indulge that we have been conditioned to expect drama and conflict in movies and in life; secrets being kept, relationships falling apart, tempers flaring (spoiler: the bus doesn’t burst into flames). Life doesn’t have to be like that. Instead we can simply do our jobs, be kind to each other, walk the dog and look at the world through a poet’s eyes. How lucky is that?