Poems for Friday Reading at Shambaugh House.

Poem 1.

For Raine: 7.5.74.

In a concrete hutch, privately
owned, run at a profit, subsidized
with the sisters and nurse
aides squabbling like working
women in the flourescent
oxygens, they lifted your
heels and cut you cleanly
off in a breath of your
age: we started in the coming
away of afterbirth, dizzy as
the lyrical doctor of medicine
praised you to the skies: stunned
by all that made you look at least
ten million years old, from your
mother’s softened vitals to
your female mammal sleeping eyes.

Praise the being here.

Poem 2.

The Blood of Abel*
(for Osip Mandelstam)

What you write goes
on speaking: a bequest
breathing bubbles
of Abel’s blood.

You rise to your feet
from a grave of snow
with all that
mendicant wealth

and strew the soil
of Mother Russia
in tropes on the sacred
page, smear it wide

with your thumbprint
until it shrieks
because a Jew
can make it talk.

* Hebrews 11:4. Cain killed his bother Abel and his blood cried out from the ground. – “through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks”.

Poem 3.

Bird Watching at Wembley.

The beast in the coliseum snorts
and roars, paws the floor, stamps
its feet: no hope now

to catch a sight of the rare
Minnesotan Minstrel Jew. But din
from hell don’t scare him none: he flits

into the white hot maelstrom
of light and sound. I focus
on his tangled crest, note

the unusual adult plumage: long
black preacher’s coat, white
shirt at sleeve and throat, akimbo

stance on Kabuki mask. Listen:
from earth to high heaven, that
harsh hillbilly snarl and wail

of the Dylan crow
at the height of his powers
showers my sense

with harmonica bars. Neck
hair prickles. I blink
and he’s gone.

Poem 4.

The last Huron language speaker

The last Huron
language speaker
in the world.

(Let us weep for him)

The last Huron
language speaker
in the

(Let us weep for

The last Huron
language speaker
in

(Let us weep

The last Huron
language

(Let us

The last Huron

(Let

The last

(

The

Poem 5.

As Big As A Father.

I lost him the first time
before I could grasp
who he was, what he did, where
he fitted with her

and it’s always seemed so dumb:
how to lose something
as big as a father.

I lost him the the next time
to the rum-running Navy
who took him and took him
and kept right on taking

and it wasn’t my mistake
losing a vessel
as big as a father.

I lost him a third time
to a ship in a bottle
that rocked him and rocked him
and shook out his pockets

and no kind of magic
could slip me inside
with my father.

I lost him at home
when floorboards subsided
and he said and she said
went this way and that way

and dead in the water
I couldn’t hang on
to my father.

The last time I lost him
I lost him for good:
the night and the day
the breath he was breathing

and death’s head torpedoes
blew out of the water
the skiff of my father.

Poem 6.

from The Late Great Blackball Bridge Sonnets (2004)

(xxiii)

In the house of my body I carry that river.
In the depths of my being I’m water. My
body’s the home of a wandering miner
too old to go down and too tired to go on.
When I stand on the world and look over
what’s living, what’s left, I’m the bridge
to the past and the road still unfolding.
Wheels and water, tracks and steam, all
the footprints beside the river, thousands
of hours spent double in blackness,
a light on my head to remind me I’m human. In
the shape of my bones I’m an NZR sleeper
and when my last shift comes, my Dog Watch
boys, lay me like coal by the sea at Karoro.

*NZR: New Zealand Railways.
* Sleeper: Rail tie.
* Karoro: cemetery near the coast.

Poem 7.

from Flight Path, in Fly Boy (2010)

9. diaspora

three nights sleeping under the roof of my
son-in-law’s suburban mansion its white
cathedralish atrium to him quite normal
one more step on the upscale ladder child
of Italian and Polish rootstock baptised American
way way back by some frazzled clerk on Ellis
Island swamped in the roar of thick dark accents
out of his depth in the hordes of exiles minting
an instant New York coinage Rasala now was who
you really were genes to be sent to Pennsylvania pulsing
later at MIT resting here in California over here
somewhere between Thomas Merton and Leonard
Cohen I go down the Bollinger Canyon Road to
Nat King Cole at Starbucks a slow beige bubble
of corner gossip settling down on the humming
MacBooks a very material kind of pilgrimage
passed on the left by Yoko Ono’s anorexic older
sister with iPod drips that swing on her shoulders
facing the uphill grinning grills of Lexus after
Lexus where Miguel trims the edges in his yellow
safety jacket one more Mexican helper from across
the border who may or may not become rich in
this or the next generation perhaps one day he
will have a son on the way through college
a clerk at Costco scanning the beef and turkey
jerkies up from the fields where his mother picked
the grapes of Napa yes it must be obvious by now if you
have followed their fortunes this far that a fresh wave
of expectant displaced persons will huddle tonight
at the borders and descend

Poem 8.

We’ll meet.

The blank sheet. The blank slate. The blank stare.
Everything in front of me says nothing there
But I know you’re here.

The old wounds. The fresh scent. The telltale hair
I found tonight on your dressing gown where
It hangs behind the door.

The dry eyes. The photograph. The slow tear.
You were so beautiful at 19 in the war
With that incendiary Garbo hair.

The new woman. The lost girl. The mother
Who would so mother me I swear
There’ ll never be another.

The telephone. The writing pad. The street.
The world to come the mocker’s hate
Where I know we’ll meet.

Poem 9.

Who of you

who of you
will not now bow
pay homage to
Unbrick & Unstone?

See how they unlay unstack undo
all we have ever done.

Who can stand against them
when they come
with their earth whips their land hooks?

They have toppled cross
from steeple
they have murdered
people

Unbrick Unstone
unlay unstack undo
turn smashed every human
clock back.

Poem 10.

memory is place

memory is
the braille of buildings
threading the labyrinth

how can I find
my way through myself
with the past torn down

the road of dreams
with my compass
smashed

memory is the street
where love
struck

avenues where lips
came close to giving
desire a name

writing letters
on every brick
knowing

we could always come
and find the places
kisses met

Poem 11.

The departed

there are bullet holes in the silence
of certain selected homes
black and white photographs
of departed kamikaze

grief for them is hidden deep
you cannot see it from the street
not even in the cries of the crows
is it possible to trace that sound

only perhaps in this old woman
who passes bent beneath
a protein deficiency in her bones
shined hollow by a life of rice and fish

in one house in particular
there will be a portrait of the old
emperor and in another wrapped
in cloth behind the shrine a ceremonial
sword its golden sakura blossoms disguising
the blade asleep within the scabbard

there are certainly sword strokes and sobbing
deep in the night but impossible to tell
from where they come

—————

All poems C. Jeffrey Paparoa Holman 2012.

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About paparoa

Writer and researcher.
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