new zealand electronic poetry centre

Michael Harlow

online works

The witness chair

Take a chair
drag it into the light
colour it
as ordinary, as blue as the sky
around it, draw
a square with shops, houses, a dog
curled inside an envelope
of shadow

Without losing count
one by one
let four men surround
that chair, watch
what they do

Watch, how they break
the legs of the chair, the arms
how they twist the spine-slats
out of its back
the head/rest cracked to bits
how they slip
one by one
into their pockets
a comb, a streetcar token, the stub
of a pencil, a gold ring

Now, tell
everyone in the city
to hide
in the corners of their rooms
let them hear
the question, did you? did you?
did you?
let them hear
the last dark cry
that bolts doors a street away
locks shutters to the light
that grinds
the city under its heel
for the night –
                        let them hear
without losing count
a man’s voice
& inside that, another man
& another & another
& yes, let them feel
one by one
for the earth
                    under them.

From Today is the Piano’s Birthday   (Auckland/Oxford UP, 1981)

Michael Harlow

Last updated 20 March, 2005