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the narrative drift

It’s the old story. The man
   & the woman, the ampersand between
      so slightly sculpted, that’s how old!

This so immediate story. Twenty
   years back, it was incandescent.
      It is still quite nice. Things alter

so slowly. They are this or
   that, the banality of sequence.
      It takes so long to be obsessed!

I’m about to say, ‘But of course you’ll
   remember,’ punishment for inattention
      being part of such glamour.

Stories, we should always say,
   the singular ditched politely for
      the fantasy it is. ‘Hold the thread,’

as my grandmother used to instruct,
   next thing you knew you were wearing
      a jersey she’d quite forgotten, already.


She doesn’t mind it when a writer tells her, ‘The moon
scribbled the harbour’, but one thing she won’t swallow
is to be instructed in how ‘the moon’s insistent text’
is pretty talk for the yellowish light leaving
its trail of jigging dots and dashes out from Musick Point.
Too much talk about ‘like’ or ‘seems’ or ‘much as’
makes her want, as it were, to brush her arms with her palms
as she did as a child when her father braked the Hillman
on the way back from town above the tidal drag,
and told them, ‘Look at that now, isn’t that a picture?’,
and she’d brush at her arms and the insects taking over
in a matter of seconds, that’s what the view was like
if you had to say something, the ribs of the ti-tree between
you and what you looked down on, the stag-horns
of mangrove, and the moment there was silence, just suck, suck.


It isn’t good for a writer to live in a country
where a cut-price banker with his next-door smile
is all we have to throw stones at. How one
envies a Chilean say who could dream of knifing
a home-grown monster, the English even
who might smash a TV any day of the year
when a government of schoolboys quiver as if Matron
threatened to punish arse.
                                         ‘A country without snakes!’
as tourists at times are amazed to hear. ‘Then what
do people here die of?’, another traveller once
asked me. ‘Of being ourselves,’ I told him,
‘the big tourist pictures falling off the wall with mould.’

Vincent O’Sullivan was the New Zealand Poet Laureate from 2013 - 2015. He is the author of numerous volumes of poetry, plays, novels and short stories. His latest collection of poems, And so it is is forthcoming from Victoria University Press in March.