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Nicholas Messenger
New Zealand

Featured Artist Amanda Kemp
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They only had a war
so that in nineteen fifty four the pop-up toasters could take over.
First the yanks arrived and got their paws
on your grandmothers while you grandads were away in battle;
got things ready for the pop-up toasters.
Then in uniform the chromium-plated labour savers
squatted in you kitchen, shimmering metal
and new-fangled bakelite and above all Pop!
the toast sprang out. The bravery!
the self-assurance! The panache! So gaily
it was then permissible to say, to pop
up toasted dark or light,
and never again to smell of the daily
bread burnt smoking.
One of the all of the things I can’t fight
wanting now, is a pop-up-everything machine.
I’ve got to have a pop-up garden poking
tulips up, so up spring daffodils
and up pop daisies out of lawns like crepe de chine.
I want a pop-up house
with blinds that pop awake from freshly-painted windowsills
and a kid that pops up out of bed
as happy as a flea and nifty as a mouse,
and the old folks just to pop
off cheerfully as a toaster, and the answers just to pop up in my head.
I want the latest pop group
and the youngsters want a pop gun and a glass of pop.
I must have more and more to make the most of.
I need peek-a-boo and alphabet soup,
and when the Kingdom comes, I want to be one
of the ones in the graves like pop-up toasters
resurrected, and only very lightly-done.
Pop! saint, pop! sinner, pop! saint, pop! in the middle – Pop!


I think when I have music like this playing,
everything else quiet in the house: the clock’s
faint count for its own hearing, still conveying
the erosion of the hour; the cat somewhere, its fluffy socks
pulled tightly round its nose, still blending an inaudible purr
in with its breathing; in the street outside nobody’s knock
to startle doors as late as this; I think the earth
awash with music then, but just a trace of which
gets through to me behind my walls, to stir
the air. However it doesn’t seem to reach the pitch
it takes to ease anxiety or touch my feelings.
I am imperfectly tuned in. I know enough to switch
on my receiver, and no more. I have heard about its healing
powers. I know it flows through towns, and lingers
under lamps like mist. I know how it comes stealing
up the drives, and feels the windowpanes with its soft fingers.
I believe it fills the human universe,
can be the mediator of my inward disagreements and a bringer
of consolation, because I have seen the way it can immerse
a person. I have glimpsed, myself, how it can penetrate
your psyche momentarily, though it may be a curse
to get a glimpse like that, and know of nothing that will compensate
for missing out on so much more. So I believe these
reassurances. I only put the music on to animate
the silence,  but have filled it up with things I cannot seize.


The thing about dying, I have found,
is you never know how close you get.
You can grip the handle in your hand,
you can even open the door a crack, and yet
you don’t know if it’s standing there behind it.
You can fly on your motorbike, but you think the net
of time will spread to catch you, and you find it
pliant as the mangrove branches, or the high tide
underneath them. You can plunge clear-minded
through the seconds, from the top of a truck, and hit the side
of a ravine running, and out that window of duration
not remark how near it is, except from the outside
in the years to come. You can feel the curtains of sensation
waver in the draught without remembering to check the hem
for the  murderer’s shoes. You come round in your perspiration
with cold concrete lying on your face, and him
already gone. You can hope to cling
by suction to the stone, like a gecko, palms
pressed on the surface, as the icy water rings
in your bones, and not know if there is enough
viscosity in a river, or too little of anything
to tread against. You can grab the stuff
a crag is made of, in an enthusiastic clutch
and, finding that too flatters, muscle off
the world, a couple of hundredweight too much
to live with; gravity in over-abundance
baying for you, and not think it Death as such
you were eluding. Always there is a tendency
for the heart to swallow another gulp of blood,
the lungs to suck a gaspful, while the blithe redundancy
of living skims an innocent inch or two above the flood.


Of all the ways to say “what if”, there is none stranger
than metempsychosis. What I want to be when I come back –
she told me – is that cat. It’s languor
in the sun-splashed window seat, its mock attacks
from underneath the sofa and its solitary morning promenade
with those forgetful pauses where the passion vines’ slack
tendrils dandle into its myopic scrutiny, are all just made
for someone with my unexacting appetite for living.
I was born, like it, to lap the lemonade
of being, and play, I promise in no malice, with the shivering
mice of idleness. I take it for a destiny deserved
by someone else to animate the mouse. – She had been giving
a lot of thought to what her spirit has reserved
for it beyond the present vehicle (which is, it must be said,
not lacking throes and luxuries of its own, or badly served
with entertainments). What had put the idea in her head
was the way she pampers it herself. She loves the beast
as thoroughly as if her next existence really was invested
in that purring focus of indulgence. And not too far east
of her philosophy, the souls fly clean across eternity.
A girl can stretch herself in that, to say the least.
She might hereafter be that very queen of Egypt such a quantity
of adepts at reincarnation were before her, flitting from one life to next
as if they were all trees to nest in, in infinity.
What stops her there? She could take shape on any pretext
in two creatures sharing one inconsequence of calendar,
one thing existing in two places, since, within the context
of the timeless, there is no “at once”. The logic is a colander:
not water-tight, but what leaks out is what she doesn’t want.
So they avoid each another conscientiously, in case the slender
chance of it comes true, and two things are by accident
in both one place and time. And yet whatever it is makes souls
themselves, draws them towards their other part, to the extent
they interlock, like a baby and its mother. Which suggests a whole
world made of jigsaws where a single, or a dozen
simultaneous spirits occupy each entity and fill every role.
Which is a different view of mice at least, our little cousins.

Nicholas Messenger had his first poems published in New Zealand as a schoolboy. He won the Glover Poetry award in New Zealand in the 1970’s. In 2006 he has had poems published in About The Arts, Blackmail, Boloji, Coffee Press Journal, High Altitude Poetry,  Identity Theory, Jacket, Monkey Kettle, Off Course, Pulsar, Taj Mahal Review, Web Poetry Corner and WOW. He has had a few small one-man shows of his paintings.
He was born in 1945, and after completing a degree at Auckland University, travelled extensively in South America, and lived in Europe for several years. For a long time he made his living as a teacher, of science, art, and languages, in High Schools in New Zealand, where he was a long-standing member of mountain Search and Rescue organisation. Now, after nine years in Japan teaching English, he is running a small home-stay business in Hokitika, New Zealand, with his Japanese wife. He has two grown-up children from a previous marriage.