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The Held Air
in memory of Reginald William Howard 1928-2003
through the hour
where everything knows
everything: the Pacific
plied by definitions you let loose
like shells thrown by a boy (well hello)
who’ll sleep ‘the sleep of the dead’
beneath a creased coat
that won’t fit
you’re a deckhand untwisting
until your sheets slip that dream, language -
or, a poor sailor, you soil your bunk
on T.S. Vindicatrix
and miss the gull’s call,
Youth: a greasy keel
stuck in the mud-flats as the sun
sets late on a late Curnow poem. Dad,
you never read it. Instead you
missed the bloody spinnaker
unfurling in front of the world,
the curt breeze picking up
those has-beens who were best friends
when, one more pretty boy
chancing a tattoed arm, you
stroked the moon home in a row-boat
‘borrowed’ from the girlfriend’s parents’ shed.
By losing her you would lose
your hope, your tenderness towards women,
your desire for fatherhood.
You add: ‘And the tide. And the sky.’
While it rains the tiles remain dry.
Nothing will nourish this terrain, nothing
compensate day for night’s hostile takeover.
Even my lover, Kim, drinks dark beer -
the ring of her glass marks your tabletop, Father.
I can’t feel your initials underneath.
Your memory is a splinter working itself
out of wherever ‘under’ is; I guess
neither surface nor depth are measurable
without you. Your carpenter’s tape extended
the length of my childhood. Read, then
retracted, it wore out the pocket of your jacket.
4 Dear Dad
Happy birthday. I hope
you’re OK. There’s snow
expected yet, like your smile,
it’s otherwise occupied.
Your gumboots are heavy
with yesterday’s mud, when
I measured the boundary
in order to buy more wire –
that fence is for tomorrow.
It would be good
to have your hands
correcting the tension
then. But I must be
going on, like this, alone.
(‘ Dear Dad’was part of Glenn Heenan's exhibition 'More Than Looking' at Te Tuhi Gallery in Pakuranga, August 2004)
© David Howard 2004