new zealand electronic poetry centre


Kendrick Smithyman

online works


One side of the tank, a glass wall.
People swim the aquarium corridorís air.
Uninteresting avaricious fish,
they butt nose to glass. Eyes enlarge.
The mouths work. When they move away,
no trail of bubbles sweeps behind them.

Dolphins must be familiar with such quirks,
whose milieu is water full of noises
(as islands may be) and signal systems.
Towards silence the corridor darkens.
They try to communicate, a cognitive
well-disposed folk caring to cooperate,
believing that another species
implies limitation. Success will
only slowly arrive, altering the nature
of codes exchanged and of rewards.

They cooperate, yes, also they compete:
for applause, to impress, as custom
agreeable to some characters.

Tough on others, that trait.
One, the outsider inside their community,
a seal whose eyes hint at innocence,
less shrewd if yet undeceived. He learns
a small manís problem in the big
manís world, how to compete, how to defend.
He has the small manís answer, comedy.

On fine edge of satire. He cannot totally
discredit what they do well,
gesture, movement, but he may clown.
For viewers he discovers once
more the staples. Play upon pathos, foolsí
holiness, incongruity, defect of
mechanical surety Ö he runs his routines
through. All come pat, out of the book.

Thatís what you think. Heís neither
college freshman nor intellectual.
We mistake him. He does not plan
to mime. He is surrounded by water
and noise, which is what he adapts.
Sound as movement, motion as sound,
who cannot suppose the enormity,
silence, on the glassís further side.

They dance. He sings, buffo,
shamelessly scooping his notes, sliding
into falsetto, plunging
the bass, hamming like hell, mugging,
doing his thing. Nobody understands
that every small man cramps a tenor who struggles
to get out. He does not

grasp the why of it, why the fish
people out there do not hear him
(hard enough, he tries) although they move
their mouths distinctly exhaling
as in response, or reaction. Puzzling
hits deeper, than any sound plummeted.

Selected Poems. AUP 1989, p. 87.



Last updated 11 May 2001