It is October in Dunedin.
Rhododendrons fan out flamenco skirts;
magnolias, magnanimous with their moon-cool glow,
light the path south so the sun stirs us early;
although the river, the creek boulders,
the city’s cinched green belt, still hold the cold
like an ice store’s packed down snow.
The days shiver with filaments
of ua kōwhai: soft rain that dampens paths,
shakes loose carpets of white stamens, yellow flowers
bruised and trodden like flimsy, foil cornets.
School holidays send out falling, silvery arcs
of children’s sky-flung laughter; our bodies drink it in
as if love’s parched ground sore needs this watering.
Yet the radio stays hunched in the kitchen corner,
hard grey clot in the light’s fine arteries
muttering its tense bulletins
and as if they sense this late spring still harbours
frost’s white wreck, or some despotic harm abroad
seeps too near, our sons more than anything want
their old games: secret codes, invisible ink, velvet cloaks;
hide ’n’ seek in public gardens’ clefts and coves—
and again, again, can we tell them again
the chapters of how they first appeared
in the long, blurred myths we are entangled in;
kingfisher-blue wells of their eyes a-gleam
as if they know how much all adults withhold.
They want us to go back deeper, to when
we both were star-spill, sea-flume, spirits,
only belatedly woman, man, climbing up from a shore
feathered in sand black and soft as ash,
driven by some gravid magnetism towards each other
in case we changed to birds, lizards, trees,
or back to sea-salt borne by wind;
an urge clear as hunger coursing the cells’ deep helix
to complete this alteration, half bury and re-germinate
the fleet molecules of self, so we could run our mortal hands
the right, kind way along the children’s plush skins,
learn, pulse on pulse, their true, human names.
Yes, we must go back and back; as if to swear
even to this dread epoch’s wild, original innocence.
Emma Neale received the inaugural NZSA/Janet Frame Memorial Award, the Kathleen Grattan Award for an unpublished poetry manuscript (The Truth Garden), the University of Otago Burns Fellowship and the NZSA/Beatson Fellowship. Her poetry has been shortlisted for the Sarah Broom Poetry Award and the Bridport Poetry Prize, and her poetry collection, Tender Machines, was long-listed in the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. Her novel, Billy Bird, was short-listed for the Acorn Prize in the 2017 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards and long-listed for the International Dublin Literary Award. She is the current editor of Landfall.