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Elizabeth Smither

Two poems

Engageantes = detachable sleeves / The underside of the miniature plane

Engageantes = detachable sleeves

Why put such work by rush or candlelight
into tucks and pleats and slits that open like flowers
when the important shoulders inside fall to dust?

Through thin wavering crooked panes comes
a light divided into little parcels
while the sleeves lie on a bench like mutton

or a long white swan for dressing.
Over the sleeves the dressmakers are bending
working inside them, preparing the battlements

and suspending, on the outside, cascading jewels and ribbons
so the wearer is protected from indifference or too close
an approach. (They forbid intimacy, these engageantes

though admiration is their sense of breathing).
Inside the shoulders stiffen a little, then relax.
It is dual crowns they are wearing, that will come off

like heads upon a spike, by a bridge or tower.
The sleeves will be plucked (by thinnest threads
after all this effort) and then stored flat.

The underside of the miniature plane

The unseasonal season has turned half
its leaves to autumn and half its twigs

to bare winter. Against a sky that
has poured greyness out for a whole day

I look up into structures so complex
and marvellous I think the Eiffel tower

is the merest stick drawing and the stars
(if I could see them) spaced

for rudimentary learning for a
mathematical amateur. Two seasons

(and four) hang about the tree and all
the structures we have yet invented

are underneath in this complexity
so alive it is still working itself out.

Elizabeth Smither

Elizabeth Smither

Elizabeth Smither has published 15 collections of poetry. She was New Zealand Poet Laureate 2001–3 and in 2008 received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry. Her most recent collection is ‘The Year of Adverbs’ (Auckland University Press, 2007).

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