Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Tusiata Avia’s ‘Covid in the time of Primeminiscinda’

Covid in the time of Primeminiscinda

I’m not listening to Jacinda

I’m going to my friend’s party and all the herbalists are there

listing all the things:

Thieves Oil, whiteywood, kānuka, honeysuckle, pōhutukawa,

horopito, elderberry syrup.

It’s really easy, they say, all you have to do is go for many

miles into the wilds, recognise the right things, pick them,

dry them in a confusing and special way, boil them, decant

them, strain them into pure glass bottles and seal them.

You’ll be lucky to find them for sale anymore.

This freaks me out so I go home.

Level 1

I’m listening to Jacinda

I’m telling myself that I’m staying the hell away from herbalists

and Facebook

I’m sitting in cafés with the panickers, the terrified and the lonely.

I know there is plenty to panic about.

I’m staying six feet away

chatting to the old man with the stroke in his arm and his leg.

How are you? he asks. I’m good, I answer.

I’m watching the surprise in his droopy eye

and his lopsided smile.

I’m talking to the German Hare Krishna, who owns the café,

and asking her how she copes with everyone coming in

and eating their anxiety and leaving saliva on the plates.

They’re just stimulated by all of this, she says, but I have Krishna

and I will be all right.

Level 2

I’m waking up at five in the morning and I’m thinking maybe

Jacinda has become my Krishna

Hare Jacinda

Rama Primeminiscinda

I take her picture down and light my incense to nothing at all.

I’m asking my eighty-six-year-old mother to ring me half

an hour before she comes into the same room as

me and my daughter, so I can disinfect:

the light switches and the door knobs and the cupboard handles

and the fridge door and the microwave door and the knife-

drawer handle and the taps and the dishwasher door and the

bench and the tabletop and her dining-room chair and the

back of her chair and the landline phone and the TV remote

and the heat-pump remote

and then I walk quickly to the other end of the house

and disinfect the toilet and the flush button and all the light

switches and the taps and the empty towel rail.

I keep reminding my daughter:

Imagine Uncle is lying on the floor with his feet here and

his head there, that’s how far you have to stay away from Granny.

I speak loudly to Mum (cos she’s pretty deaf):

Stay away Mum, stay away.

Before my brother and my niece arrive for the last time,

my daughter is deep-frying panikeke

I say the word dangerous more than fifteen times

then I’m standing under the shower and forcing myself to

breathe

just leaving her with the boiling oil and standing under

the water and trying to breathe. I am just having a shower I am just

having a shower I am just having a shower.

I’m listening to Jacinda and clicking on her message to the nation

and the full media briefing she does afterwards

and the science woman with bright pink hair who shows us how

to wash our hands.

I am calling a briefing for my mother and daughter.

I am Jacinda

I’m plugging myself in to the TV and turning the volume up

loud enough that my daughter

has to cover her ears

and my mum can hear.

Are you ready, I ask them? Are you ready?

Level 3

Jacinda is saying tomorrow is lockdown

I know my daughter is out of sanitary pads and I’m not sure

if the taxis will keep running, so, I’m going to Wainoni

Pak’nSave with six zillion other people.

Jacinda told us to shop normally.

I’m telling myself: Shop normally shop normally shop normally

I’m forcing myself to buy one packet of toilet paper

and four cans of baby beetroot. A woman is taking photos of all

the different kinds of sanitary pads to send to her daughter.

She steps back and bumps into me. I’m trying not to freak out,

I’m forcing myself to walk slowly around the supermarket

walk slowly walk slowly walk slowly.

I’m going back to the health and beauty aisle and searching for

Rescue Remedy and not finding it

I see a guy I met on Tinder ages ago and didn’t sleep with

and he says, Well, how do you tell the story?

and gives me a look as if it is a thing that neither of us

could know, as if it is a thing perhaps no one could know.

In the carpark a couple of young bogans

stick their heads out of the car window

and cough as loud as they can, laugh and drive off.

I’m reading what the microbiologist has said about

disinfecting.

You have to let it sit for ten minutes

or you’re just moving the bacteria around.

I thought I was doing a good job keeping my mum safe.

I thought I was keeping her safe, so if she does die,

at least I will know I did all the right things

but I’ve just been moving it around.

Level 4

I’m listening to the bugle call in the kitchen.

Jesus isn’t coming back or Armageddon

or even the end of Level 4

but here is the moment of silence, so I stop

whatever ten-minute meal I am making

and remember those who have fallen: the Anzacs and the Covid

cluster down the road at the Rosewood Rest Home.

Tusiata Avia from The Savage Coloniser Book Victoria University Press, 2020

Tusiata Avia is an acclaimed poet, performer and children’s writer. Her previous poetry collections are Wild Dogs Under My Skirt (2004; also staged as a theatre show, most recently Off-Broadway, winning the 2019 Outstanding Production of the Year), Bloodclot (2009) and the Ockham-shortlisted Fale Aitu | Spirit House (2016). Tusiata has held the Fulbright Pacific Writer’s Fellowship at the University of Hawai‘i in 2005 and the Ursula Bethell Writer in Residence at University of Canterbury in 2010. She was the 2013 recipient of the Janet Frame Literary Trust Award, and in 2020 was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to poetry and the arts. Her latest collection, The Savage Coloniser Book, has just been published by Victoria University Press.

Victoria University Press page

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