My great honour to be included in the Pukapuka Talks 2022.
I may have posted this poem on my blog before, back in 2019 when I wrote it... but I can't recall... like a lot of disorganised writers, I have poems and stories hidden all over the show on my laptop... undiscoverable to even me... and then sometimes they pop up and say... hey, this one's okay, why don't you read me again. Too, having returned recently from another wonderful time in Seoul with family, to the cooler clime here of Welly and these past few days, endless rain... this morning, the sun is out and I can see every 'glinting thing'.... I walk my granddaughter up the hill to Daycare over grates, cigarette butts past plastic trash bags she finds the asphalt mesmerising, examines every glinting thing with perfect purpose We wave to the lady with the dog wearing boots on all four paws and she stops and waves back people respond to a one year old who cares that much about them and they break into wide happy smiles Later on, I board the bus and become angry at the teenager head down on his phone in the seat for the elderly I shame this young man when someone even older than I am, boards, but all I do is shame myself the old woman doesn’t want this young man’s seat she’d rather stand than lose her dignity to rage At the pedestrian crossing I am the only one fuming as a man in a white sedan edges over the painted lines I swear at him, actually out loud but no one hears or cares least of all him as he roars to the next lights As a visitor in this city I am the elderly anomaly carrying the luggage of my own petty prejudice I’m learning to contain my expectations of others, to tilt my parasol to the sun ride the bus like a local an eye out for the glinting
It matters not that I fly a lot that before I had babies, children grandchildren I had no fears None whatsoever but now, and even after deprogramming one lunch hour with a GP who promised it was just a phobia he had me sitting in a make believe cinema watching myself flying and pretending I was also the projectionist it worked for thirteen flights, the trick being to envisage arriving and I did into a snowstorm at Washington DC roll forward and I have family in Seoul and we visit as often as we can to catch those precious moments you never get back but I hate flying so I make peace with God (the one I don’t believe in) on take offs and landings I tell all the people who should know I love them And then I tell myself I’ve had a good life, It’s okay, if I die, although I worry a little about the other passengers (as you do, babies and all) As the plane veers, and the wheels descend there are noises that I can’t account for, I forgive myself and everyone as death is surely imminent but then of course, there’s always the brace position and I know where the exits are and of course, I’d let the woman with her baby go first and perhaps I’ll make the papers as the heroic elderly woman who sacrificed her spot on the escape chute for others, smiling, unafraid calming everyone bang, bump, and even as we hit the tarmac I still worry in case the engines which need to power down, don’t work and we roll forward into Shelley Bay I’m that passenger disembarking whose eyes are so wide open because they never shut for a single minute in case they missed the oxygen mask falling or a seat belt announcement turbulence is greeted with varying degrees of terror and feigned nonchalance… I have been known to grab another passenger to reassure them and they don’t seem to mind some people take drugs they drink and they drink some more, but me I prefer to do this cold turkey upright, terrified, visualising arriving Fear of flying… what me… nothing would keep me from my family
(Waving not Drowning) Have you seen the suited man from Gangnam sitting on the roof of his car in the recent floods? He looks relaxed, scrolling on his phone, even snaps a photo of himself and has become a meme But hey, this is Gangnam we know the car is probably insured fully likely easily replaced As for his clothing… he’ll have a wardrobe full back home way above the water line He’s nonchalant really knows he won’t drown relaxing on the bonnet of his car, a modern man He’s a far cry from the family in the basement in another suburb whose neighbours called for help 4 minutes it took for help to arrive but it was too late, they drowned all three of them No memes, no flash car headlines for sure, but nowhere near as much fun as Mr Gangnam who as it turns out, may be a journalist for Yonhap News… waving not drowning
Well, my first memories are the stucco house opposite the library and the war memorial Our GP had a moustache and the nurse was mother to the cute Burmese boy who was my very first kiss Rolling forward, there is the brute who fitted my first IUD, a Copper 7 he shoved it in I was on the bus before toxic shock set in my knees hammering faster than bus wheels Then there was my GP with the comb-over who was my obstetrician I fell in love with him I wasn’t the only one a girl in the flats two doors down had a baby three weeks earlier We swapped notes about our loves, that of our babies and our comb-over GP who delivered them I can still see the face Of the Matron at St Helens when I told my GP I had used a mirror and what… were those balloons, the bunch of grapes I’d found down there… I’d never heard of piles The matron’s smirk well, it out-smirked any smirk you or I have ever seen but the comb-over smiled The man with the comb-over told me he was the best IUD fitter in town and I believed him, knees up on the bed When he chatted away distracting me and then insisted I had a cup of tea before I got off the bed After my GP with the comb-over left, I inherited a flash-Harry kind of chap who crossed the line He drew me diagrams of how to wipe my bottom properly (I already knew) and remarked on my breasts The size of course, so small and had I breastfed, his eyes wide in amazement when I said yes… But the bit that finally did it, was when he had me almost naked touching my toes, both of us laughing I moved to a new clinic and years later at the same practice, I now have a woman doctor who I totally trust She’s calm, professional, matter of fact, and I think she expects me to take responsibility for my own health which I like So, that’s it really… nothing to see here just a wee summary.
I’m standing with my back firmly against the fridge holding a 1,500 won weight moving it up and down with my elbow as a hinge Along with this exercise I’m having Korean traditional therapy which includes cupping and acupuncture some little brown pilloules Through the grey filter of a striped blind, I notice red lights on tall buildings warnings for all those jets heading to Incheon Here I am, alone on the 6th Floor but I rush to check those red shining lights and notice everyone has put their rubbish out I’m dressed for bed, my teeth brushed and hopeful face cream massaged in but I whip off my night clothes and dress again I’m in the lift pushing door close holding three bags, two purple and one yellow (that’s for the food scraps) Out I dash, across the crossing, a lonely figure as a green bus hurtles towards me, they don’t usually give way But I make it in the glare of sulphur yellow and some sad neon and the loneliness of a traveller in the big smoke earlier in the day I made vegetarian lasagne for my boy, whose lived away from home forever that’s what mothers do I’m sharing this caring with his wife’s mother the two of us devoted halmoni, bathing those babies, feeding them hugging each other she’s so nimble and young looking and we don’t speak the same language but of course we do …
(after reading 'Small Things like these' by Claire Keegan). We've hit Gentle Annie passed the pub at Okaramio and on the left, at Wakapuaka there’s Sunnybank where parents left their children An oddly named orphanage manned (ha) by Nuns childless women in black habits, scapula, cowls and easy access to rosary beads A cross they could finger as they scowled at the babies, whose parents had either died, got sick or perhaps were ashamed but should we judge the nuns, in retrospect or forgive them… their sometimes cruelty this question was raised at book group recently reading ‘Small Things Like These' by Claire Keegan I thought of my siblings not even orphans, just babies really, under five years of age one washing their own shitty pants in a locked room where they found a drum to bang and they banged and banged and banged the drum
I was challenged by the local branch of NZSA to write a six word short story with an accompanying image of somewhere in Wellington. So here it is.
(I wrote this last year, when my publisher The Cuba Press invited me to a poetry reading at a bookshop in Newtown... she suggested this theme... this wee thing hasn't had an airing, so I've let it out for air.) In Wellington, it’s really an old town a throughway to the zoo, home to our hospital, multi-cultural food and fond memories of my first-born at St Helen’s Hospital, purpose built for mothers and babies, like a hotel for breast-feeders high on maternity spilling our milk and love and tears and then there was the night, after La Leche, a meeting for feeding mums when I drove home in the darkness baby in a woven wicker basket on the back seat, forgetting headlights and the traffic cop stopped me on Riddiford and when he saw my baby snug under a cellular wool blanket he waved me on with a warning, my lights on full now, homeward bound past the hospital where, as a young woman in the early seventies, I moonlighted as a nurse aide, on the orthopaedic ward collecting false teeth and cleaning them only to find I’d forgotten from whose mouth the teeth came and I cannot recall how I found the owners but I do remember the anguish of an old woman with broken hips when I didn’t warm her bedpan and sometimes we were sent down to the new-born’s nursery to turn them like clockwork, from one side to the other, I wonder when I walk down Lambton Quay, and see someone who might have been a baby then, did I once turn you over in Newtown?