new zealand electronic poetry centre


Len Lye

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From 'Happy Moments' (1960)

As a kid I didn’t say prayers at night. It was a nightly thing. But I wouldn’t do it and they gave up. This was at Rooney’s, the big Catholic family. I was getting to know my own mind.

Every night we washed our feet before going to bed. We all went barefoot. I had a tiny room. I used to stay awake squiggling my feet to feel the sheets for a long time. The thing I stayed awake for was to go over the day’s doings and pick out the best things. It was a careful line-up of feelings from the whole day. I became so good at it I could remember all the day, moment to moment from one thing to another, starting from which side I woke; whether I first looked out the window at the weather or guessed it with closed eyes from the feel of the light and the feel of the air in the plain room; how I had laid the fire that morning and how it had caught; the soap in the kitchen when I washed after fixing the fire; how the porridge tasted – thick, thin, lumpy or burnt, it always tasted different; whether I had spread sugar all over it or had dumped it in the middle to make a gradually smaller and sweeter island (we could have plenty of milk but only one spoonful of sugar). Sometimes it was my turn to scrape the pot. How the weather had gone. Who had smiled best if anyone smiled. I didn’t go over school things much, only what I’d seen and done on the more-than-two-mile walk there and back. There was what was what at feeding time for the hens, how the dogs got their scran, and so on, right down to here I am squiggling my toes in bed.

When you wake up in the morning, your wits are supposed to be fairly sharp, and the very first image your senses pick up such as hearing something or seeing the color of something or feeling your bare feet on the linoleum floor – whatever it may be, then that is the day it is. For instance, if you’ve just heard someone clanking a nice bit of metal outside your window, then it’s sound day. If you passed me a hundred dollar bill – New Zealand dollar, of course – I wouldn’t care how much it was, I would care about what sound it made if I rustled it between my fingers. I would sharpen my wits of hearing that entire day. So you get a whole range of days, you get color days, weight days, distance days, sound days, so on. This sharpens your various senses and finally, the thing you get most kick out of – for example, sound, or the sound of a voice or the sound of instrumental stuff, ordinary sound effects – whatever it is, if it’s sound for instance, then you have learned that your temperament leans most toward sound. Consequently, you should be more interested in sound, composing sound and so forth.

                              .                .               .                .

I think I had generated a disposition towards motion (as being a sense of myself) from having gone to school horseback long enough to like a walking world beneath my non-tread. There was also the bike business loaded with newspapers pushing them up the endless steep hills of Wellington. I got wirey.

                              .                .               .                .

This image is about a crescent beach snugged in by hunky rocks at both ends. I was at the right one day and let me say it.

On Coogee beach there was this glass-clear twenty-five-foot-high walking wave of green sea. Twenty-five-foot! Alive and swimming straight along its curling middle was this huge shark.

Tell it to the old man of the sea. Let him smoke that with those tawny lion-cubs his mind’s eye saw gamboling on some African shore.

What’s the frantic magic? Simply feeling, hey, that’s mighty rising mass of energy forever gathering, never stopping, preserving a fish in amber, gone greeny forever.

That big slow curling wave never comes down


© Len Lye

Last updated 22 August, 2001