blackmail press 32
Raewyn Alexander
New Zealand

Moka's Utu - Penny Howard
Raewyn Alexander exhibited poetry and visual art in May 2011, at Satellite Gallery, Newton Auckland. She put punk rockers on Captain Cook's ship, "The Scavengers and The Suburban Reptiles sailed with Cook on the Endeavour, of course, who else would he have as crew? Then Proud Scum and The Spelling Mistakes were at the signing of The Treaty of Waitangi, naturally." Her latest book is A Bee Lover's Poetry Companion from Earl of Seacliff and she's embarking on a Poetic Tour of America in 2012, planting trees to cover the carbon cost of it.

a French schoolteacher sailed here                                

       1840 in the navy ship Comte de Paris
       a merchant seaman he rigged and swabbed to travel
       then our great-great grandfather built a white weatherboard cottage

       my distant cousin in the Waitakeries told us
       Southern Maori wanted to get the English out
       but the French captain let the story slip

       called in further North on their three month way
       by sail to cross the globe from Normandy and the Charente
       French families were met by the English on the southern coast

       refused permission to land unless they gave up their nation
       sixty took English citizenship - permitted to disembark
       while five families could afford to sail back to France

       Lelievre spelt many ways five generations on
       a middle name kept by some great aunts
       much from over a century ago or so silent and lovely

       Judy called her designer gowns Lelievre in Melbourne
       she left me mother-of-pearl sequins and jet beads
       they inspire admiration without speaking a word

       inside and out may not match when strangers arrive
       those French changed their names and blended stories
       kept to their own bay area - a micro-climate and sunny

       my cousin surrounded with rimu and kauri explained
       the French flag outside his house in west Auckland hills
       but our forebears had to hide their identity in Akaroa

       when outsiders arrive like thoughts too flip
       sticky as a half-cooked pancake could catch or stain
       better to wait til everything’s well-heated and palatable

       ideas about how French we are turn easily into a kitchen
       warm plates and aromas like an arm around your shoulder 
       France quite at home in so many cupboards and wardrobes

       talk with flying hands on our mother’s side
       bonhomie and attractive arrangements drew sensitive friends
       then lately we listen to Edith Piaf with a closer smile

       would Lelievre have laughed at our common touch?
       or drawn a story to illustrate his love for Justine
       a Malmanche wife helped him welcome new arrivals

       until we met a fourth cousin and heard the stories
       we imagined our schoolteacher ancestor with brown hair
       unmarried in a wooden room at a desk piled with books

       now we know he stopped to gather willow in France
       cuttings from Napoleon Boneparte’s grave to transplant
       those trees grow along the Avon River in Christchurch

       while I work with youngsters unable to attend school
       his ghost could mend my dreams and find a map
       through infinite dark a new unfolding for my little light

       linked and raw the story like a new house frame
       demolition timber and plans recovered from a beach
       where waves tear towards land like they've ever done

       our garden sprouted with artichokes and Swiss chard
       thyme and other herbs Francois could know
       we’d drink red wine and discuss political curiosities

       Justine-Rose could explain better business
       show the best way to greet a guest with salty cheeks
       what to wear when homesick enough to swim home

       their imagined memory as strange as a cartoon now
       they sit instead behind me while I write and they watch out
       the way they did onboard ship with only stars to see them true

      watching from the edge of the back of beyond

       escaped music from a hall window
       driving towards dances in a new dress
       smoky looks and spangly promises
       smiles more than packaging
       so many lost between rain and wind
       these few observations and need

       not easily coded nor tidily explained like a newspaper
       but if I don't invite you in I'm told I'll disappear
       please accept my apologies for any misunderstandings
       met in such natural fashion we could rock or swim
       while pebbles rattle when we run and kick
       yes – this plays here every woken day and night

       scenes alter according to who starts first
       while I can't believe I'm still permitted to drive
       petrol so ruinous it's like a Roman war in spacesuits
       with every bod throughout history chucking nukes
       perhaps that's what carbon really is – every known fight
       mark this spot for where the treasure is

       time runs backwards and we meet ourselves
       again here with lots of make-up, a list in a locked diary
       wishes as substantial as feathers or sequins
       insecurities flap in a wind where flags tear to ribbons
       I'm a skydiver
       the earth bulges up like one large greeny-blue eye

       blind burn at the core then a hull dense as language
       when I starfish the clouds stay nonchalant
       ground rushes at me with matador definitions
       none as puzzling as a human intervention from behind
       they sneak up beside me sometimes like queue-jumpers
       meanwhile I'll be here with the light trimmed and ablaze

       those rocks below require a warning
       but wish I could reach out to you at that table
       just with this one warm hand and a few pleasant words
       nothing smarty-pants or questioning since this is not television
       on the side of the road in afternoon sun with some interest
       our unusual in common as if we've both got pointed ears

       or could recite every ingredient on a bottle of plum sauce
       this awkwardness lasts an entire life and is guaranteed
       for anyone human enough to long for kisses and miss
       then the candles lit I close my eyes
       blow for privacy
       you could arrive now in the bright memory and last

      Prayer for a Bride, Vanished                                           

       'If I follow the inclination of my nature, it is this:
       beggar-woman and single, far rather than queen and married.'  - Queen Elizabeth the First

       When she awakes alone in her narrow bed
       the trees outside gold-leafed with sun,
       sing something to her about love and cruise ships.
       Each time she remembers escaping her white dress,
       the way one heel caught on the lace,
       how she threw the shoes away too,
       make laughter ripple away other wrinkles.
       You know she admires men who paint with words,
       then she looks for pink sunglasses
       when they lay a blue pathway,
       This woman turns back to the paper trail or road.
       Have those men nod and believe her stories why,
       the way they accept a river or a mountain,
       when there’s no sport, only a car quick-gone.
       Any circle of women eager to joke about failure,
       bring them close enough to darkness to see her dive in,
       a figure of light through old stories;
       words reformed so the crowd applauds.
       Remind her often, backstage fits players fine,
       masks and curtains do much still,
       while an answer-phone’s her sentinel.
       Change her crying to water for a garden,
       where this woman could meet with friends and dig,
       the sky occupied with everything she need not say.
       Have her map past steps fluently
       again to where parents mysteriously fed her fire,
       grasp the ignorant hand with that terrible spoon,
       turn it back to the bunny bowl - change time.
       When she finds herself stitched into an operation,
       some frayed part removed,
       patch in a replacement and amnesia about knives.
       Know she loves the way a moon reflects day,
       or a river holds fish and stones,
       allow her the unacquaintance needed
       to avoid weightiness and drowning.

       Give this woman all she ever wanted in sleep,
       and ever decent demands awake such as conversation,
       in the tranquil cafe where no clock intrudes.
       Believe these lines find her in a remarkable world,
       tillered through hours of thought
       behind the wheel of safety’s rules,
       to sail a clear heart away from crows.
       Then to guard from undoing, bring.    

     a shell-shocked infant's life story in fragments                       

      polished surfaces and school bell racket 
      lessons stretched by visible clocks
      our doodles catted through those dog-days
      skate talk crunchier with illicit snacks
      a dental nurse lectured on the evils of lollies
      then girls ran filled teeth to perfume counters
      distracted by clouds of eau de daydream

      for damaged children with psychological injuries, a desperate need for distracting affection from any
      company may appear, flickering in and out of romantic light, dangerous as the moon.

      kitchen ideas their mothers plated
      nobody ever signed a birthday cake
      crochet dresses or Crimpelene pant-suits
      Singer sewing whirred and magazines grinned
      go-colour talk for rule-the-road lessons
      traffic boys sang ‘one two three you stop me’
      dispensed cheap spirits and beer brainwash
      a crack of bubble-gum they leaned on second-hand cars

      people may be forgiven alarming flaws, warmth is currency.  lonely girl turns into a heroine, kisses
      transform her; a movie flickers in mind and photographs seem like kind parents.

      dishes found spoons handsome as hormones made
      canoodling on car seats or nonchalant beaches
      a doomed search for lasting connections in weasel pops
      her youth jumbled cut-up shakes of days and nights
      disorientation near doilies with modern art eyes
      the traction of suburbia and soap opera expectations
      a recovery of almost and nearly soon settled on peculiar

      for decades 20th century oddities multiplied, future shock jolted generations then self-adoration
      coincided with enough wealth and technology for many to easily devise themselves new identities.

      her spectator grandstand make-shift in sand
      sleep stopped against creeps but not the past
      disappointment tempered steel for sharper memory cuts 
      a cure of replacement retro and lone weeping
      veiled romance to save her from more broken
      in a near-nunnery under open sky in a demanding field
      planet Earth turned to newly invented sacrifices

      emotional wreckage may occur in apparent comfort. the precision someone strong-willed exercises
      to ensure a better future can feel holy, or needing as much study as a professional career.

      charity her door with a present to align                                
      a relative created and auditioned in thoughts
      her hopeful sister well-dressed in think-ink
      conversation to suit when no one else tailored
      a re-step to carefully think up an invisible companion
      when others admire then her guard appears
      impossible to exactly pull the shade of this living blue

      wishes and recall formed the flesh of a paper twin; she remembers enough to listen. a record of days
      and nights sing. released moments, love recognised in the quiet of her remaining decency.

     Be this a Totem of Pakeha History in Aotearoa NZ?
                                                                                       (warning, it’s shaky)

      E noho koa, kia ora - everything may grow clearer knowing love here, through lives together.
      Long as we yearn ....

      Comes with a wish, (pull the wishbone with someone else and make a wish, whoever  gets
      the biggest part of the bone gets their wish).  Wishbone: attached to gift ribbon, may be pulled
      whilst attached as long as artwork belongs to you.

      All materials reusable. They include kauri mirror frame, (found discarded) embroidered,
      crocheted cotton tray cloth, (tea or coffee stain under painted wooden heart), string, artist
      hand-embroidered polyester gift ribbon, 'anti-idol' badge, op shop ‘gold’ frame and a steel nail.

      Note, nail hole could be filled and stained to re-use kauri frame, however a mirror frame may
      prove difficult to upcycle.

      This prose poem could be framed or placed elsewhere.  Totem represents my experience as a
      fourth generation NZer, my first ancestor here a French merchant seaman who became a
      school teacher and with his Malmanche wife, also ran a place of rest for travellers. I believe,
      after three generations or so, people living hereabouts become Polynesian.  Some Maori
      may call us something else, probably a secret word, which is fine with me.

      Oh, do you notice what this spells down the side of the page with the capital letters?  Bel Canto, 
      a style of singing characterized by brilliant vocal display and purity of tone, etymology: It, lit.,
      beautiful song.  Remember how many newcomers we’ve been and know?  Love the loving and
      love the hateful more, since in charity our future grows best and always did, else why are we
      settled so really?  Kia ora, kia kaha, kia toa tatou katoa.