I don’t know where the dead go, Kevin.
The one far place I know
is inside the heavy radio. If I listen late at night,
there’s that dark, celestial glow,
heaviness of the cave, the hive.
Music. Someone warms his hands at the fire,
breaking off the arms of chairs,
breaking the brute bodies of beds, burning his comfort
surely to keep alive. Soon he can hardly see,
and so, quietly, he listens: then someone lifts him
and it’s some terrible breakfast show.
There are mothers and fathers, Kevin, whom we barely know.
They lift us. Eventually we all shall go
into the dark furniture of the radio.
©Bill Manhire from Lifted (Wellington: Victoria University Press, )
Note from Peter:
Between the earth and sky of my 1960s Ashburton was the radio; a New Zealand-made Ultimate complete with earth and aerial wires. I remain in the dark about what you were to do with the earth, but the aerial provided passable reception when attached to the wire wove base of my bed.
The Ultimate was a budget model, suffering in comparison with those radios with a short-wave function that I coveted, but I should have known better than to paint it white in a moment of teenage idleness.
In a house without books and lacking the wit to utilise the local library the radio was my source of stories, together with those told by my father and relations. I went to bed early most nights to listen to the serialisation of books like Nevil Shute’s A Town like Alice, or Alistair Mclean’s Ice Station Zebra and South by Java Head and was transported.
How could one not feel addressed by Kevin?
In this wondrous poem, Bill makes some stabbing observations in that last ravishing verse, about mothers and fathers we barely know, lifting us, and dark furniture of the radio as ultimate destination. Whether the mothers and fathers are truly those we don’t know, or those we did and couldn’t know, I am more saddened than heartened at the thought. As destination I wouldn’t book to go there, but I do keep returning to Bill’s poem and the transcendent possibilities of its ‘celestial glow.’
Peter Ireland works at the National Library in Wellington where, among other things, he looks after the Poet Laureate. And still listens to the radio.
Bill Manhire, inaugural New Zealand Poet Laureate, has published award-winning poetry, edited anthologies, written short story collections and founded IIML. Lifted won the Poetry Category in the 2006 Montana New Zealand Book awards. This year he released a new collection of poems, Some Things to Place in a Coffin, and in collaboration with musician Norman Meehan, published Tell Me My Name, a book of poem riddles (or riddle poems) set to music.