Saturday afternoon walking along the waterfront
thinking about a hair cut and how I might
call into Claudio’s and that set me wondering
about why I waste time thinking
about having my hair cut, why don’t I just do it? I don’t
even like my hair. My first boyfriend used to
jokingly compliment me on its mouse-brown-
ness as we lay kissing and listening to music
on his parents’ living room floor. I never had
much luck with boys. I was also thinking about
personal poetry and how it’s not given much
time of day any more, and how
when people talk about poetry
they often mention compression – yes, it can
be that, but it can also be a great sprawling
thing. And Kenneth Koch has died.
A good example of wasting time thinking about
trivial things: I was walking home
after a morning spent revising this poem
and stopped to look at some trousers being sold
on the side of the street by an African man.
The fabric was lovely and I asked how much
he wanted for them. How much do you want to pay?
he asked. I don’t know, I said, I’ll have to think
about them. Why do you have to think about them?
he said, why can’t you just think about them now?
Yes, she who hesitates is lost. Another thing
is that I always feel more comfortable in other people’s
clothes. My friend Sarah’s cast-offs are the most
favoured items in my wardrobe. As someone who is
not very adept at shopping I should probably pay Sarah
to buy clothes she likes but in her heart-of-hearts
knows she won’t wear, then she could just pass
I’d like to mention my children. I hope they know
that I love them even though I yell sometimes.
At the eldest because he continues to leave his
wet towel in a heap on the floor, despite my saying
many times it won’t dry there. Every time I say
these words I feel like somebody’s mother and then I realise
I am somebody’s mother – three people’s in fact –
and a lot of time is spent cajoling them into eating
breakfast and making star charts and when I’m not losing
my temper I try my best to be positive and encouraging.
And I wonder how did this happen? Sometimes I find it hard
to make the jump between then and now.
Now is the Katherine Mansfield room in Menton, France.
In the time I have been here orange blossom has flowered
and gone, next-door’s kiwifruit has taken a firm hold
on the fence and their avocado is a shambles of new leaves.
A passionfruit vine has come over the wire, flowered and is now
laden with fruit. It’s been a fecund old time.
When I started work here I spent a lot of time
watching the crane driver on the building site which
backs onto the railway line which runs in front of
this room – yes it’s noisy sometimes, but I’ve become
used to it. I wanted to see the driver leave his cab
and climb down the crane. During this time a friend
in Wellington met and kissed a crane driver
at a party. It’s odd the way these things coincide.
I didn’t want to kiss this crane driver, I merely wanted
to see him climb down. For days I watched and always
missed him. I’d sit for ages, go inside to drink some water
and come back to find him gone. One day I sat all morning.
I saw him lean forward to yell out the window to the men
below (I loved that – all this technology and the crane driver
still opens the window and hollers). I saw him reach back –
water maybe, or food. I saw the crane work way past
the dinner hour and it grew so hot on the doorstep where
I sat that I had to get my hat. Just a few seconds and he
was up and out of that cab. I caught him as he jumped
lightly on to the platform then watched as he came down,
hand over hand down the metal ladder. I went inside.
Reading over that part of the poem, sitting in the ancient
green deckchair outside the writing room in the shade
of the earlyish morning, I look up and down he comes
again, as if summoned (hey, how about that, I would say
if I were American). About ten rungs down, he stops
and I imagine takes in the view of the soft, still
Mediterranean – one of the boys said this morning It looks
like you could get a white crayon and draw all over it –
then he reached for the red T-shirt slung over his shoulders
and it fell, down through the circle of the ladder like …
like what? Like a red T-shirt falling down inside
of a crane. Someone on the ground is whistling.
When I saw the x-rays of my father’s cancer – all of us
with him in the room while the surgeon pointed to the dark
smudges that meant maybe three or four more months
of life – I tried to think what those marks looked like,
whether they resembled anything, but no, they remained
what they were – dark patches marring a lit screen, changing
On Saturday, (the one we started with) I was walking home
along the waterfront noticing the young women and their beautiful
skin and the way their bodies are so firm and lovely
and I remembered that we used to look like that
though I never gave it much thought at the time. It wasn’t until
age started that I realised I too would wrinkle and fold and
mark and that everything would settle down and sure enough
it did. I don’t actually care too much about this (I think because
I associate that youthful time with fragility and unhappiness). Now,
I’m prepared to trade ‘beauty’ for a body that’s strong and useful –
Pollyanna , I can hear my friend Marion cry. At the beach
it’s the elderly I really want to look at. Alone, almost
naked, they give themselves up to the sun, as though it’s the source
of all they need to continue on in the world. Always
the men lie on their sides, scant hair rimmed with salt,
long thin arms across sunken boned chests. Ratcheted
seems the word to describe these arms, but
it’s not correct. Flesh sags and settles against stones.
The women rub their bodies absent-mindedly the way they might
brush crumbs from a tablecloth. As the sun cools, children dig
by the water, parents read, and the elderly relax and slow,
sleep settling over them like a thin sheet. Down they go,
hand over hand through the bright of their lives. We swim
and talk and bucket and build and rub and brush and scoop
and watch and tousle and chide, while the elderly, skin crumpling
into skin, they climb on down.
© Jenny Bornholdt