Sing-songby Anne Kennedy
This collection of poetry deals with the domestic life of a family, mother, father, and two small children, and in particular about the grueling experience of eczema from which the little girl suffers. Told from the mother’s point of view and set amid moves of house, the pressures on a bicultural household, and endless fruitless encounters with healers of… See more details below
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This collection of poetry deals with the domestic life of a family, mother, father, and two small children, and in particular about the grueling experience of eczema from which the little girl suffers. Told from the mother’s point of view and set amid moves of house, the pressures on a bicultural household, and endless fruitless encounters with healers of many kinds, the poetry turns into a moving and profoundly recognizable picture of the strains, anxieties, fatigue, and desperation of parenthood.
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By Anne Kennedy
Auckland University PressCopyright © 2003 Anne Kennedy
All rights reserved.
Myths and legends
This was the scenario, a burry landscape
where minutes stick, a child's felt picture
or adult's narrative poem, then come
unstuck. Look into the sky and see clouds
fall, their muscular shapes undone on us.
You just can't argue with it. Next to opus it
be done with it, call it by a name. Persephone.
Maui's brothers bloody the epidermis
etcetera. A Polynesian literature lecturer
said Ah but the story of Maui isn't a myth it's
a legend, a history which may or may not
be real. A myth on the other hand
fossicks in the marketplace for fairy things
to dress up strange phenomena which
nobody can deny. The baby needed both
both certainties and a ghost, at least
the parents did, so they could say, See?
This is merely one of the age-old stories
nothing new under the sun, and point out
its turning point, the fateful move from house
to house and all the certainties will become
joyful or sorrowful and the unknown so palpable
you could put out your hand and touch it
and the story will unfold like faith
and they will be comforted.
Going out, Grey Lynn
They used to hang out at the Shakespeare all
of a Monday evening (not any more) (you'll
get to know them), carry on in the frowsty
pub air coy discussions in the famous district
of the poems. Couplets getting less and less
rhymed all the time until there was nothing
constructed by any stretch of the imagination
only a map, useful, intricate, to the point
showing the long forgotten arterial routes
instructions for the beating heart, leaping breath
and where to sleep, sleep in Grey Lynn. His
body that landmark totara, big, warm, one-tree
warmth from the ground. Next thing you know
they've caught a bird, its song suddenly from
the highest branches of a tree, in Grey Lynn.
He's a bit shocked, to tell the truth. She's
on cloud nine on K Road weaving away
from the Family Planning clinic. She's joining
the human race after all and buys two balls
of white wool to knit a baby jersey – never finished
which says a lot for God, that s/he can make
a baby quicker than the woman knit a jumper even
to an easy pattern, either that or she's a slow
knitter. But hey, it's okay! They're going to have
a baby in a rented bucket seat in Grey Lynn
and love. The birth was like a Roman party
more and more people arriving and eating
grapes and waiting for the show to start.
Baby's father elbowed to the back by good
friends, couldn't even see him sometimes.
It's a great old time – except for the pain and the
out-of-body experience when she saw a tunnel
and her eyes rolled back in her head and he
thought she was dying in childbirth like this was
childbirth in the nineteenth century, and pushed his way
to the front in time to catch his Grey Lynn son
coming home. He cradled him and whispered
'Boy-boy' and it stuck and even now he'll call him
that, on occasion, sounding like an Australian town
but this is Grey Lynn, all boiled down to Boy-boy.
These things just used to happen. They had
one baby happen in the old-fashioned way
who came in middle earth
moving. In plate techtonics lovers drift
imperceptibly from one rock drawing
to the next. The next, baby, that is, was
deliberate, postmodern, exposed like
coloured pipes on the Pompidou Centre
Madonna's bra worn over her clothes.
This inside-outness could only come
as a reaction to modernist forms of
contraception, interior monologue. Its heir.
If you've had the lights out in the studio
the guests might have gone home.
You must lure them back with a new
decisiveness. Everything apparent.
Out with the old sentimental order.
Go to work, mean business.
The new mother was brought up on
words as beautiful as earning a lot.
Consider the lilies of the field
they toil not neither do they spin yet
they can afford a villa in Grey Lynn.
Baby's father got the same working instructions
different angle (working class), you'll
never have it so don't even bother your silly
head. Unworldly as their new-world children.
If you find you're at this junction – young
small baby, small aspirations – hold it gingerly
don't rub it, the bourgeois genie lives inside.
Yes, children plural, one extant and one in
transit, they're peering over the rope barrier
travellers only beyond this point. Meantime
two parents, two kids, I know I know they need
a house. But look, the property market's
mushroom-clouded, fine falling ash hungry for
their bony deposit. Can't live here anymore
here in Grey Lynn. This is perhaps a good
place to take time out to think how the tangata
whenua felt, this land theirs and they couldn't
live on it. The outrage! On with the story
(it's still happening). It's true they're getting
nuclear but I promise you they won't be like
their half-life parents, stable for fifty years in suburban
wastelands. Nevertheless they buy a house
load up a truck, sway out along the big North-
Western Motorway. Completely normal.
The mother's glimpsing lilies, their blur
makes her carsick, driving away from all
her gains, going back in time, all the way.
A house orbiting the sun, an involuntary
movement, though they'd always considered
these things carefully before. There on
the flatlands of Auckland, a bright house
its long passage, milky, a kinetic highway
of children, once stardust, filling in
space with the combustion of their
voices, their plastic vehicles
and just as small things exist as if they
were large, there was a room for this
and for that, a room. For sitting, sleeping,
thinking, for the several things of
going on. These states waited round
corners like the folded ears of books
to return to or not, but ruined anyway.
Outside where there had been
an Arizona of black polythene and
clean bark they planted a leafy garden.
The Kennedia something or other spilled silently
its white frilly trumpets up and over
the wall. As good as a wedding, rigorous
desire crushed into a dress. They did it
backwards, Maxwell Smart disappearing
down the corridor, doors closing
behind him: babies, house, nuptial
feast. On midsummer night
the datura gave out its semen scent.
Daylight Kirsty and Ross arrived with baby
phoenix palms and lowered them into
meteor holes in the front lawn. The parents
watered them profusely, the roots in Hades
the trunks like, well, like that esteemed
Grecian urn, etched with a beautiful future
but leaking into the grass, and the grass itself
became, surprise surprise, greener.
The neighbours lived on the back
doorstep. The small husband
bobbed past the window, craning in
thirty, fifty times a day, no exaggeration.
In the still late afternoons and evenings
when in winter mist rose breathlessly
he operated a Skilsaw with great ...
They ate 450 dinners or thereabouts
to the tune of it. No conversation.
Do you remember Poetry with Chainsaw,
Sonic Circus, Wellington, 1975?
The poetry not audible of course
but it was there. First exposure to
performance art. Ah well, anyway
the neighbours: the big wife screamed at
the small husband night and day, every day.
The nadir was Christmas Day. She planted
her mouth near his ear while he welded
the trailer. All day long a stream of abuse
probably, if only
you could hear it for the blow torch.
How they ate their Christmas dinner
watching the slow mime of the neighbour's twin
Warehouse Santa hats, not joking.
The gate they bought wasn't enough
nor would the mythical fence and fast-growing
native hedge be, never enough new palings
or new leaves to make it Grey Lynn.
They'd come from Grey Lynn, the baby'd
been conceived in Grey Lynn. They were
Grey Lynners. Hadn't they flatted there
for centuries among the kaleidoscopic
kingdoms of flatmates and friends and
previous lovers? Exiled by the property boom
the boom became their Waterloo, the
western suburbs St Helena. Ignoring
the sunniness and the burgeoning garden
and the fact they could afford to live there
they concentrated on Skilsaw, screaming
cultural difference. There was never
such an alliance between Maori and Pakeha
(him and her, respectively) as their
unification against the neighbours.
Upstaged the Treaty. No misreadings
of figures on the land, one translation
of spiritual sovereignty. Together they
hankered for their turangawaewae.
Family planning association
Are the babies who were watching for
a gap in the spectrum, a misreading of the
Roman calendar, the whereabouts of Matariki
or Chinese New Year, and how our
bodies were here before the days of
the week anyway – let's face it, a cock-up
on the part of the grown-ups – are they
different from the babies who were
buzzed from downstairs? (Get the door!
Jesus!) Their boy came because he
wanted to, first opportunity, first unprotected-
ness and all our innocence laid bare that we
ever protected ourselves from children.
The girl came when asked, politely.
She said she was floating around out there
before she was born, sometimes visiting Heaven.
Was she not quite ready for gravity
but came anyway when they put it
to her – a three-year gap would be
a good one between siblings? If she
came now she would have a live-in
playmate. If she waited she would be
another only child, her big brother off
with a friend and a bike on Crown land.
What Hobson's choice they gave her.
Life's important events are often veiled
There was a deception with the baby's skin
when she was born. They saw her
differently from how she really is.
The mother had had the flu and a fever
days before she was due. If you
are pregnant and have a fever
remember you should swallow Panadol
popped from their foil wrappings.
The mother didn't know that. She
tried to do the right thing, no drugs
no no no (overcompensating, she knows
for coming from a family of substance
abusers. Panadol isn't a bunch of hippies
shooting up in the sitting room
a weaving drunk heavy on the floor).
Because of the precious person folded
huge in its house like Alice after a magic
mushroom, but small in the world
and inspiring the biggest people to do
their greatest deeds of selflessness
and compassion the mother sweated
tossed like a Zeppelin on the bed
got up periodically to attend to
their boy, aged three, who combed
the cool empty rooms, his new museum.
The doctor, Alison, said, You should
have rung me! I know, she said, I know I know!
A rise in the mother's temperature
means a rise in the baby's temperature.
It's obvious when you think about it
and that is exactly what happened
and the baby inside got distressed.
She passed meconium in the womb.
As soon as her tiny head pushed through into the world
(the father as dramaturge)
they poked a tube down into her lungs
to drain them of the meconium
so she could take her first breath.
Then the mother pushed out the rest of her
or rather she slithered out like a fish.
(That's the great part, by the way, that is
the best thing on earth, when it's all over
and yet it has just begun and in the next
second you are going to see your child!)
And they did, and she was so entirely
her lovely self, veiled, as you will see
in her ceremonial dress. She will visit this
perhaps again at her wedding, veiled
and in old age, at death, vale.
Excerpted from Sing-song by Anne Kennedy. Copyright © 2003 Anne Kennedy. Excerpted by permission of Auckland University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Anne Kennedy is the author of Musica Ficta, A Boy and His Uncle, and the short story “Jewel's Darl.”
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