Confluence – the meeting ground of continents
Confluence - which is medium and a meeting ground of conversations between poets from New Zealand and Jamaica. We launch this path breaking initiative – bringing together literary minds, their thought processes and critically the people of the two countries together. Our first instalment focuses father-child relationship.
We, the curators of Confluence – the Meeting Ground - Shane Hollands from New Zealand and Ann-Margaret Lim from Jamaica - and Arts and Education wish all our readers Happy Father’s Day. We present a selection of poems from both countries honouring fathers in all their manifestations.
Sunday afternoon walks with my father
The wharf’s high rafters that Sunday
afternoon held a cathedral quiet,
the white-breasted devotions of pigeons.
The old bosun shuffled down from his stool,
ushered us in through the wicket gate.
My hand in my father’s, I walked whisperingly.
In my head the silence vibrates to the raucous
rhythms of loading day, jests and insults
hurled across the clang of tally machines,
the intense, knee-dipping canter of the bearers,
a human millipede hurrying the green
bunches into the hands of stevedores
who know the secrets of the dark hold,
and the engines shunting, shunting through
the night, coupling and uncoupling boxcars.
Now a wharf rat peeks out of a hole and turns
into a church mouse. We lean against
the bollards and overhear the water
whispering to the piles. The great ropes
lie like gentle serpents coiled in sleep.
This Sunday was to be special. At my father’s request
the bosun unlocked the boathouse door,
a side-chapel I had not entered before.
The single rowboat rocked content
on its tether: in the bilge the oarlocks lay casually
close. Every pulse beat whispered, “Rest!”
My father said, “Look!” and pointed. At first
I saw only the shimmer of dappled sunlight
until I caught the trick of looking, and, yes,
there, just under the surface, reaching
upwards, a great turtle, its caged ocean-
going hulk, the yellowed inverted prow
of a beak. The glazed eye looked past me.
I said nothing. The afternoon held its breath.
In memory’s dark green opaque it lolls
and clambers, a dull, heavy, heavy-lidded
perplexity, glimpse of primeval otherness
under the glint and surfaces of weekday
worlds, Sunday’s obstinate, slow
disquieting underside, the lap and suck
of black water, the compelling undertow.
Edward Baugh ( Jamaica)
(Taken from It Was the Singing, Sandberry Press: 2000)
# # #
the tomatoes smelled of vinegar.
my father, raking blood-meal and chicken bones,
tethering each truss to the bamboo crucifix.
and us, bucktoothed and barefooted,
stubbing our toes along the garden path,
weaving chains of buttercups, dandelions,
tying them around our wrists.
we stockpiled cicada-husks from
the woodpile, blew translucent bodies
from our hands. and the yellow sky
sucked our salted skins. and the
blackbirds tittered, and hedgeblossom
snuck past the brick border.
and my father was the sundial
we stood around, all summer,
casting long shadows on the lawn.
Elizabeth Morton (New Zealand)
First appeared in Takahē 84 and Wolf (published by Mākaro Press: 2017)
# # #
In spite of love
desire to be alone
haunts him like prophecy.
Observe: the baby chuckles,
gurgles his delight
that daddy-man is handy,
to be stared at, clawed at,
the baby’s elder brother
laughs, or hugs, and nags
for popcorn or a pencil
or a trip.
And see: the frazzled wife
protects the idol infant
from the smallest chance
of harm, and anxious
in the middle of the night
wakes up to coughs; and checks,
and loves, and screams
her nerves; but loves him
patient still: the wife
who sweets the bigger boy
and teases him through homework,
bright as play.
But you may not observe
(it is a private sanctuary)
the steady glowing power
that makes a man feel loved,
feel needed, all of time;
yet frees him, king of her
emotions, jockey of her
flesh, to cherish
his own corner
of the cage.
In spite of love
to go alone
the fishing boats are empty
on the beach
and no one knows
which man is
father, husband, victim,
king, the master of one cage.
from Peelin Orange
Mervyn Morris (Jamaica)
From Carcanet, 2017
# # #
My father is a fofo/ healer
Namulau’ulu Mikaio Avia 14.06.29 -27.10.16
When my daughter sings: You could put an ocean
between our love love love and it won’t keep us apart
there you are in the lump in my throat
there you are floating from between her pawpaw lips.
When she was two and a half and I walked towards you
in the hospital dragging my drip on a stand
the look you gave me, was all I needed to heal.
When she was eight and we didn’t know
it was only a year till you would disappear –
into the bottom of your Samoan backyard
entombed in tapa and lapa
overlooking the sea –
you looked at me and put your big hand on my head
I had the flu and was flying away soon and weeping.
It was all I needed to heal.
And now as I watch my child’s mango mouth sing about oceans
here is my fractured clavicle, my split eye brow –
the number of times I have fallen into the hard corners of things
in this kitchen, this sitting room
in the Kmart change-cubicle, right through the locked door
wearing my bra and undies, waking into the eyes of strangers –
here you come, sung in by my girl’s spell.
In through the front door of this house
looking at me with your other eyes
stretching your giant hand across the ocean
between Pulotu and Aotearoa, to place on my broken heart.
Tusiata Avia (New Zealand)
tapa: traditional Samoan cloth
lapa: coral slabs used for traditional Samoan tombs
Pulotu: Samoan underworld
Aotearoa: New Zealand
# # #
Horseman of the morning
When my mother went into labour
My father rode a horse
To get the midwife.
He rode the six miles to and from,
No doubt thinking about their firstborn, a son,
Who had just dropped out of school.
And about the wife he had hurt over him,
And who was now about to bring forth a second child,
Who, he did not know then, would be me, another son.
On the rough and dark road,
He rode the horse hard I am sure, determined
To help bring this unknown person into the world.
That same year, 1943, Edna Manley carved
A piece that became my totem:
It is titled “Horse of the Morning.”
Earl McKenzie (Jamaica)
# # #
who art on Earth
blessed be thy nature
thy judgement come
thy is praised as noble by thy offspring.
You bestow upon me daily love
and forgive my mischief and inconsistencies
though I am not always worthy.
Thank you for steering me away from temptation
but I am stubborn and seem to only learn the hard way.
Thank you for guiding me away from evil
because of that it never stays in me long.
You are loved.
You are love.
Ria Masae (New Zealand)
# # #
Here, in the bus shelter,
at the same time, every Saturday,
he awaits his passport to liberty,
to freedom to explore, to take in
the colours and life of the city.
They say his son died tragically,
and that, ever since, he has sought
solace and comfort in the markets,
in the aromas of memory that fill
the vibrancy of the village square,
in the soft warmth of the late
Spring sun, that soothes his soul.
Sam Clements (New Zealand)
# # #
“But will the timely crowd that has
you laughing loud help you dry your tears
when the new wears off of your crystal chandeliers” – from Charlie Pride’s Crystal Chandeliers
This Sunday I come to his house that smells of death
a spread of mannish water, fried sprat and curried goat
just to say hello. The closed windows hold time
no spirits will pass. The round, black wine rack holds
different rums; all that’s missing are glasses and an ice bucket.
At my home my mother keeps her sterling
silver ice bucket and prongs hidden
to be laid out only on Ralph Lauren
table cloths with the good plates. Crystal
glasses on Sundays are held with pinkies out.
My father says I remind him of her. I belong to her
need for acquisition from his decay. As if there are no
similarities between he and I, save for big toe and name.
I take a bottle of rum and leave. Later, I call our name
and tilt a drop to him from mother’s crystal glass.
Lesley Ann Wanliss ( Jamaica)
(first published in the Cordite poetry review series)
# # #
Empty pages in a diary.
A dead body floating past in a boat.
Don’t talk about the war.
Green mint ice cream with chocolate chips in the freezer
Holding my hand as we entered the morgue
Let’s do it.
Lawnmower hammering furiously
Not hearing protests from his sister
“Mind my lilies!”
Get it done.
A yellow sailing boat called “Fancy”
On deep grey waves, alone with the wind,
Face creased by the sea.
What were his thoughts out there?
Lists were good.
Distant shorebirds in muddy creeks.
Lists of birds he spotted in the town.
The last were the swallows of summer
where the handwriting slipped downwards
Fats Waller and Chopin, Stan Getz,
Abba’s Greatest Hits,
Torch songs and Shirley Bassey,
The piano before dinner.
“Le piano qui joue, les soirs.
ça me manque,”
Wrote a neighbor.
Tears in a hospital bed, D-Day anniversary on TV
A cooking show on TV (a Jamaican in shiny shirts)
The tsunami on TV,
Small birds at the feeder by his window.
The white scar on his right hand, from fire.
Fine white hair on his head,
I’m praying, he said.
Watercolours in Jamaica,
Guiding our son’s hand.
Mutty on the radio,
Paw paw for breakfast,
A cold “R.S.” for lunch.
Sunshine, always sunshine, curiosity.
Rubbing noses, loud laughter,
Jamaican Folk Singers, noisy dinners.
Don’t close the curtains, I like to see the sun rise,
Emma Lewis (Jamaica)
# # #
Change in the air
Your father is dead,
this event resonates and
cuts across the everyday and
draws me into situations
not of my own choosing.
Unwillingly I face up to it,
to mourn and
to remember and
Your dead dad watches
over your shoulder as you write this,
he nods at the combinations of
life and death and
joy and anger and
happiness and sorrow.
“That’s what its all about,” he says,
“Stick close but not too tight,
use me as protection until you
grow up straight and strong and true
into the love and into the light.”
David Merritt (New Zealand)