new zealand electronic poetry centre


Graham Lindsay

Fugacity 05
Online Poetry Anthology


The beach

Papa remembers the beach
and we go there
we roll our togs in our towels
and fill drink bottles

and drive out past the industrial estates
the houses with their eyes poked out.

We park by the sanddunes
and walk out to where the waves cross each other
as they cross over the spit
where they are the same colour as the clouds.

The air is soft and warm
and you can see the mountains up the coast
and the hills of the peninsula.

Papa says not to fall over
so I say yes and fall over
and though the water is warm, I gasp.

I jump in the waves
I kick the drops up into the sunlight
I kick the shit out of the water
I pee in my pull-ups
I fall over on my back as well as on my front.

The clouds in the sky look like clouds in my pictures
shadows go racing through the water
so that I almost don't know which way round I am
or up or down on the spinning sea.

The sun has ages to go to get to the horizon
but it feels late.
Our dog goes up to someone who's in a good mood
and sniffs their hand
but as they don't have any food
and just want to pat him
he loses interest.

Papa looks out at the horizon
his feet crunch over the stones.
He says I'm growing up right before his notebook.

House of the breath

There's a house for sale at the beach,
we go to look at it.

It's in two parts,
like carriages curving round an incline

or boatsheds in a cove—
one is by Hurst-Seager,

the other by Peter Beaven.
The batons are painted sky blue.

We walk up the narrow
path through a rockery;

the plants are mostly succulents,
partially shaded by pepper trees,

tamarisks, ngaios.
It's late morning and everything—

the volcanic rock, the mist burning off—
contributes to the steamy,

paradisal effect. A hedge
at the bottom of the section

cuts off the promontory, so it looks like
you could honeypot into the sea.

But we can't really afford it,
and in any case, it's not big enough;

we're wishful thinkers
admiring the scenery.

You open the door and slip
quietly in. The lighting is muted,

musty, grey. You go down
a couple of steps and cross

to the centre of the room
and pause and cast slowly about.

And that's it, next instant
you're out of there.

A little later, you're back again,
this time noticing the sea-grass matting,

a rolled-up bamboo blind
by the skirting-board,

a wicker chair in one corner,
the stale smell of a room that's been

locked up all summer.
This time you get all the way

to the other side and step up onto
a small landing, and turn the handle.

The second part is the contemporary
architect's solution to the dilemna

how not to compete:
he's gone overboard for simplicity.

There are two further sets of steps,
a tall narrow mirror opposite

a tall narrow dormer.
Your next breath could be your last—

reason enough to lose your way again.
Which you do, but again regain it.

Now you're approaching the fourth
set of steps, the third door, painted white—

the first sign of colour. You open it,
unable to control your trembling,

and are lost in brilliant white light.
The hangman's golden hood descends

and you're through,
through with that tiresome skin.

The clouds

It's a big plane—the wing
            tips flex upwards.
Watching the clouds

            smokey shadows
on the plain, I remember
            I used to wonder

if the clouds were different
            overseas, and how I
brought it up once

            with visitors just back
and watched them
            scan their memories

as if they'd missed something—
            before asking
how different?

            Oh, colours, shapes, I said.
Which was when they
            wandered off

in search of someone
            else to talk to.
No imagination.

            I remember my brother
wanted me to go with him.
            It was his third trip.

It was like he wanted to help me
            lose my virginity.
This was when there was

            a copy of Richard Wilhelm's
translation of the I Ching
            in most flats,

I was umming and ahing,
            so I threw the coins.
The hexagrams read:

            It is inauspicious
to travel across the Great Waters
            for ten years,

if ever.
            Which suited me fine
as earning an airfare

            didn't seem a good enough
reason for getting a job.
            I was waiting

for something else to come along,
            like the Land March.
My girlfriend decided

            to come too,
she quit her job button-dying
            and we hitched up north.

In Te Kuiti, one Sunday
            afternoon while everyone
was resting up, we stole away
            and made love
in the cemetery.
            And that was the day

I found out why her tummy
            was so round and hard.
Here, she said, taking my hand,

            feel. I thought it would be
like fishing, you know,
            finger crooked round the line,

feeling for nibbles.
            I didn't even have time
to cock my head—

            a drumroll of kicks
tattooed the snare from inside,
            and my course was set.

This is the way to Australia,
            these are the shapes
of the clouds—

            but at what point
do we leave? And how will we know
            which way to go

to come back, if the clouds
            have all moved on,
if the sea has changed its mood?

            I think we just left,
because the clouds
            have an international look,

a bi-partisan nonchalance.
            Two hours and fifty minutes,
how far will that get us?

            Why, to Sydney of course.
Now the clouds are tinged
            with sunset and look like

clouds in an Alfred Sharpe painting.
            We are coming to the coast
of the clouds, there is nothing

            to see but the shadow
of the fuselage reaching along the wing . . .
            before the duvet

is pulled back
            and there goes the Tasman,
doffing its white caps to Dido's

            titanic love song.
According to the map channel,
            we're halfway there,

flying at 38,000 feet,
            516 miles per hour;
the air temperature outside

            is minus 45 o. Meaning,
if the door flies off and we're sucked
            out, we'll perish from

hypothermia before we hit
            the sea's tilt-slab.
It's a big stretch of water.

            The water to land ratio
similar to that between
            matter and space?

The latest book on the Big Bang
            says were we to put
three grains of sand inside a vast

            cathedral, that cathedral
would be more densely packed
            with matter than space is

with stars. So there.
            On the in-flight movie,
Juliette Binoche looks out her Air France

            cabin at the clouds.
I'm not hooked up, so guess—
            with all the cutaways

to Jean Reno—the reason
            she looks depressed
is because she's on the run again

            from love.
Could those clouds on the horizon
            be Australian?

My father's parents brought his
            family out from Glasgow
in 1920 on the "S.S. Ruahine".

            My mother's people came
on sailing ships from England.
            I feel I'm retracing

their steps, but so long after
            not even the landscape
will recognise them.

            Looking forward, looking back.
Looking back, looking forward.
            A whole world outside

New Zealand, and the whole world
            part of New Zealand.
The shadow of the fuselage

            has almost reached the wingtip,
the clouds are bigger.
            It's just on evening and we're

dropping toward a land that is not
            New Zealand, maori though
to its inhabitants, and already,

            flying into Sydney is normal.
First sight of land . . . Nope,
            that was the other wing.

The land beneath poisonous
            jellyfish clouds comes nearer.
There is land above the wing now.

            And though we chased
the sun at 516 mph,
            it got to the horizon first.

This jostling with the air currents
            of re-entry, the land keeping
on coming. The wings growing

            prostheses, naval grey
against lingering pink, but mostly
            the grey of sea and cloud.

Swinging round, coming in to land
            on the land where our adult son
has made his home.

            It's like an alien system,
like visiting another planet;
            who would've thought:

the stadium, the sky tower, the bridge,
            just like in their pictures,
only more real-looking

            so somehow imposters.
The wings curl their toes
            for touchdown.

And after so much braking,
            at last the wingtips
dip the other way.

            Who would've thought—
grass like our grass, only bigger;
            everything bigger

and different somehow
            and somehow the same.
The rough tree fern,

            the soft tree fern,
the fishbone water fern, the king fern.
            Night after night,

while we're away
            our house waits up for us
in the cool moonlit air

            with only the neighbourhood
cats and hedgehogs
            to keep it company.


Last updated 25 April, 2005