Water, Women and Birds Gather
1 (Meeting on the Tideline)
At last we’re in each other’s arms.
The dark one and the fair one.
I’ve been waiting for you
for so long.
I’d forgotten you.
I’d forgotten who you are.
This is me, she says,
stepping back and standing
like Christ with her palms to the front
showing where her heart is.
But there are no wounds.
Not a trace of them. No thorns.
No halo. Just her, with no embellishments.
You are always welcome here
where I live with this faithful man.
I live in the dark forest
where light is leaving the clearing.
From a land of light — under the earth —
you come riding on your dark horse.
I want to grip this poem the way
fluted kahikatea roots grip the dark earth.
I know you will enter this house
with a full and frank proposal.
A blackbird has a gold beak.
Volcanoes erupt suddenly. The ash
rises and floats — changing the colour
of sunsets — and falls. Life began in water.
Remember water? Remember the other:
the element of chance, the queen of hearts?
A small flock of birds is flying past.
From where does it rise — the urge to count?
I’ll go on and on about water,
on and on about the sea.
Excellence is walking through the open door
so choose an instrument you greatly love, and play.
Ocean. Gull. Home.
Lesbos is a long, wide way from here.
We could fill the distances ourselves
since Sappho has taken to her bed.
We could bring the purple dress and saffron tunic
to raise her spirit. Or play the lyre badly.
She always does emerge. Let me tell you this, she’ll say,
someone in some future time will think of us.
I have a new presence inside me.
You. It is a pale still day.
The tuis are really here,
I have seen them, three of them.
Thrush, tui — which is the more mellifluous?
A word I learned from Phyllis Webb.
‘Drunken and amatory, illogical, stoned, mellifluous
journey of the ten lines.’ If I could sing
like you, like her, tui, like spring water and
far off a rock falling.
Never forget the lustral basin.
Never forget the rituals of entry.
I’m hiding down here, down under.
Where gentle men are a godsend.
Where did we lose that custom
of washing each other’s feet?
Why are those two buildings
taller than all the others?
They’re harming the harbour.
I’ll lie down here down under.
I’ll throw my arms around my neck
and go to sleep.
As lively as this flickering day
and its slim — not hefty — surprises
how shifty you are:
coming up upon me the moment
you are remotely welcome.
Welcome. You are welcome
to me under and over, through and through
since I love your tongue.
I love to speak with it.
It is the one that does no harm.
I’m always wanting to improve something or somebody.
Clouds are natural too you know.
Pruning, watering, picking off the dead leaves
which drop infallibly and do their decadent good.
Show me the difference between meddling and love.
Teach me the patience to be graceful
— after years of idolising time.
I forget you almost entirely
until I remember you
and how lightly you love to be taken
The lake is never like glass. It has a soft
top that will always let us in.
It will hold a confident body in its satin hammock.
O let your body be
in ancestral hands. Forget their treachery.
It takes so little — just a flutter
of your arms and legs to lie in splendour
preventing death in a state of grace
being purely who you are already
water fire earth air
a state of grace preventing death
Where there is affinity between
one thing and another travel begins.
Hands, like water, are able to go everywhere
except beneath the skin
which is thin, very thin.
Cruelly grace can be lost by a body.
Buildings and populations go up.
Trees and water come down.
‘Elsewhere, outside, birds, women and writing gather’
— you and I, by impure chance, amongst them.
Now: full and round and wide
open as the turning earth.
Especially with you here, my friend,
and the curtain shifting
in light wind like birdsong.
Predictably that motor wants to jar
the whole deft job along. Yet now
it has stopped and we are in a world
without droning and striving. I vote for it.
It’s taken months to get this final line.
Your footprints lead to strange water
for which I secretly long.
Where the houses stop
there the glamour begins:
where a fine tree is lying low
inside a leaf and your grief
is written in the lines
the sea leaves when it recedes.
If I am careful your whole being
will open fearlessly like a flower
How dull we are on the outside.
All our colour is inside.
The strip show opens. I close.
And stay closed, so as not to surprise you.
The sun is rising into dark polluted cloud.
No light of any striking kind.
Take my face in your hands.
Ask me what I want to be?
A singer of odd sweet songs,
‘a river flowing home to the sea’.
It’s a fine day on earth:
not a thing needs changing.
Like heavy cloud rising from an island
all cynicism can rise from a word.
Language is natural too you know.
Tai Chi Chuan in the scented garden.
The gum tree is fine which is why
I love and wish to live in it.
Oh that knack of standing ground
while you’re giving in to things!
Summer is over because it is over.
Children gone. Clean-swept beach.
Why are gulls gathering
along the cold estuary at dusk?
The answer to many questions is hunger.
The day is over because it is over.
The beautiful shell is empty
while the ocean swells, is swelling, and falls.
The whole ocean, three islands, a coastline,
birds, a few humans, a dog . . .
Sunsets are for poets and there’s not a thing
I can do with this one.
Gulls are careering out of the picture.
A man thrashes upstream as if he’d kill
for its source. Wind chills my back
as I stand by the estuary which flares
like a glacier on fast forward towards the ocean.
No evening star. No moon.
Strands of gold thrown out
in the silver stream like trash.
That thin crack between night and
fall — which to survive I have to slip through.
I could change the word to dusk
— make it hazier, and lovelier.
Look at the time. First of July. Exactly
midday and exactly mid-year.
Middle, beginning and end
I bear you all because I have to.
I bear you with my bare hands
and I’m crying also for the intermediate.
A white stone.
As large as your palm.
As large as a small heart.
As small as a large heart.
On my shoulder
your other hand.
Not a soul.
You and I.
We’ll be two still birds.
An insect or a song?
Questions have no answers
until they are answered.
They make no sense
in this vague tilting emptiness.
Fill my voice with your voice
— we’ll take the dregs of this day,
eat its creatures and sweeten it.
Your hand lies on my knee
as I write this love poem.
I forget you are there
and go — bereft — to the sea.
Thank heaven there’s a kite
— exuberant — in the grey sky.
Look, you say later, in the garden,
take this violet. It has a slight,
unforgettable scent. Take it
in recollection of me.
Neglecting our newborn babies,
halfway up the leaning tower of Pisa,
taking medicine straight from the apparatus,
escaping at daredevil speed,
scraping our lovely faces,
lifting the words out of the story
to do their dance of great relief
and settle back
into shiftily different places:
seeing in our dark dreams where we are.
Pondering the death of the lyric poem.
Trying to get the word-work going.
Here I am at your beck and call, tui,
splashing like a sparrow in dry ground.
Trees and travel, water and words.
Not much settled, since the settlers came.
But aroha is in the Collins Concise
and beck is a word for stream, tui.
You two both know where you’re going.
Two tough travellers, several smooth songs.
You are the scent and I am
the purple five-petalled flower.
You fill me with ecstasy
when I inspire and am inspired.
I rise out of water
— you too — and while my stem curls
over the softened edge of the vase
into flower, you — still here
lightly on my skin —
are small oval remnants of rain.
Alyssum, now I know why you are called sweet
breezing onto the doorstep with tui song.
But sweetness is not enough.
Every girl knows that.
We know it as the tui knows it swooping
up to the rare, high nectar.
How will we ever peck and shove the others?
After a shit of a blasting night
today is another day. Keep catering to our senses:
all six know this world is our own.
Stay in the physical world you say.
Take your boots and socks off.
Be with me on the edge
of this body of water
and feel it come up
line after line.
Link arms with me in the sandhills.
Think only about the love
we are going to make
and how we are going to make it.
You’ll be the wind chime.
I’m the off-sea breeze.
Never has a tree been lighter, lifted
as it is by a million white flowers
and working bees. Between them
birds sing a daylong song.
A car. The odd dog.
A cleanable sea.
We long to belong to the whole
tremulous scheme of things.
And they are as soft — your intentions
towards me — as the word moth.
The little crawling people are wise
in their own way, says Black Elk,
if we two-leggeds
make ourselves humble before them.
As soon as I smell the sea again
I know you are here.
Forests, fields, mountains, hills, rivers, oceans
turn so firmly in the festive air.
Spin, the noun. Nothing to do with will,
the whole light blue earth turning.
Nothing to do with me, the green aphid crawling
on the foot of the I and the hat of the K
in the word WALKING on the white page.
Book on the green grass. WALKING ON SACRED PATHS.
One end of the stick, the other end of the stick,
one end of the stick, the other end of the stick.
The tidemark is littered with small driftwood.
I toe over shells, curious about flesh.
In the North Pacific a tsunami mounts and strikes.
Here, in spring, the tides are cantering in.
It’s natural to grip both ends of a stick:
to handle, to hold, to twist and then enter it.
Heaven and earth, north and south,
you and I — confounded, as if by trees.
Thank god there was a height — in high Gothic
beyond which it was dangerous to go.
Now we are parting the wild horse’s mane.
The word elusive is singing its song.
River stones. Warm avocado lunch.
Vigorous flight. Aquamarine wing.
So there you are, tui.
Oh be here in the end.
Make the last word we both utter
the last we want to sing.
From Water, Leaves, Stones (VUP, 1995)
© Dinah Hawken