Ian Wedde



Do these words gesture to something beyond
what they mean to say, such as anger
at being interrupted while speaking them?
Fear that what they utter will be
noticed by baleful fate, will begin to sicken?
Pale, exhausted, barely able to stomach even
a few blobs of tofu floating in watery miso,
they remind me of the wan apologists
whose words are packing up
accounts of expeditions to distant places of meditation
beyond the reach of self
where memories and other personality trash
are finally discarded, they hope. The last time I looked
the patient was doing well, or at least better
than the time before. The sun sets in a blinding slit
between two buildings that are reassuring
because I see them every day out of the same window
whose ‘beyond’ is just a boxed-set mental condition.
What beats me is why anyone would want to admit
to not knowing how to do those simple things
that make us free. I mean to say, it’s ‘beyond me’,
when you get right down to it.


What do you want me to say? That even the albatross,
whose wingspan measures dawn and dusk, turns,
sooner or later, and heads for home? This may be true
in a world where flickering clouds of butterflies
rise from Amazonian rainforests
and fly home to the prairies of Utah. But how could they have
been there before when that’s where they go to die?
In my world this truth is at best a distraction
from a familiar longing that makes me turn aside
into a transit lounge where people I don’t know
want to talk about the shaft of sunlight
that recently pierced a woman’s body
on a riverbank where trees cooled the running water.
The shaft then entered the water hissing so that steam
rose into humid foliage where sweating fruits
burst into flower. Nor does this happen ‘on my way home’,
but rather when I’m walking neither
towards a destination nor away from one.
Another time while going nowhere I watched a couple
preparing to make love. They pressed
the soles of their feet together and faced each other
across a deep, empty bowl. His cock rose up
with little nods, as if buffeted by a gentle breeze,
while her sex resembled a lavender bush
after harvest. Perhaps the same hot breeze
was filling the bowl with the parched aroma
of their desire. I’d seen something similar before,
but not in this configuration. What happened after that
I can’t say because I kept moving outwards
until I lost my sense of direction. Yet another time
we travelled through mountainous terrain
until we reached not a destination but the place where
we had to stop and walk back by a different route
to where we’d started – in order to understand
why we’d left there in the first place. Where we plunged
into the sea a large, compliant fish was stunned
and had to be revived. The cities I ended up in
were always difficult to understand. Mostly
there were multilayered mountains
and trains tunnelled through them on many levels.
Often my children appeared in these places,
but they were always very young, which is no longer the case.
They seemed vulnerable rather than patient,
and their idea of home had nothing to do with where
their father was: somewhere along a desert periphery
whose centre, like a river, a bowl, an ocean, a transport hub,
was always tipping my destination out into thirsty sand.

Ian Wedde‘s new book of poems, The Lifeguard, will be published in 2013. He is New Zealand’s current poet laureate.

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