Poetry Shelf connections: Elizabeth Welsh’s ‘steady’

 

steady

 

day i

i am trying to imagine a body of water from the confines of our green space.

my neighbour reads an excessive number of library books on hydrotherapy,

and i become accustomed to skimming these surreptitiously before returning

them for her. there is a composure to the watery diagrams that i pore over,

searching for instructions beyond mere bodily mechanics, some sort of cure

for aloneness in one’s body. we must stay safe at home, i repeat, but it means

very little to you beyond a sibilant silkiness on your tongue. and sometimes,

although you don’t know it yet, harm can come from within too. these days,

our neighbour calls out to us from her bedroom window each morning

when we are once again wandering undirected in the early flinching bush

and your face breaks, like a wave at its apex, about to crash. to distract,

we lean in to green. you choose the seaweed stick of chalk, and we draw

pulsing trees together. later, finding a grove of wild ginger, you insist

it’s a treasure, protecting this weed with its pervasive rhizomatous roots,

shielding it with your splayed hands and then draping it over your shoulder

along with your foraged Hormosira banksii, claimed at mid-tide on our last

evening swim. everything equal in your mind, you stroke the leaves

and shrivelled olive beads sleepily, lulled by a saturated silence from

the deserted road above; watching you, i think of habits and how they form,

and hope we keep some or all of these we are forming. my pelagic fish,

the silt in your river of isolation came when you realised the sea was lost

to you, and you struggled to use those branching chains of water-filled veins

to withstand the ebbing tide

 

day ii

morning light hits shivering rimu fingers in a way i didn’t notice before,

like it’s plunging, trying to pick something up that’s lost at the bottom

of a council leisure centre pool; abandoned goggles, cap, stick, stone.

i want to find that thing we’ve forgotten, or maybe all the owners

of these churning lost things that help us stay buoyant or otherwise.

my maternal grandfather was a daily wild swimmer and treated it with

a reverence bordering on panic. it’s the alteration of body temperature

that releases, relieves. it made him feel sound of mind, but maybe not safe

of body, given the lacey shape of the fractured greywacke rocks he dove from

at the inlet they called home. i can visualise a breathlessness, and then

a bruised flying. and I wonder, is that how he felt? did the propulsion

into water, coupled with that numbing, knotty coldness, shake him wildly loose?

like him, you exercise an immersive love that demands return to one salty,

thrown-about body, tangling us up in green scribbles, circles and untraceable

starfish scratches. how deep you want to measure, to fill up every space

between us, the air we share. at breakfast, while slicing apple suns,

we discuss the air quality index and the Clean Air Act and what this means

for cities and transport and adverse health effects. afterwards, floating in

the bathwater on your back, eyes closed to me, i watch the soft depression

of your chest cavity and talk to you about the humming bee breath,

closing one ear to all surrounding sound

 

day iii

we bend and collect fallen kauri and tanekaha leaves to dry downstairs

for making into sheets of paper, and i feel like calming, wake-like

into the warmness of the leaf litter underneath peeled-bare branches,

sighing into all the worries of the basalt, granite and rock crust

that should be frustrated with us for failing to care. we do not

have kauri rot, and our ritual to ensure this has something of prayer to it.

understanding, you chastise any who visit, pointing to which boots

are allowed to be worn on your indecipherable map filled with rising

lines, eddies, swells. you are rooted deep to your watery west coast clay.

today, we read of the cormorants that have returned to Venice,

as the seaweed-thick fragile lagoon ecosystem is visible again, shorn

of tourism and motor transport disturbance. and while you flick through

photographs, I worry that we will forget too soon. you replay the narrative

again and again, hopping and spinning about and hot-headedly insisting

on mimicry. my body still baffles me after birth; refusing, uncooperative,

not at all one with my clamorous mind, it carries me along through

this time of confinement but feels weightless in a frightening way,

as though i am an alluvial river, and not at all certain how to halt

the erosion of these shores

 

day iv

stories are one thing we agree upon, resting flock-like on steaming

beds of compost mulch, chopping up rotting weeds and long, prickling

stalks from harvested Jerusalem artichokes. we argue over a pair

of turquoise-handled scissors like siblings until i take your

little finger and link it through mine, pleading silence while i weave

another marshy history. the blue hue of the ocean is largely constructed

from chlorophyll and disintegrating organic bodies, and this seems

to be the only likely truth i can hear. there are more snarled news reports

that i mute furtively, my fingers washing away a wider belly of current,

holding it back for just a little longer. i am selfish in this skimming

of possible narratives, but i want you to be a water-skating insect,

legs as flotation devices, ridged with grooves marked on tiny hairs

that trap air. please slide across this surface without pause; you will learn

to scull or drift through swampy nodes and puckers soon enough.

for now, all you have is the woven ribs of trees, and the light running deep,

keeping us very nearly afloat. sometimes, if i rise early and walk into

the aqueous-lit yawn of bush before you wake, i can hear our neighbour

singing, just ever so faintly

 

 

 

Elizabeth Welsh is a poet, papermaker and academic editor. She is the author of Over There a Mountain, published by Mākaro Press in 2018. Her poetry and short fiction has been published in New Zealand and the United Kingdom. She lives in Titirangi with her husband and daughter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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