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Love overall

I love you because regardless of how hard the world is

You continue to love

And continue to breathe the air as a child does,

With wonder, hope, and joy.

I love you because seeing a rainbow makes you excited

And you tell me it’s the most beautiful rainbow you’ve ever seen,

No matter how many times we see a rainbow.

 

I love you because you have never seen a shooting star

And you make me promise to show you one, one day.

I love you because you are allergic to dogs

Yet love my dog.

No matter how cold, you walk me to the bus stop.

And I love you because when things hurt me,

they hurt you too.

 

 

The lunatic sings the truth

 

 

She came along with a dirty dress hanging around her like a curtain

Torn from a derelict house.

Her hair was dirty and her face was beaten

By time and God knows who.

She noticed me and screamed

That I must work hard to be good,

Love Jesus and look after my loved ones.

She stopped and looked me square in the eye and repeated:

“Be good to your family.”

Then she walked on.

She stank and the air was fouled by her presence.

My publisher sat next to me and watched her go.

“She gave me a manuscript once, years ago.” he said.

“It was well written, the grammar was perfect,

But it was so boring. The characters, the events were so boring.”

“I would have bought her lunch,” I said. “if I knew she was a writer.”

We laughed, but deep down I knew

She had spoken the truth and given good advice.

An old man remembers his days

 

What happens to our time once it’s past?

Weeks melt into years

Success and tragedy,

Lunch and dinner,

Trips overseas,

Love affairs

All eaten up by time

Until Sunday night comes and silently crying

You wonder where it all went

And you are lucky to take another breath

At 85.

He was lucky to succeed, only out of university by five years

And already managing his own branch.

Flying in and out of Europe,

Nights in New York.

She always had shiny hair

And all the money she wanted.

Her baby was born healthy,

he held her hand as they left the hospital.

But he drank

And she was selfish.

He died one night in the rain

When his car crashed into a tree.

She was shocked for a while,

But life goes on.

She married again,

And had another child.

This one was not so well.

Her black hair turned grey

And life sped away.

Never to know the secrets of the universe,

Never to stand above all,

But watch the sunset and the pink evening sky

And take pleasure in the small things.

 

Broken and beaten at last

The old man sits in his home

Thinking about the things that had past.

Red sky at night,

The blueness of the Pacific Ocean,

The softness of his first love.

The memories flashed into him like electric shocks,

His son, drunk, crashed his car into a tree

And he was lost fifty years ago.

His daughter in law

Only interested in clothes and cars

And meeting strange men in bars.

Their daughter had grown up

To be a surprisingly good woman.

Responsible and happy.

It was a pleasure that she was nothing like her parents.

The man smiled and closed his eyes,

The heater was warm and helped him dream of times gone.

The time he bought a boat and sailed around the Islands,

The time he cut a fingertip off while building his house.

Regretting nothing, but knowing he never beat the world.

The world had the better of him.

No one came to see him for his birthday,

But listening to the rain on the road outside,

He heard a train pulling on the slight incline,

And wondered what the news would bring on world affairs

Tomorrow.

Death of Chad Jones

When Chad Jones died

From an asthma attack while climbing Red Hill,

His father, Doctor Jones,

went into Chad’s room and gathered up all the belongings.

He picked up the trophies, books

He carried out the table and chair, computer, bed and the sheets

And threw all these things into the backyard.

Dr. Jones returned for Chad’s clothes and in great piles,

Laid the clothes out.

Chad’s mother pleaded with her husband not to do what he was doing,

But he continued, working hard

Until all the boy’s things were lying in the afternoon

Like a pyramid pointing to the sky.

Dr Jones then struck a match and lit some paper

And the things began to burn.

Black smoke filled the neighbourhood

The fire brigade arrived to see the mountain of melted plastic and wood

Raging in the backyard.

Doctor Jones’ daughter,

Who some years before, had watched the bonfire from her bedroom

Grew to 17

And left her town and father.

She worked in a bar on Foveaux Street

And filled her personal hours with dreams and men,

Until the fire caught up with her.

She died on a Tuesday night

By leaping off the wet Harbour Bridge.

poetry reading

 

We went to see a poetry reading

In a pub up from the ocean by a few blocks.

We had woken early for a swim,

spent the day walking the streets

And now it was late, and we were tired.

We took a seat toward the back of the room

And ordered some drinks and some fried food.

Soon the room was full of people sitting at small round tables

Talking and laughing, drinking expensive wine.

A woman with short spiky hair went to the front of the room,

Coughed

Then announced the beginning of the poetry.

A thin man wearing a hat and a bow tie

Ran on stage, the crowd cheered him.

He taught literature at the local university; he said hello to his students in the crowd

then he began to read poetry about sex.

He went on about the women he knew

And the sex he had.

He told us about leaving one woman because she wouldn’t make the bed

And another who he left after the second child.

It was good poetry, but the guy was just doing it for attention.

He had no soul.

A few young kids stood up,

Their poetry was deep and they had no doubt

They’d change the world

But it was all tired stuff you can hear in any town on any night.

This old guy stood up at last

And he shuffled to the microphone.

Never once looking up at the crowd,

Stepping from foot to foot,

mumbling his lines as he read.

He spoke about memories and love,

He spoke about hatred and loss.

His voice cracked and when he finished he walked off again

As if he hated everyone in the room.

The audience clapped politely, but not for long.

The old man’s face was like a wet bag, and it was swollen like it had been stung

And his poetry was no better than anyone else’s,

But it felt real.

As we walked back to our hotel room that night,

I saw him crawling in under the veranda of an ice-cream shop

He turned to pull some timber over the hole he crawled through.

His face shone in the street light for a moment.

He lived under the street and wrote poetry.

No wonder everyone hated him, he was showing them all up.

 

 

 

One arm

Standing at the railway station,

A man with a long beard and only one arm came up to me.

“Don’t I know you?” he said.

“I don’t think so,” I answered.

I sat down on a bench, and the man sat next to me.

We didn’t speak, but he seemed to think there was some connection between us.

“The feeling I like best in the world,” he said, leaning toward me as he spoke,

“Is to get really dirty. I mean covered in dirt until your hair goes wiry,

And your skin goes white and brown from dirt, and then to wait for a really cold night,

And have a hot shower. I just love to see the dirt run off the skin,

I love the feeling of getting clean.

Do you know what I mean?”

I didn’t answer him. But I knew what he meant. I like that feeling too.

The man smelled bad, like a urine soaked mattress.

“Do you know where there are any showers around here?” he asked.

“The service station has some, in the truck stop. About five blocks toward the bridge.”

The man nodded and smiled. “Do I need to write that down?” he asked.

“No, it’s just over there.” I pointed toward the bridge.

“Hey, do those showers cost anything?”

“I think they’re free.”

“Hey, I just want to thank you for being a good friend.”

I didn’t say anything, but I laughed.

“No, seriously. You’ve been so good. I’ve been through a lot in my life.

My wife left me for her boss; my daughter is on drugs,

I ain’t eaten well for a long time

And I’ve got this pain in my legs that won’t go away.

It really means a lot to me that you are kind.

Could you lend me five bucks?”

I looked at the guy. He had red sores on his face,

His eyes were narrow and close to each other

His beard was white as cheap paint

But around his scabby mouth

The hair was brown like mud.

I had seen him before.

When I was in high school, I had seen him picking up bottles around town

The bottles could be returned for the deposit.

He had two arms then.

I took five dollars out of my pocket and held it out,

Then took it away.

“How’d you lose your arm?” I asked him.

He looked at my hand with the money in it; he looked hungry.

“I used to fix motors for the city, the big motors that keep the water pressure up in the city.

One day I’m fixing one and I got my arm right up in the tube

And some jerk turns the power on

And it rips my arm right off.

I got blood spraying up the wall, and I’m screaming; they rush me to the hospital.

The doctors ask where my arm is

And no one knows

So they just sew up the socket, and that’s that.

They never found my arm.
It’s still in the water pipes.

It’s in the tubes that supply this city’s drinking water.

My arms rotting in those tubes

And everyone is drinking that water,

So, a part of me is in everyone,

You’re all drinking me.

I looked at the thin man and the empty space at his right shoulder,

His red and white checker shirt sleeve pinned to his chest,

“Everyone is drinking me,” he repeated.

What gives life, also takes it.

What gives life also kills it.

The waves of the ocean breaking on black rocks,

The swift bird settling on a pink flower,

The moon, heavy as good luck,

Sitting on an old, grey-bearded cloud.

 

These beautiful things give life to poetry,

But if you forget to catch them,

These things also kill the words.

Like an animal in the night,

The words flee into the forest and are lost.

 

That woman, my wife, full of life

Moving softly on the sand,

The water filling the prints she leaves,

Her smile and happy eyes

Give birth to the words.

 

Grasp the work when it is there,

Wait for it quietly and encourage it with good thoughts.

Nothing is guaranteed.

The man whose job it is to cut the wood in winter,

Must cart water in summer.

The oil painting of a woman, nude.

 

The oil painting of a woman,

lying naked across a red bed

with a fat, happy baby searching for her breast,

and a blue sky in view from the window,

hung in the dining room for two generations.

It was painted by a woman with a great talent.

When I was a boy, my grandmother told me

that the artist loved my grandfather

and had given the painting to him.

The woman in the painting was the artist herself

and the baby was the baby she never had.

Now, as a man

with no living grandparents,

I often wonder why my grandmother

had allowed such a painting to hang in the home.

Was it because it is a beautiful image, the flesh so soft and sensual,

The colours so clear and bright?

 

I only remember dark flashes of my grandfather,

I remember him as a happy, kind man.

My grandmother, a widow at the time she stood me before the painting,

Smiled at some hidden memory and asked me if I liked the picture.

I nodded and said I liked the baby.

She was satisfied, and we stood a while,

On that dark winter afternoon,

We looked at that painting, lit only by weak sunlight

Until my father turned on the room’s light.

The brightness broke the spell and we both looked away,

The electric light was too bright and harsh for that moment.

It hangs there still, like a spirit that haunts that room,

that woman forever looking out, searching for love,

while that baby, forever tiny, caught between a smile and a yawn,

begs to be born.

The bucket of rain

The bucket of water that catches the rain

is important to the birds and the frogs.

A dog drinks from the water, coughs, and drinks again.

It hasn’t rained all month,

but tonight it poured

and the bucket filled.

I watched out the window as a frog struggled

to climb out of the frothing waves,

it sat silently on the edge of the bucket

and rubbed its eyes.

I take the babies for a walk in the rain

and their mother chastises me when we return.

 

A memory replayed after class

 

Sitting on a timber chair, under a tree,

the clouds came rushing across the city

and dropped a flood of rain upon the university quadrangle.

Ivy hung off the stone buildings, peeling away from the ancient walls

And yellow lights came through the leadlight windows

In a warm glow, like comforting winter fires.

I arose and walked under cover.

Earlier, I had spoken to some English students.

“Why do you write?” one girl asked me.

I looked at the faces before me,

They were bored, and I had lost them.

The teachers sat down the back of the class; their eyes fixed on me like predators,

While the students sat with wide eyes, all blank looks and casual clothes,

With years ahead of them,

Years to achieve their dreams,

But more likely not.

Finished, I walked out of the class

And sat in the chair under the tree.

I thought about the time the fox had eaten all her chickens,

On that old farm

And she had cried

As rain clouds gathered over the lake.