(Above image by Roger Hickin: Dark & Bright as Earth Is 2002 Acrylic & found paint on kauri panels, 175 x 280mm (Private collection, Seattle)
I am swallowed by a whale
Whose ribs are well furnished
With writing material, books,
A choice of coffee or tea.
From portholes I observe
Or gather in threatening storm.
Seabirds pass overhead
Emitting their coarse laughter.
I am walled behind glass
Where snow does not fall
Nor gales blow. I write poems,
Against being digested by the whale.
My father remembered what it was to be small,.
And to nourish rebellion.
My father in the night concocted
From vinegar, brown paper, pepper,
A hot plaster for my jumping ear,
Which was much the same as waving a wand.
I could show you my tommy-axed finger,
Bound together without stitches,
Or tell you how my father became a wall
And relied on me to stand as firm
While a doctor scissored off my crushed nail.
But when I grew, and climbed
The hill Difficulty, and at length
Came face to face with Giant Despair,
My father was not there,
Just his initials marked on a stone.
Grass I have cut and heaped in a pyramid
Is not yet dry enough to burn;
So I lie on it, reading Japanese poems,
Under a wild cherry, overhanging the harbour,
Whose skinny fruit is long since gone.
Between its leaves, fretted by pear-slug,
The sky is milky blue. Early evening.
Sun catches the karoros’ underwings.
Nine birds float, steady, on the wind,
Then tilt off, wailing over the water,
Screened by the bitten cherry-tree,
Only to return and wheel again,
Swivelling their white heads to look down.
What do they see? Long human bones
Thrown out with an old jersey and trousers,
Lying a long time motionless in the hay.
These beautiful, gliding, immaculate birds
Are hopefully wondering if I am dead.