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,
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 is a Dunedin based writer and editor. The author of 6 novels and 6 collections of poetry, Emma is the current editor of Landfall.
This is a very wonderful poem. The kind that makes me want to write again.