Poetry Shelf Winter Season: Liz Breslin off-piste


The way things are


When they’re going to give you medals they send you a letter.

When you go to get them you’ll be treading on old ground, though you won’t know it by your feet.

When you stand and salute you must keep your fingers straight, you must remember the promises you made. When they give you the medals it is symbolic, the freedom, the keys.

When I Skyped my Ma she said there are different things that the medal boxes say. Your babcia was in the Home Army and then there was a national medal, now, I’ve forgotten what it was and then that little booklet with the President’s stamp but they were different and the national armed military action medal and the cross of the Warsaw Uprising and krzyzem is cross but the grammar is different, it means with the cross, they’ve got different endings and we found two separate cross pins in a little plastic bag so we put them in the empty box and I showed them to people

when they came after she died because that’s what you do and I forgot to say, with the photos, match the booklet to the medals, because that’s how you do it, that’s the only way, I wouldn’t know otherwise, she never told me either. I wonder if it’s the key that’s missing, I don’t have an actual memory of seeing it. It clearly isn’t an actual key that opens an actual door because there’s clearly no such thing in an actual city. She could’ve had a lot of free bus rides with that card.

When my babcia did that interview, that once, she said and now that people are celebrating this Uprising, I think to myself was it really worth it, to pay such a price? And what for? What for? For we didn’t gain anything substantial, anything real.


©Liz Breslin


Author note: This poem was a departure for me because I usually obsess over line endings and over having less words doing more, whereas here I’ve tried to capture language as faithfully and actually and unravelled-ly as I could. It’s also new for me to allow myself prosey line endings. It used to bother me that I wasn’t quite sure what was flash fiction and what was prose and what a poem and now I’ve decided it’s whatever. It’s the way the words settle true.

Liz Breslin doesn’t know the difference between rhyme and reason but she can write her way out of a paper bag. Her first poem collection, Alzheimer’s and a spoon, is out now, thanks to Otago University Press. She also writes plays, short stories and a fortnightly column – Thinking Allowed – for the Otago Daily Times. Liz is comfy on the page and the stage, came third in the 2016 Charles Causley International Poetry Competition and was second runner up in the 2014 NZ Poetry Slam. Her website is here.


From Paula: For Poetry Shelf’s Winter Season, I invited 12 poets to pick one of their own poems that marks a shift in direction, that is outside the usual tracks of their poetry, that moves out of character, that nudges comfort zones of writing. It might be subject matter, style, form, approach, tone, effect, motivation, borrowings, revelation, invention, experimentation, exclusions, inclusions, melody …. anything!







Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s