new zealand electronic poetry centre

E M M A    N E A L E   



Our son, nearly one, has one near-word:
another determined birth
the sound stutters, gutters
then rushes and floods
He points to lamp and torch,
to LEDs on clock, computer, answer machine,
to sun-strike – on sash windows, ignited
from an old ute’s wing mirror, firing
a red beech leaf as it falls, flares,
flaught – like torn newsprint in a grate
as it spasms into flame….
“That’s right!” we say, “A light, a light.”
And as he points to hyacinth, door, cat,
and tries,
say, “No, that’s a flower, a door, a  cat,
but he, small and earnest professor,
cranes forward a little on his rump,
to repeat slowly and with extra care
until we look again.
It gathers in thick cones,
rods of bee caves
dozens of lilac oboe mouths
peeled back into stars.
It hovers on one wall
like a vertical lake
that rapidly drains
to miraculous views
(a dog! a tree! a car!)
then fills again with itself
hard, white, stilled.
It unfurls, blackbird-blue,
to arc and vault
from windowsill to garden
where discs and glints of it
flock, merge, and wheel apart
into hedge, clothesline, pegs, water,
frost on red roof, green blade, yellow grain:
“Ah,” we say, “We see.   There.  
And there.
Light.   Light.  
All shapes of light.”

First published in Landfall.

Loving a Mountaineer

Sunrise –
and as if at the sight
of our wretched, human encampment
the alps’ hackles spring.

Yet like fire given air,
your heart climbs.
Your absence a white vista
hope and dread each fly to:
the mind’s the limit.
I hold conversations with you in my thoughts.
The clouds write their wishes in water.
Like the first settlers in a wild land
I learn a new catalogue of loss.
There are no streets, no railways, no highways, no glacial lakes,
no seracs, no Botanic Gardens, no cafés,
no Balinese sailing ship kites, no taiaha displays,
no two-year-old son’s tears and play-talk
(no sneakers that are tie- ers, because we tie them up for feet to ride on)
no Hungarian gypsy guitar, no magnolia kissed red at the tips…
In this strange, untouched place
there is no welcome ledge
of jaw, clavicle, for the palm’s cup
no large, dark hand to warm the nape of my neck
nothing through your eyes.


Do you climb also ? people ask
breath                         unhooks,         tilts back,
foot-trip on scree
I have
                     to catch
here’s my party trick
though I know I am stolid, seated
holding hands with gravity
agreed to its terms, conditions
mine is the sky
I do this slip-step-slide
the waltz
of vertigo
the world’s tors, crags, chasms, crevasses
rush up to meet
and let
in an eidetic moment
I see you
a crawling speck
on a continent of rock
red helmet like a pin
on a strategy map
the very corners of the world
curling, lifting
So, they ask, how do you manage?
Oh, I say,
the verb to climb
has ancient roots
roots, you’ll agree
in the given circumstances
a most comforting conceit
to cleave, to cling,
he cleaves to me, I cleave to him
although yes there is also
cleave as in asunder
what marriage has joined
let no man cleave
ah, they say, so it’s hard?
you must be his bedrock
lucky to have you his home base
raising his son, a patient Penelope
any other suitors, eh ?
Any beaus while he’s gone ?
well I say
light as sleet
on ngaio leaves
(the fallen light
I have had
a good deal of practice
a most proficient display
of how I do not
I do not
the dark fern curls at your neck
the way cotton lies in its long lines from your hips
the smile in the stance and stride of you
nor how I wanted to take you in
have you shine from my eyes and skin
I trace the cold spine
of distance
how well you have chosen
the heart tries to reach new altitudes,
mimic rock in its garments of ice
Dunedin / Bluff, April 2006


Last updated 27 April, 2006