Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Tuesday Poem: Heatwave, by Emma Neale

Heatwave

February 2013: New Zealand’s worst drought in 30 years

It’s a hot, find shade like a dog day,
let the child crawl, mewl and nip,
pant in my belly-shadow, back-shadow;
get up, pace, restless for coolness,
stalk the scent of water, hope,
openness, that icy air
that rides a river’s meniscus
and carries the dark-flow of trees …

Along the scrappy riverbank,
its rough, ugly, unhewn rocks,
the hills rear up like something unclear
in an uneasy dream, while Himalayan fuchsia,
kōwhai and beech gasp through
the chloroform rags of old man’s beard,
passion-vine, woodbine.

It seems in this heat haze
as if some colourist, or abstract expressionist
has tried to paint out some difficult concept
in green and green and green
but can’t unbind
from their own ouroborine obsession:

loving too much, loss of self,
greed, lust, the choking, short-term view,
the slow contraction of our end of days

green eats green eats green.

but a cry splashes on the air;
the child’s seen red rata, wild plums,
their pinot-sweet light quivers, wells
bright as freshet-falls.

We scramble up the banks of parched grass,
use a peaked sun-cap for a pail,
climb, stretch and sweat
to pluck plump palmfuls,
until the hill path
tips the small boy down
like a tumble of milk that weeps for itself.

The weeds snare, they clamber and drag,
seem to say Homo inhumanus, Homo insapiens.

We push back up
through tinder-brittle undergrowth
when with a rush of noise as if to say
its name is Nightmare a giant bird
comes to stake its claim.

‘But they’re our plums!’
the three-year-old cries;
‘They’re wild,’ I say, evenly;
‘and we have to share, share the planet
with all the other animals,’
as if not complicit, ashamed, riven
with dear world, how long …
what if … what have we forsaken
?

Yet when the boy bravely holds a plum
balanced on his palm like an apple for a horse
and the bird’s wings laugh closer,
even the low river seems to misremember
its own name; in curved sheets of glass
that still spill and spill, it sings Lethe, Lethe,
and under my stubborn skin
wide-mouthed flowers
pistils sweet with survival’s honey
petals bright as poison
crane towards the drought-taut sky:
common-or-garden now,
common-or-garden joy.

-Emma Neale

I recently enjoyed reading Emma Neale's latest book of poems, "Tender Mercies". And the poems in the collection are indeed tender, but also fierce, and beautiful, and harsh, and many other things, all at once. It's not so much that she shows us the beauty in ugliness - a cliched sort of description which doesn't do justice to the poems, for it implies that the beauty and the ugliness, or fierceness, or harshness, are different things, separate from each other. Whereas to me it felt as if the poems showed a wholeness, where the beauty and the tenderness and the fierceness and the harshness were all the same thing, like shot silk where the colours can't be separated from each other.

I'm grateful to Emma for permission to post the above poem from the collection. Tuesday Poem, sadly, is coming to a close, though I may post more poems in the future. Over at the main hub site, there is a celebratory final poem made up of lines from all the participants over the years (including one of mine). The group has taken a lot of work and Mary McCallum and Clare Beynon, along with others, have done a fantastic job coordinating it all over the last five years, but sadly no one has the time now to keep it going. The site will however, stay open, with five years worth of poems to browse at the readers' leisure, along with links to all the participants. It's been a great ride while it lasted.

Now I should post a bio, but it is very late at night, I am in a mad pre-Christmas too many things to do rush, and it has been said better than I can, elsewhere on the internet. So, you will find more about Emma here and here.


1 comment:

Helen McKinlay said...

A wonderfully fitting poem for the day after Hot Monday! Catherine.
Merry Christmas and hope to see more of you in the left hand side bar next year.