new zealand electronic poetry centre


Kendrick Smithyman

online works

Whale Song When a Boy

Island cowries on their sitting room sill,
a mantel conch below crossed pandanus fans.
The display cabinet had ivory scrimshaw,
a couple of tabua; whalebone walking sticks
     leaned from a stand down the hall.
On the verandah whale vertebra, for stools;
at the gate an archway of jawbones, yet
this far upriver they’ve no tradition of whaling,
only some vague belief. Like, in the early days
men at times put in to clean ship beyond
     the site of the lighthouse round the Head.
They might say cryptically "It was on the distaff side"
and looked knowing so you looked knowing too

                           For years I coveted (I still do)
that squat Victorian volume – always a volume,
never a book – jampacked with steel engravings,
wonderful steel engravings, and old blocks,
The Natural History of the Sea
where whales,
narwhals, monsters were at home. What was unlikely
came easy. I liked to fancy
                                    barely come-by
morning, a humpback arriving off the Landing,
which blows, rising to turn a shrewd commanding eye
summoning bones from gate and porch
with souvenirs clear out of the front room
where blinds are drawn, calling those trophies
home, then sounding, then away.

From Last Poems (The Holloway Press, 2002)


Last updated 13 December, 2002