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

New Zealand feature

Ian Wedde: Epistle: to John Dickson

Dear John, you left your sweater behind
Last time you came down.
It was towards the end of summer
And still hot in the evenings

When you’d sit outside on the old sofa under the verandah
With a cigarette and a pile of books.
Because it was hot
You didn’t wear the sweater

And that’s how it got left down the side of the sofa
Where I found it after you’d gone back north
Taking your pile of books with you
But leaving the big container of spring water behind.

The evenings were hot
But the mornings were still cool
And it was then that you’d wear the sweater
Outside on the sofa by the deck

With a cigarette and a cup of tea.
You looked at the sparrows and starlings
Squabbling in the feeder at the end of the garden
And chucking the stale bread into the air

In their greed and panic
And your face wore a habitual expression of otherness
And perplexity
As though you were seeing events

Transmitted through some kind of warping atmosphere.
When you spoke
It was with an intense inward concentration.
It was as though you were listening to yourself

Sounding like someone else
You couldn’t quite remember the history of.
As well as the sweater and the spring water
You left behind a paper bag of fresh mushrooms in the fridge

Together with some tomatoes
And a couple of bottles of merlot.
You also left behind a draft of your new book.
I like the poem you wrote for your granddaughter

Especially the line
‘the intimate safety of names’.
Now it’s autumn
And you must be getting cold up there in the river fog.

Here’s your sweater back.
The mushrooms and tomatoes were eaten
As was appropriate, thank you,
And the wine has been drunk

In company I’ve forgotten.
The big spring water container
Is full of Abe’s olives, soaking.
From time to time

I remember the line about ‘the intimate safety of names’.
It’s usually when I’m sitting on the sofa outside in winter sunshine
Looking at the small view
And thinking about a larger one

In which the long summer coast of mirages
Beach buggies and surfers
Has you half way down it, John,
Like some kind of maroon,

Cast up on this coast of wrecks
Listening to a language that is only half-way familiar
And shaping your lips around the careful utterance of a name
That will introduce you to the future

You want to have in this place
With which you are almost familiar.

From The Commonplace Odes (AUP, 2001)

Photo of Ian Wedde by Donna Malane

Ian Wedde has published twelve books of poetry, the latest The Commonplace Odes (Auckland UP, 2001). Co-editor of two Penguin anthologies of New Zealand verse (1985, 1989) and several exhibition catalogues including Now See Hear! Art, Language, and Translation (Victoria UP for the City Gallery, Wellington, 1990), Fomison: What Shall We Tell Them? (Wellington City Gallery, 1994). How to be Nowhere: Essays and Texts 1971–1994 (Victoria UP, 1995); Dream Collectors (Te Papa Press, 1998); Ralph Hotere: Black Light (Te Papa Press and Dunedin Public Art Gallery, 2000). Also three novels, particularly Symmes Hole (Penguin Books and Faber and Faber, 1996). Ian Wedde is a curator and art writer, currently Concept Leader Humanities at The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. See

Photo of Ian Wedde by Donna Malane, February 2001

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