Poetry Shelf Occasional Poems: Kate Camp’s ‘I think I’ll remember where the cleaning eye is but I know I won’t’

I think I’ll remember where the cleaning eye is but I know I won’t

This is how tired you get, the plumber says,
when you have two seventeen-year-old daughters
you can fall asleep
when one of them is driving.

And he says, I’ve been here before, scrolling his phone
so he can slice again through woven grass
remove a square and place it to the side
like my father burying the family dog.

As a young man he went to Canada, he tells me,
worked the ski fields, some words about how lucky
we are and then – sound of metal, ceramic –
he has found the cleaning eye

go inside and run the tap he tells me
in and out I go proud as a child.
Next, the machine
hosepipe of tightly coiled spring

feeds itself in
he is wearing the special glove
the moral of the story is
always wear the special glove.

Can you hear that? Cocks his head like a bird
and I want to say I can but he can, water
running free way along the section
deep underground he hears it.

The grass fitted back in place
grows lusher than before
and now I’m sitting up in bed
balanced on my head

the LED light that changes colour
I’ve set to purple so on the top trapdoor
of my head I feel the weight
of a perfect purple cube

this is the thing I know how to do
right now
to keep that weight centred
above the bony chambers of my skull

and then I am up
and at the mirror
– why?
For human company?

I am wearing every garment I have
woollen boots, pants splashed with bleach,
a long robe like a Biblical prophet and two hoods
as if the monk in me were clothed by the polar explorer in me.

I look across to my only friend, the butternut pumpkin
on his jaunty angle. Dry, dry mouth.
Cars pass as if they were waves.
I am alone.

Kate Camp

Note on the poem

I did a week-long online poetry retreat with Mark Doty and Ellen Bass in late April – because of the time difference I got up each day at 4am to listen to a craft talk from one of them, then we had writing time, and re-grouped at 9am for a three hour workshop, where we shared what we had written in the morning.

I was staying up at our bach so that I could be in “Total Immersion” which was the name of the course. As it happened I got covid at the same time, so my total immersion and legal isolation were combined, quite usefully. This poem originated in that slightly surreal setting.

I think it makes a nod to Jenny Bornholdt’s “Then Murray Came” – the friendly stranger who comes into your home and shares a little – maybe a lot – about their life, then disappears again. Bornholdt’s work has been such an important influence on me as it is on so many New Zealand poets.  

Kate Camp is a Wellington-born poet, author of seven collections from Victoria University Press: Unfamiliar Legends of the Stars (1998), Realia (2001), Beauty Sleep (2005), The Mirror of Simple Annihilated Souls (2010), Snow White’s Coffin (2013), The internet of things (2017) and How To Be Happy Though Human: New and Selected Poems (2020), co-published by Victoria University Press in New Zealand and House of Anansi Press in Canada. Her memoir, You Probably Think This Song Is About You, was published in 2022 by Te Herenga Waka University Press.

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