New verse on death and the next life by two great New Zealand writers
An email to the unknown, by Sam Hunt
I enjoyed it on Earth
but am looking forward
to seeing you, old friends.
You won’t have aged a wrinkle,
I’ll be the one on crutches.
Let’s keep the hugs gentle . . .
When I get off the phone
I ask aloud to an empty room,
what’s this I’m listening to?
All I hear is the rain
reminding me how to fall –
gently, with no bruises.
Mary, by CK Stead
The first time I saw her
three children, seven grandchildren and how many cats
she was 20, a student in a bathing suit, hosed
on the front lawn by her mother.
We were buying the house next door, number 37.
The last time she was old, naked on her bathroom floor
mumbling, unconscious. She may have been there two days.
Death took a further four. There were no ‘last words’.
They were a Trinity, Mother, Daughter and Roy
the Holy Ghost. I carried Roy to the ambulance
for his last ride. Zoe lived on,
played golf and bridge, died in an Old Folks Home
and not a thing at number 39
was changed – the interiors for ever Zoe’s,
the garden Roy’s. Was Mary their resentful prisoner
or just a loyal daughter?
Travelling we always sent her a postcard
of a new exotic corner. She kept them all,
also my glowing reference supporting
her application for her first job.
When she retired she was H.O.D Art
at the same college.
Mary always seemed too tough for tears:
those who’d loved her were with her – Zoe whose yellow car
she kept in running order, Roy whose lawns she mowed
and flower beds she replanted.
When we talked it was about the weather
and what was happening in Tohunga Crescent;
her decades teaching seemed to have floated away.
She walked the Bonnys’ dog, had drinks with them,
went to a gymn, had Christmas with her cousins.
In her chest of drawers were found
new dresses still shop-wrapped, ‘outfits’ never worn –
it seemed she’d liked shopping. Sometimes
she borrowed a book from us. There was one she liked
by Jim MacNeish about Oxford and spies.
I promised I would tell her more about Mulgan…
All those years of the world behaving badly –
how much of it touched her?
And yet she’s there still,
the stylish, busy, never subdued Mary
who borrowed my garden tools
and tended (cheerfully) to shout
The silent house next door is full of her,
full of her absence.
It was not the Ides of March;
the virgin Mary lacked significance
without a Son. Where was the turbulence,
the black sky torn across?
She was in her box but hadn’t she been there always
elusive, undeclared? A neighbour poet
(not this one) had written her
a kindly dirge. So we went through the motions
and out the door, and she into the fire.
Days later swimming with my friend Geoff
at Kohi we met a young whale at the yellow buoy.
It circled us, listening to our talk
and followed us inshore.
Geoff stroked its flank. It was a visitation,
Nature giving us a call
on the right side of silence:
alpha, omega, a poem, and Mary forgetting.