There was a war on TV,
the snow, the people lying on plastic
in the snow, death arriving
with his suitcase full of tools,
the delivery out of this world
offers such a dazzling
variety, and the snow, forever this
white tableau becomes forged
with the recollections of your last
and the people lying on the plastic
in the snow.
At the doctor's I sat with
my tiny hands held in my lap the way
I've been taught, two lovebirds,
but the flesh was as cold as sheet ice
I was up to my elbows
in frostbite and snow.
There were stories on the news
each day and in the morning paper,
death can happen overnight, may
be in your house if you don't move
fast enough, in a trench, or
the dreadful football-stadium one,
under the trees in a dark
wood, against a hedge, or even lying
on plastic in the snow.
Such soft subdued footfalls,
but a goodly advance
over a long stretch of time.
Others shift their seats away from me
leaving a pencil
thin cavity, a subtle margin,
but you and I are crouched
together in the snow reading the
they are torn and dirty, tacked to
the cobwebbed wall of some
wild and woody mountain hut:
Construct earthen fortifications
behind your village. In the case
of serious exposure it is
best to wait for rescue dogs.
We must read the instructions
we must read the instructions
but there are no instructions.
I believe there are no instructions.
This poem is from Vivienne's book Scarab, published in a hand bound edition of 250 by Seraph Press. I lucked out at Unity Books in Wellington and got copy 211. It is the first time I have cried reading a book of poetry since I read High Windows by Larkin. Scarab is a very powerful and poignant read. The cumulative effect of poem after poem about her son Willy's progress towards death knocks you about a bit. But Vivienne is a consummate artist and her strength is her light touch, her wit, her wry angles, so one can just about take it.
Vivienne has a couple of new books out from Seraph Press, Crumple and The Cheese and Onion Sanwich and Other New Zealand Icons, so check them out.