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Jacket 16 — March 2002   |   # 16  Contents   |   Homepage   |  Catalog   | to New Zealand Contents list     

New Zealand feature

Janet Charman: Two Poems

before you?

the farm
various towns
islands in The War
where we swam
as soldiers
and waited for The Japs

who never came

one route march
with cold tropic juice
in my wet dressed hip flask

try mine     I said to a cobber
he was tickled

this shell  conch   cornucopia
hold on    I’ve got a book   I’ll look it up

well we hullaballooed as we paddled in with it

hooo I can make it sound now
with my lip right

not too loud or
one dark night
The Neighbour will lift our
young hedge shrubs
and plant them back
with the tap roots nipped

men massed on the beach
with their rifles
when they heard us
thinking it some doom beginning
we didn’t half get into trouble

put it back on my tallboy
I don’t want it broken

in camp
after call up
we were locked in
with an epidemic

that didn’t touch me

da da
dit dit da
a signaler

the others didn’t raise their heads
patterns emitting from their fingertips
but I stood up
paced past the Morse class
the eyes of a battle practice

for three days
among seventeen varieties of plum
Black Doris    Greengage    Sultan

and nobody said Boo

poetry in my pack
stockpiling word measures
up top

when The War was run
got a rehab loan
went to write

radio copy
a cousin introduced me
to your Mother
who was a friend of another cousin

they thought we might
hit it off

and were married
and moved north
and south and north again
so there you are kiddy
get along

yes the one about our men
selling the Americans
something they already owned
unlabelled cans     salmon
purple heart sergeant bully beef
nothing he could do
good dog food

twelve man tents
mosquito nets
under a palm someone
asleep without a shirt

pay docked
I never did that
after my Demob they called it
I was a boarder in the city
a bachelor with  Mrs Thing Now  what was her name?
she gave good breakfasts
best I ever ate

walking home up Willis Street
dancers drifting past
don’t recognize a married man
with a place at the end of the line

if I fall asleep on the train
there’s the guard to rouse me out

you need a wife

and at night
these girls
who sit and listen

a son could come

and I read them
Walter de la Mare
in my cool voice
that makes the words appear
the way they like
at Broadcasting House

embarked on my career
I need bacon
in the morning

toast and porridge won’t keep me
on deck
to mark the waves drum in
on the journey back

open the drawer for

rolled wrist gloves
black white lime
coffee with this fawn linen suit
just crumpled at the kick pleat
and the brownie hat
skewered through straw
and hair and straw with my wicked pin

ease into fine court shoes
and tug up the stockings
wrestle the fatted roast
into the oven
he’ll finish the potatoes

flick open the compact
rub the smooth crust
with the velvet wad
and dab on the nose
a smidgen

coral lipstick ummed over
an oops of cologne in the neckline

bag and bible

get that child’s facing
in the mint starched dress
with the choir boy collar
and the comb dragged through
the hair of the other

they have the sixpences
knotted in their hankies
and i my envelope patted
while they go
i kiss him among the creosote
on the patio
where the boards will block the view
of the neighbor

last peep in the cot
at the toddler
a bead of sweat
i could lick off
his upper lip
and we’ve got in the car
not late
to make Sister Margery’s Service

streets ahead
some of the Vestry don’t want her
on the circuit
but i do
a lovely person
that’s why i’m taking you
and i think mine are the only children
even though she’s made them
their own part of the sermon
holding up a bear
her navy robe with the long full sleeve
and eyelet embroideries
much better
than a clerical collar
dark hair parted and plaited
in a bun
all rise
sing everyone
there is a green hill
far away
driving in

his podged hand
dipped in the bucket
thick stink oozed over chops and belly
have him
howling in the scrubbing suds
peering down the yells
pray he hasn’t swallowed
sweeten warm milk
to dilute
the hideous poison          glory
i don’t think there’s any in there
where’s his?

the iceberg’s immense visible surface
in its path a helpless man
who hangs the hammer from his hand
and props the scaffold
best he can

‘no harm done no harm done      the gravy’s made’

From snowing down south (AUP, 2002)

Janet Charman’s fifth collection, snowing down south, will be published by Auckland University Press in May 2002. Previous collections are 2 Deaths in 1 Night (New Women’s Press, 1987), red letter (Auckland UP, 1992), end of the dry (Auckland UP, 1995) and Rapunzel, Rapunzel (Auckland UP, 1999). Janet Charman was Literary Fellow at the University of Auckland in 1997. She currently teaches English at an Auckland secondary school. See

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