Aotearoa, September 2022
We celebrate two poets of grand stature in Aotearoa, Chris Tse, named New Zealand’ Poet Laureate in August 2022, and David Eggleton, who has carried his tokotoko since 2019.
You are so lucky to me, so taken with
whatever may come and everything
that washes ashore your glassy dreams.
I want to eat the fruit of your deepest
silences, perhaps also remember what
it means to find without searching.
Sometimes, when the night has shed
its last defences and I am chanced
with a window overlooking water,
I imagine the world as an idea waiting
for lightning strike, and you are the pins
of starlight holding it all in place.
No one can explain to me, in words
or otherwise, why it is I love you and
why there is no reason but to stare
through the shifting surface, breaths
caught somewhere else, and hand
myself over to another mystery.
previously published in the zine Con/Verse, edited by Ash Davida Jane
flexing in the mirror, flexing in my car
flexing in my bedroom, flexing near and far
flexing for attention, flexing just for fun
flexing like a mother, flexing on the run
flexing with a puppy, flexing in a dream
flexing underwater, flex until they scream
flexing under stage lights, flexing in the dark
flexing with my family, flexing rubber sharks
flexing with my pants on, flexing in the nude
flexing cos I want to, flex my attitude
flexing for exposure, flexing for world peace
flexing out of habit, flex between the sheets
flex to start a riot, flex against the odds
flexing makes me holy, flex my way to god
flex the tongue that spoils, flex the words that keep
flex a world in crisis, flex them all to sleep
flexing paper seasons, flex upon the crease
flex cold water therapy, flex a life of trees
flex instead of punching, flex to warn them off
flex a word of caution, flexing kung fu chops
flex wrists à la faggot, flex a pageant kiss
flex tides through the solstice, flex to hit not miss
flex until I’m stolen, flex until I’m found
flex a barren question, flex a square to round
flex has come between us, flex the sodden swell
flex almighty heaven, flex perpetual hell
flex confess a murder, flex then flee the scene
flex into a torture, flex whoever’s queen
flex beat ammunition, flex play winning hand
flex tomorrow’s fortune, flex to make a stand
flex the day a garland, flex slow blood release
flexing goes the sailor, flex behind the knees
flex a harmless blow-out, flexing liar, liar
flexing brutal codas, flexing skies on fire
flex my palms to ashen, flex my gaze to fade
flex their hate to zero, flex the world unmade
flex an axe a wood block, flex a feathered crush
flex a speed of progress, flex a solid rush
A poem about being kidnapped like that Ryan Reynolds movie, but no one makes any money or wins awards for surviving this ordeal
I didn’t know my courage until they hijacked me in my Toyota Corolla
then buried me alive at which point it was clear I had the nerves
to face the musty dark and the kick drum of soil thudding
on the lid of my makeshift coffin. In my head I recited the lyrics
to “Staying Alive” the song they suggest you hum to yourself
when administering CPR on someone who is slipping
between worlds. Whether you’re a brother or a mother or whether
you’re trapped in a coffin or whether you’re a missing persons poster
you’re staying alive holding on until someone locates you
or you find a way out of this gimmicky single-location poem.
You should be used to this said the men with spades as they looked down
at me. I didn’t know what they were referring to and they left
no time for questions. Used to kidnapping? Very risky practical jokes?
Whatever their motive I now know what it feels like to meet the sharp end
of someone else’s insecurity sustained by the hard parts of living.
A lesser man would’ve gone mad from laying in such intimate conditions
with his own thoughts but I am resilient. I have prepared myself
for similar but not-exactly-this scenarios so this might end well
if I just give in to my tormentors’ demands. If I cut out my tongue to blend in.
If I promise to stop embarrassing them with my success. If I show gratitude—
always gratitude. These are the things I can do to ensure my survival.
And wherever I was—six feet under Wellington or halfway to China—I knew
there was a reason for me being down here. Even if the reason is wrong.
At some point the humble second must realise the power it gives
to the minute, the hour and the twenty-four. It’s taken me being put in
a life-or-death situation to truly understand the power I hold.
Living is a sweetness that not everyone can taste but we all crave it.
We go to extremes to flick out our tongues to catch scant, precious drops
and when we are deprived of the pleasure we blame market forces
for not being able to meet demands. On the morning of the day
I was buried alive in this dark box my fuses blew when I switched on
the bathroom light at 5:55. The first news article I read that day was about
a remote mountain village claimed by an avalanche. If you look for signs
or coincidences of course they’ll reveal themselves. When you die
from carbon monoxide poisoning your body takes on an unnatural
reddish hue. It can be a slow death or a fast one arguably less violent than
asphyxiation. I’m dying an invisible death—one no one will know about
unless they find me here like a redskin lost at the bottom of a bag.
Chris Tse (born 1982) is a New Zealand poet, short story writer and editor. His works explore questions of identity, including his Chinese heritage and queer identity. His first full-length poetry collection, How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes, won the Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards in 2016. He has been appointed as the New Zealand Poet Laureate from 2022 to 2024.
Three from David Eggleton
Sugar Town’s rush hour fills choke points below
the biggest exclamation mark on death row,
concrete hypodermic lit by gamble fever,
the watchtower needle struck by weather.
Kite flying in forked lightning, ant trails,
skull headlands whose houses gleam gold teeth,
I nibble at the corners of dark cloud reef.
Woks singed over flames in food halls,
white pelts fur gutters after hail falls.
Forklifts carry pallets and engines growl,
off hot pavements steam plumes, thunder resounds.
Yellow petals tumble in memorial gardens,
a mānuka bud is a song in the city of sails.
The siren calliope serenades harbour mermaids,
anorexic spectres waver in door plate glass.
Lights a pimple rash on pinched neck of isthmus,
the container ship glides under blood orange moon.
Long Easter Weekend
Some face Easter by hunting a stag bull,
with cupped hands and cooees to the cull.
Others lift apple windfall to a barrel.
Big wax combs drip the last of the vernal
honey, the altars are covered with purple.
A clean syringe kill, nails in the gnarls
of crucified churls, a dish of buns to startle
those nested in texts at the kitchen table.
The equinox gets up its howl and rattle.
Deicide brings the hanging Jesus to dwell
on the tree of man; while Māui’s van signals
the way to Moeraki, or to deep-sounding bell.
As gods rise from the ferment of brine,
a carved wave ploughs a pure line.
Diadems shine in cobwebs at sunrise,
wool floss is bright, caught by barbed wire.
Yesterday’s wisps fly on the breeze of today,
the blue sky transmits holy oracles.
Sunlight reveals everywhere a miracle.
The bedroom window opens out from the sill.
Back lawn is dappled by lepidoptera,
grey clouds gather like butterfly hunters.
Brewed nectar in the first sip to thrill,
thereafter bitter ichor all the way down.
I would dig a bigger slice of the roseate
radiance that spins elusive in a pink cloud
beyond my fingertips, but as someone
slips and slides from the ski-slope everyday,
headed for the biggest boulder around,
so my immortal soul turns the corkscrew
to an afterlife of booze and cigarettes
with hammered skin and the skull knuckled.
I make promises to the rock of ages,
then break it up to pave the planet.
Your otter skin pelt skims through the glittery
browed sea on a trip beyond me.
I drop like a sparrowhawk on a pigeon,
or spider on wasp, run like a Norway rat
up a limb to a forking dilemma and fall.
I have swum with the green sea turtle,
pondered a Victorian table,
and questioned the biblical fable,
till it reared up and flew back to bite me,
who was unvaccinated and turned rabid.
I raged like a loon against the hideous moon
that glowed like a spoon over a lamp
to bubble tar, and drew up my blood
into a quasar doused with helium;
the resultant explosion lit the stars
and kept me staring into space
just twelve steps below paradise.
David Eggleton is of European, Tongan and Rotuman descent, growing up between Auckland and Fiji. He was the New Zealand Poet Laureate 2019–2022. His first collection of poems, South Pacific Sunrise, was co-winner of the PEN Best First Book of Poetry Award in 1987. His seventh collection of poems, The Conch Trumpet, won the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Award for Poetry. His most recent collection is The Wilder Years (2021) and a new collection is forthcoming in 2023. In 2016 David received the Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Poetry. As well as his poetry, Eggleton writes extensively on New Zealand art and music. He is a past editor of Landfall (2011-2018) and an acclaimed literary reviewer, having been awarded the New Zealand Reviewer of the Year title six times. David lives in Ōtepoti Dunedin.