The leader by Fiona Farrell
We met them at a corner
on the road. Black tarmac
buckled over rise and dip,
the tap tap of a donkey’s
hooves. The man walked
as in the illustrations, the
woman rode upon the
donkey’s bones, hand
cupping her belly as if
it were a fig ripe to
bursting, as in the
illustrations. Torn shirt,
faded blue and threadbare,
her skin cracking.
They appeared beyond the
mirage, floating towards
us on water, weightless and
unafraid. And then she gave
a mighty groan, slid from
the donkey’s back and
squatted under a barren tree
and it was as in the illustrations,
the sleek black circle of the
skull between folds of crimson
flesh, then his ferocious face,
his shoulders slithering into
dry leaf and his fists already
raised. She howled, called us
to come and see. And it was as
in the illustrations, but without
camel, sheep or the flutter of
white wings. We recognized
him. Here was our bold leader!
Our salvation! But it was late
and the sun was sliding, the
moon its pale shadow. So we
left them there, trudged on.
We did not have time to wait,
hoping he might grow.
Two views of Manfred by John Newton
from Escape Path Lighting: A Novel
And Manfred Singleton? No sleep for him –
not yet. His sleep demands premeditation.
Manfred’s dreams are a single dream, with as
many variations as there are nights
to dream it. He dreams of the mountains he
grew up beneath in a storied homeland
far to the south, of saw-toothed granite
and wind-polished ice, of snow like enamel,
of rivers like burnished wire. He dreams
of a universe ravished of people,
and of all the ten-thousand-odd ways to say
lonely in an atavistic, self-devised language
that no one else speaks. These are the dreams
that by day, at the keyboard, he sculpts into
incomprehensible sounds. They are not
to be rushed, or stumbled into; they
are what he has to show for a lifetime
of lascivious perfectionism. And so
his waking hours wind up by careful degrees.
First, the mix-down of the evening’s work;
second, the dusting of all wooden
surfaces; third the rolling of a modest
joint of blue-ribbon skunk laced with
opium paste; fourth, the leisurely
smoking of same; fifth, ablutions and
asanas; sixth, massage of scalp and temples;
seventh, repair to listening station;
eighth, rotation of remote control, eleven
times in each direction; ninth, disinfection
of headphones with antiseptic tissue. And now
our fastidious feral composer, our
oneiric doodler, is ready to push PLAY . . .
The passage of time has become confused.
The playback has ended. Did Manfred
listen? And why is he perched with his chin
on the windowsill, galvanised like a
gundog on point? The inlet below, where some
several hours earlier Marigold’s light
caught his vigilant eye, is restored
at this hour to its native gloom, to
the colour that the poet once christened
‘bible-black’. A blackout as deep as a starless
sky, across which he finds himself tracking
a smear of light. A comet, it might be,
if this were the sky, a reticent smudge
like a match-head just failing to strike.
Phosphorescence, it can only be – but
stirred into life by what, exactly? To
interrupt his nightly office – the reader
will gather – is no small thing. But the fallen
heavenly body intrigues him. He must
have his goggles, he must now confirm, in their
washed-out televisual glare, that what he
has been tracking is a human person,
crawling, with a long, steady stroke, in
the direction of shore. But who? And from
where, at this unlikely hour? Is Manfred
Singleton paranoid? Let’s say, at least,
that he’s a symbolic thinker, and that
it’s not every day such an odd fowl
swims into his ken. For now the athlete
has gained the shallows, his toes have discovered
the welcome sand where he hauls himself
upright, a turkey-necked Venus,
some two metres tall and stark bollocky
nude! Lurching ashore, in a great
froth of foam, he throws himself down
on the gravel, splayed out like a starfish.
Manfred turns from the window, shaking
his head. Whoever he is, this emissary from
the deep, this portent, this singular bird, he is
here for a reason, Manfred confides, to himself
and to us. We have not seen the last of him.
xvii. by Bernadette Hall
from Fancy Dancing
I’ve been out all night, walking, talking to the sea
and what I was trying to say was, ‘Hey you,
stay right where you are.’ I’ve been a bit oh là là
lately, a bit circumnavigatory since the earthquake,
since the slaughter of innocents in the Riccarton mosque.
But what I was really trying to say was thank you
for that brilliant critique of my poem. It was the best
thing ever, wave-written on blotchy, weedy
paper splish splash splosh and no,
it wasn’t excessive, it was exactly what I needed,
a good old dunking. Was it Sorenson who spilled
the beans about the boy limping home at night,
drunk as a skunk and falling off his bike in the alleyway?
How happy you are now, old man. Come here and I’ll feed you.
This is a love poem not a disease by Dominic Hoey
and then my phone rang
someone I hadn’t spoken to
since back when everyone thought they’d be dead before climate change got its shit together
we used to shelter in one another
stay up late imagining the future
eat breakfast in the afternoon
skin burnt from moonlight
one day the weather changed
she went one direction
here we were some years later
and I was excited
it’s been ages
things are really looking up for me
I live in a house with a dishwasher now
and I own a dog!”
“I have an STI” she said quiet, like ripping a bandaid off a corpse
“Oh … bummer … anyway his names Prince Chilli and he loves playing with lemons”
I assumed she was making conversation
I couldn’t believe she hadn’t had sex since back when john key and richie mcraw ruled over their anchor milk kingdom
but she didn’t want to talk about Pompeians or politics
and instead said things like blood test, urgent and disgusting
so I scribbled the disease on the back of a half finished love poem and hung up
the piece of paper sat on my desk
a movie was playing in my head called “You’re a Fucking Idiot”
starring everyone I’d had sex with
since back when fascism was just a footprint in history
it was a comedy of errors
it was a horror film
it was a porn video shot on an Iphone 4
it was a Ken Loach social realist drama
the scruffy main character and his four legged side kick ringing ex lovers out of the blue
Prince Chilli drove me to the clinic
I handed the doctor the piece of paper
“this is a love poem not a disease ” he said
same same I replied
he turned the paper over and shook his head
“never heard of it”
we sat in silence
the dog chewed on his leg
suddenly the doctor clicked his finger
“I know, we’ll do the old urethra swab”
he opened a drawer
and pulled out a swab the size of a toothbrush
“Can’t I just get a blood test?” I asked
“Put ya dog down mate”
I lay on the bed
my pants around my knees
Chilli was biting himself on the floor
the doctor read instructions off the packet
as he performed the swab
“Ok, so says here insert swab, and twist 3 times”
he turned once
It felt like he was scraping out the inside of my soul
“FUCK!” I screamed
“Calm down mate, not my fault you’re in this predicament”
he twisted the swab twice more
then stuffed it in a plastic bag
“Could write one of ya poems about this eh” he said as I pulled my pants up.
the results came back negative
I rung up the woman I hadn’t seen since back when people thought Twitter was a fun supportive community
“Oh” she said, the music returning to her voice “I guess I must have got it from someone else. I just thought you seemed like…”
she cut the sentence short
letting it bleed out down the phone
“Anyway I hope you and your Jack Russell have a good life” she said “Got to go”
“he’s a fucking Pomeranian” I muttered as she sunk back into the past
Covid in the time of Primeminiscinda by Tusiata Avia
I’m not listening to Jacinda
I’m going to my friend’s party and all the herbalists are there listing all the things:
Thieves oil, Whiteywood, Kanuka, Honeysuckle, Pohutukawa, Horopitpo, Elderberry syrup.
It’s really easy they say, all you have to do is: go for many miles into to the wilds, recognise the right things, pick them, dry them in a confusing but special way, boil them, decant them, strain them into pure glass bottles and seal them.
You’ll be lucky to find them for sale any more.
This freaks me out so I go home.
I’m listening to Jacinda
I’m telling myself that I’m staying the hell away from herbalists and Facebook
I’m sitting in cafes with the panickers, the terrified and the lonely
I know there is plenty to panic about
I’m staying six feet away
chatting to the old man with the stroke in his arm and his leg
How are you? he asks. I’m good, I answer.
I’m watching the surprise in his droopy eye and his lopsided smile.
I’m talking to the German Hare Krishna who owns the café and asking her
how she copes with everyone coming in and eating their anxiety
and leaving saliva on the plates.
They’re just stimulated by all of this, she says, but I have Krishna and I will be alright.
I’m waking up at five in the morning and I’m thinking maybe Jacinda has become my Krishna
I take her picture down and light my incense to nothing at all.
I’m asking my 86 year old mother to ring me half an hour before she comes into the same room
as me and daughter, so I can disinfect:
the light-switches and the door knobs and the cupboard handles and the fridge door and the microwave door and the knife drawer handle and the taps and dishwasher door and the bench and the table top and her dining-room chair and the back of her chair and the landline phone and the TV remote and the heat-pump remote
and then I walk quickly to the other end of the house and disinfect the toilet and the flush button and all the light-switches and the taps and the empty towel rail.
I keep reminding my daughter:
imagine Uncle is lying on the floor with his feet here and his head there, that’s how far you have to stay away from Granny.
I speak loudly to Mum (cos she’s pretty deaf): Stay away Mum, stay away.
Before my brother and my niece arrive for the last time, my daughter is deep-frying panikeke
I say the word dangerous more than fifteen times
then I’m standing under the shower and forcing myself to breathe
just leaving her with the boiling oil and standing under the water and trying to breathe:
I am just having a shower I am just having a shower I am just having a shower.
I’m listening to Jacinda and clicking on her message to the nation
and the full media briefing she does afterwards
and the science woman with bright pink hair who shows us how to wash our hands.
I am calling a briefing for my mother and daughter.
I am Jacinda:
I’m plugging myself in to the TV and turning the volume up loud enough that my daughter has to cover her ears
and my mum can hear.
Are you ready, I ask them? Are you ready?
Jacinda is saying tomorrow is lockdown
and I know my daughter is out of sanitary pads and I’m not sure if the taxis will keep running
so, I’m going to Wainoni Pak n Save with 6 zillion other people.
Jacinda told us to shop normally
I’m telling myself: Shop normally shop normally shop normally
I’m forcing myself to buy one packet of toilet paper and four cans of baby beetroot.
A woman is taking photos of all the different kinds of sanitary pads to send to her daughter
she steps back and bumps into me. I’m trying not to freak out, I’m forcing myself to walk slowly around the supermarket
I’m telling myself: Walk slowly walk slowly walk slowly.
I’m going back to the health and beauty aisle and searching for Rescue Remedy and not finding it
I see a guy I met on Tinder ages ago and didn’t sleep with
he says, Well, how do you tell the story?
and gives me a look as if it is a thing that neither of us could know
as if it is a thing perhaps no one could know.
In the carpark a couple of young bogans stick their heads out of the car window
and cough as loud as they can, laugh and drive off.
I’m reading what the microbiologist has said about disinfecting:
You have to let it sit for 10 mins or you’re just moving the bacteria around
I thought I was doing a good job keeping my mum safe
I thought I was keeping her safe, so if she does die, at least I will know I did all the right things
but I’ve just been moving it around.
I’m listening to the bugle call in the kitchen
Jesus isn’t coming back or Armageddon or even the end of Level 4
but here is the moment of silence, so, I stop
whatever 10 minute meal I am making
and remember those who have fallen: the ANZACs and the Covid cluster down the road
at the Rosewood Rest Home.
Tusiata Avia is an internationally acclaimed poet, performer and children’s author. She has published collections of poetry including Wild Dogs Under My Skirt, Bloodclot, Fale Aitu/ Spirit House and three children’s books. Her poems have been published in over 100 anthologies and literary journals. Tusiata’s first book, Wild Dogs Under My Skirt, is also a multi-award-winning theatre production for six women, most recently garnering the 2019 Outstanding Production of the Year at Off-Broadway theatre, Soho Playhouse, New York City. The recipient of a number of awards and writers residencies, Tusiata most recently received a 2020 Arts Foundation Laureate (The Theresa Gattung Female Arts Practioners Award) and was made a Member of the NZ Order of Merit for services to poetry and the arts.
Fiona Farrell publishes award-winning poetry, fiction, non-fiction and plays. She has appeared at numerous festivals both in New Zealand and elsewhere. In 2007 she received the Prime Minister’s Award for Fiction and, in 2012, the ONZM for Services to Literature. Her play Chook Chook is one of Playmarket New Zealand’s most frequently requested scripts. Farrell has published three non-fiction titles relating to the Christchurch earthquakes: The Broken Book, The Quake Year and The Villa At the Edge of the Empire, the factual half of a two-volume work examining the rebuilding of a city through the twinned lenses of non-fiction and fiction. Her most recent publication, Nouns, verbs, etc., a selection of her poems, unpublished and from earlier collections, was launched this week at WORD.
Bernadette Hall is an award-winning writer who lives with her husband, John, at Amberley Beach at the northern end of Pegasus Bay in the Hurunui, three-minutes’ walk from the Tasman
Sea. She has built up a beautiful garden there.
Dominic Hoey is a poet, author, and playwright based in Tāmaki Makaurau. He’s released books, films, rap albums and talked shit on stages around the world. He’s currently hocking his brand new zine Bad Advice for Good People and trying to convince the publishing industry not to be scared of poor people and publish his next novel.
John Newton was born in Blenheim and grew up on a sheep farm in the Marlborough Sounds. He taught for two years in the English Department at the University of Melbourne, and from 1995 to 2009 at the University of Canterbury. His poetry collections are Tales from the Angler’s Eldorado (1985), Lives of the Poets (2010) and Family Songbook (2013). His work appears in a number of major anthologies. He is also the author of three works of non-fiction: The Double Rainbow: James K. Baxter, Ngāti Hau and the Jerusalem Commune (2009), Hard Frost: Structures of Feeling in New Zealand Literature 1908–1945 (2017) and Llew Summers: Body and Soul (2020). Escape Path Lighting, a satirical novel in verse, is published this month by Victoria University Press. John is the 2020 Robert Burns Fellow. More here.