Poem Friday: Emma Neale’s ‘Origins’ … At the core, heart.




When my father made love to my mother

and their salts and foams seethed and lifted

so that a child washed up on their tides,

perhaps they held each other

in an old rotting villa with cracks and gaps

that let the rooms’ winter breath

unravel along the street

like spider silk adrift on the air.


Perhaps outside that house

an untrimmed, straggling macrocarpa

tossed in the wind like a woman in fever sheets

and the clouded sky came close and tight

as a fist screwing a lid on a jar

while nearby the city’s river cried deep in its bed,

birds circled but found they couldn’t alight;

as a chill hide of questions

grew a stubborn lichen

across the corroding, rented roof.


For there are days when the human heart

feels like spit rubbed in mud,

the mind a junk room

of broom handles and wheel-less prams,

must-stink chair nobody will sit in,

little black fly heads

sprinkled in a corner web,

ear bones of vanished mice,

single bits of faded jigsaws,

carpet littered with broken envelopes

addressees illegible,

and even when love creeps close

over the slanting floorboards,

sorrow drifts in with the smell of snow

clustered on its skin.


© Emma Neale

Originally printed in Landfall; appears also in Tender Machines (Otago University Press, 2015).

Author bio: Emma Neale works as an editor. On alternate years, she runs a one-semester poetry workshop at the University of Otago. She has published five novels and five collections of poetry, the most recent of which is Tender Machines (Dunedin: OUP, 2015).

Note from Paula: Usually in my Friday poem slot I have invited poets to write a note about their poem and I have added my own thoughts. Some poets are happy to provide sideways anecdotes or points of origin for their poems; others prefer to let the poems speak for themselves. I have no dogmatic stance on either option. Notes on poems can be utterly fascinating and provide unexpected roads into your reading. I don’t think they ever shut a poem down — as readers, when we press a poem’s start button, anything can happen. So I have decided to make the ‘note’ aspect of my  Poem-Friday feature flexible – taken up on a case by case basis.

This poem stalled me. It is the sort of poem I love to write about because it engages every part of my body — my eye, my ear, my heart and my mind. A poetry coup. Yet I wanted the poem to stand in its off-white space on the screen – shimmering, flickering on a cerebral and aural scale. Without my commentary. Intruding static. Yet I can’t help myself. Just a tad. I adore the loving craft of each line, the words and word connections that catch you by surprise, the surprise upheld like an internal beat, the way physical detail judders and then sets you off on memory tangents. At the core, heart.

This poem is the first poem in the book. Read it, and then you can’t wait to devour the poems that follow. Within the next weeks I will post a review.


1 thought on “Poem Friday: Emma Neale’s ‘Origins’ … At the core, heart.

  1. Pingback: Poetry Shelf review — Emma Neale’s Tender Machines takes you into a deep private space in her writing; in ways that sing and challenge, that move and muster every poetic muscle and tendon as you read | NZ Poetry Shelf

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