Issue 8

Gregory O'Brien
Four Poems

A consort of flower parts

for Jen

If the life of the mind is
a history of
interesting mistakes
          then what of

the life of the body—a memorable swim
within certain boundaries?

As in a botanical diagram,
letters are usually assigned
          the diverse parts:

stem, leaf, stamen, much the way
those same letters are dispersed
across the writerly sky
          above Hataitai.

So, too, our marriage was
annotated, inflected.
Let’s go swimming, you said,
          in your blue shoes. Who needs
an ocean
or the blustery light

all about us. Afternoons
I returned to the suit
in which I was married,
          the blackness

of its incomparably blue
day—the sea of where it was
          we went.

          It was us, alone,
but not for long—others joined in,
names were distributed,
commas placed between them,
          bedrooms added,
instruments assigned.
Chandeliers hovered above
our time together,

letters of a glass alphabet. We thought
the world. And how it was we came to be
who we were
          or just west of there.
In the coral sea you were
the brightest of fishes
          and I was marooned
half way through a poem called
‘Beauties of the octagonal pool’.

There were, at times, differences
concerning music, the lifespan
          of a couch, number of books
on a shelf, the time anything

takes. The year the Australian
Prime Minister wouldn’t say ‘sorry’
          we made a picnic
of the cold

but you were nowhere to be found
on that icy rug. We had driven
          down a side road,
at the end of which
a sign: ‘Sorry, Garden Growing’.

It was the comma, carefully rendered,
that held us—this comma at the end of
          Hokianga Harbour,
high above Omapere, an eyelash
          or falling star. The comma
          after ‘sorry’
which followed us south.
We thought the world

          of each other, and
beyond the bird-like lettering
          the cathedrals of
our time together
were a succession
          of photo-booths. Times
we forgot to smile.

It was Spring
or thereabouts
          and the high-flying punctuation
of Hataitai, all flower parts
and parts of speech, was
all about us. Out-of-service buses
bearing the word ‘sorry’
          coasted by.

          With its dream of
perfectly spaced
events and objects, it is the comma
          that outlives these words—between

‘sorry’ and ‘garden growing’,
a seedling dropped
between adult plants. Whatever else
the season delivers

in the end all we have is
          which exists
between us, a pod and a curl,
which holds us

Love poem

Houses are likened to shoeboxes but shoeboxes are not
likened to houses. A car is likened to a heap but a heap is not
likened to a car. A child is a terror but terror is not a child.
A business might be a sinking ship but a sinking ship is no
business. A bedroom is a dog’s breakfast but a dog’s breakfast
is not a bedroom. A bad review might be a raspberry but a
raspberry is not a bad review. A haircut is likened to a disaster
but a disaster is not a haircut. Books can be turkeys but turkeys
are never books. A holiday might be a riot but a riot is not a
holiday. A garden might become a headache but a headache is
not a garden. I dream about you but you are not a dream.

Ode to fashion

for Doris de Pont

Of your over-reaching lines
and displaced

enough said, fashion being
a kind of biography
in which

the shape of a life
is contained
but not

in words. Let us consider
instead what is revealed
in the measuring

room: the state of undress that lies
at the heart of dress. O
dizzying hemispheres

of Fashion, you encircle the
dangerous princesses
of Monaco

as you do the waists of young mothers
recently delivered of
their children.

Scholars listen to the rustling pages
of your collars and cuffs
as indeed they might ponder

the infinite sleeves
of your infinite arms
rocking us

both towards and away
from sleep. So like
and so unlike

the world of which you are
a part, you have
your designs

and your points of distraction
your deft marriages
and the occasional

embarrassment. Out on your limb
you wear your creases
but not as

we wear age. You are
also a museum
of gestures,

glances, with your multi-storied
wardrobes, those libraries of
previous seasons—

apartment blocks in which
evenings of a life
are stored.

If we tumble, your good skirts
will gather us
and if we fall

your lavish designs will raise us
again. Should we become

your fabrics will wrap around the two
of us—at least until
season’s end. Then

it will be
and the wafting poetry
         of curtains
for you

floating out towards the horizon
of the infinity pool
where these

cultivated waters touch
a raging sea, that
quiet seam

beside which I sit
awaiting further

The non-singing seats

i. m. Maxwell Fernie, who from the church organ,
conducted the choir at St Mary of the Angels,
Wellington, for forty years until his death in 1999

It was air that gave the grand thing
life. Like a sailboat

or newborn, it was sprung
to song, drawing us up

the encircling staircase
to its loft

where the choirmaster directed
his forest of pipes.

You should sing as though running down
a grassy slope,

we were told, and here it was
our three sons drifted

gull-like, amidst the rackety cylinders,
and came to know this world

by measures. We were all ears,
aloft, and this way,

mouths firmly shut, we were taught
to sing—Max’s head

a rising sun above
the keyboard

feet as busy upon the pedals
as a pedestrian

taking Allenby Steps
two at a time.

Mid-song, I would lift my children
so high

above my head they became
the tallest people

in the world. And so it was,
we were, and will remain,

running down a green slope
towards a town called

Palestrina or Johann Sebastian
or simply an outline

of Wellington airport
embalmed in fog,

planes unable to land
and us, the chosen few

about to lift off.