Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Emma Neale’s ‘Indicator’

Indicator

All through thin winter

a single yellow-lipped flower

hangs like honeydrip

from the tip of a twig

on the kowhai outside our window.

Now and then a wax-eye

or an eerily silent tūī slips by,

suckles there, each visit so swift

we soon guess the teat’s run dry:

no languid glug of nectar

like those summer-dusty kids,

canter-and-cartwheel parched

at the schoolyard drinking fountain,

when their every mouthful sounds

a grateful, gulping hum

like the rev of a warming engine.

Through ice, hail and fog

this blossom that grips the brink

seems bitter, withered emblem

of what is not; of tense lockdown;

of what cost; futures lost,

the tired earth’s toxin-clogged, wild demise

I even cuss some fossicking birds

as if they’re mad deniers —

boom-times are gone.

Can’t you just goddamn leave

that last poor scrap alone?

Then one cold but blueing morning

I lift the kitchen blind

wait for coffee to send its sun

through the hoar-frost of sleep

to see the whole tree

buckets with its own bright rain

a thousand beak-mouthed flowers

sing the aria of themselves

as if that one yellow blossom

in its winter death clench

was the stoic pilot light

that set the whole tree ablaze

a Kali-armed candelabra

peacocking with gold —

yet this silken dart and glitter

of unbidden happiness —

now grown so unfamiliar —

is it dangerous?

What have I turned my back on

for that moment

it takes a small child

to rush before a speeding van,

slip into an unfenced pool,

for some link in the web to fray

by the time night flows over the tree

as dark as the inside of a body?

Emma Neale

Emma Neale is a Dunedin based writer and editor. The author of 6 novels and 6 collections of poetry, Emma is the current editor of Landfall.

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