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by 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

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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.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Eczema-daughter, eczema-mother, who could have imagined a more unlikely subject for a collection? But what a moving, engaging, almost heart-stopping progress it is. A first reading is likely to be fast to find out the outcome. A second reading shows that life was going on all the time.”  —Elizabeth Smither, New Zealand Poet Laureate

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Auckland University Press
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By Anne Kennedy

Auckland University Press

Copyright © 2003 Anne Kennedy
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-77558-151-2


    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.

    North-Western Motorway

    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

    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!
) 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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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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