Poetry Shelf favourites: Lynn Jenner’s ‘ZL4BY’


‘This is ZL4BY . . . ZL4BY on the air . . . ’ my father would say

Then there might be squeals
rising and falling in pitch
a long patch of silence
maybe a low animal noise like a cow
giving birth, or static so bad
I could hardly bear it

My father would turn the dial towards
the very centre of the pain, trawl
through it over and over and inside
there might be a man’s voice
clear as a bell

The man
might be the only person awake
in a town in Northern Saskatchewan

My father and the man
would exchange first names
report on each other’s signal strength
and say something about the weather
in each country. That seemed
to be enough

responding to a different urge
my father would just turn on his receiver
and listen

According to my father,
unacknowledged signals circled the earth
until someone received them properly

If my father heard one of these signals,
and he often used to – often – at the new moon,
and when low in spirits – all he had to do
was say the person’s call sign
and then say,

            ‘ZL4BY, receiving.’

That was enough.

Lynn Jenner
from Dear Sweet Harry (Auckland University Press, 2010)

In the 1960’s my father was what was called a ‘ham radio operator’, and ZL4BY was his callsign. From his shed in the garden he used to talk to people in other parts of the world about very ordinary things. You just talked to whoever was ‘on air’ when you turned on your receiver. This poem was written in 2008 and forms part of my first book Dear Sweet Harry.

Lynn Jenner is based in Te Tai Tokerau, just west of Kerikeri. She writes poetry and non-fiction and has a particular interest in hybrid genres Lynn also mentors other writers.  Lynn has published three hybrid genre books. More about her books and other poems can be seen on her website.

Poetry Shelf Favourite Poems is an occasional series where I have invited poets to pick a poem from their own backlist.

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