When we drive up in the hired silver Hyundai there’s a single man parked by the river in a red Cortina. And Al says, maybe that’s the guy I met when I was fly fishing here the other day. And he checks his little black address book that is the size of one of those lilliputian copies of Shakespeare’s plays published by Tuttle’s Watchpocket Series. His name was Tony Bajowski, says Al. And I say, that’s not Tony Bajowski that’s some serial fucking killer in a red Cortina and he’s just put half the body in the river. And Al says, that’s only if you were living in the United States. He still believes that New Zealand is some peaceful sheep keeping cow mooing country full of friendly fly fishermen. But I stay quiet, sitting on the rocks the colour of dry bones by the Ruamahanga River, and I write my notes, swatting the midges whenever they rest on my words.
The man in the red Cortina gets out of the front and moves to the back seat. What is he doing in the back? I ask Al. He’s eating crackers, he replies. He’s hiding the evidence, I say. The Ruamahunga rushes by, going all manner of places in the fastest possible time. The sun begins to set at one end of the river and a chill comes up off the cold hard earth. Al has walked so far he has become an unidentified lone angler in the distance. A little model figurine in an old museum diorama.
We can hear the duck-shooting has begun.
He wanders among the narrow
necked birch trees
and shows me how to tie
the hangman’s knot,
the most dangerous one of all,
struggle and it slips tighter.
He smiles at me, makes faces at me.
He meanders through the high grass,
showing off and lecturing
on the lifespan of the kidney fern.
When we stop at the pub to drink
he becomes busy,
using small sticks and leaves
he constructs a precarious
on the surface of our slatted table.
The Bed and Breakfast
The new town smells of meat and
tomato sauce. You take photos
of cows and sheep, and birds that
fly away into the middle distance
of your own imagination.
We are given a room with velvet curtains
the colour of bacon. The wallpaper
is embossed with raised pimples.
I run my fingers over them, translating
the braille of the bed and breakfast hotel.
Each night we are falling asleep
into the chasm that is each other’s arms.
You tell me how you and your best friend,
Stanley, both aged eight years,
delivered flesh-coloured compression garments,
boxed and wrapped in brown paper.
The parcels were packed into a tiny cart
which you and Stanley pulled, for a quarter.
The lady next-door taught you
the words to the Al Jolson song,
Swanee how I love ya, how I love ya,
my mammy waiting for me, praying for me,
la, la, something, something,
getting into that Swanee shore.
At the end there is an interlude
of whistling, which you demonstrate ably
as we lie under the burgundy and chartreuse
duvet in the bed and breakfast hotel.
She visualises him in Otaki
eating his Christmas roast.
She hopes he got
the full trimmings.
she is missing him.
The winking half moon
disturbs her memory.
Tests have proven
memory is not only
a storehouse, but it can also
be a strongbox
created from allusion.
Had she only imagined
arms, and hands, and
all the other beautiful limbs?
The pre-dawn is like
pre all the rest, first
there’s some soft blue light
and then the sound of
someone holding their breath.
Last Visit to Grass Street
For Lauris Edmond
The grandchildren meet me
at the door, the way you would
have liked. They say you are
wearing your favourite dress.
I cannot remember
if you have your shoes on.
What a tiny coffin
you are lying in,
the lid leaning casually
against your bedroom wall.
On the way home I stop
to shop in Chan’s.
Hanging over the open freezer
cabinet, I select a packet
of frozen banana leaves.
La Choi tuoi, Flying Goose
Brand, and I press the hard cold
square against my swollen cheeks.
Sing the leaf, sing Flying Goose Brand
banana leaf, always large
and pliable. Grass Street moves
into a mythological area
in my brain, and now I can never
cook grilled fish in a banana leaf
without that aromatic subtle
flavour making me think of you.