Archive for February, 2012

Anniversary of a Departure

Fifty years ago today, my husband Tony and I said farewell to family on the quay in Wellington, New Zealand, and walked up the gangplank of the ocean liner Johan Van Oldenbarnevelt, drawn by that migratory urge young New Zealanders have to explore the other side of the world. This poem says a little about how it felt.


LEAVING NEW ZEALAND


I am Katherine Mansfield come again

on that slow ship out of Wellington.

Taste of bile in my mouth, I endure

the airless heat of the lower decks

rank with galley smells

and the deep-throated thump of engines.

The ice-slick of my daughter’s death

stumbling my speech,

I sit with parties playing Scrabble on the deck

where Indonesian stewards in white jackets

rattle tea-trolleys.


Evenings, I watch for that streak of light

as sun plunges into viscous sea.

Then sudden dark.

Familiar stars of my Antipodes

recede southward.

In their place, carved mahogany panels

that fill the walls of staterooms and stairways:

solemn eyes of strange beasts

peer from behind carved vines,

birds in extravagant plumage

perch on the edge of my dreams.

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