from Issue #6: Poetry by Elizabeth Smither

Photo (CC) Leah Gregg @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Leah Gregg @ Flickr



Six dozen oysters on the half-shell
in ice in a beaded champagne bucket
saved for from the housekeeping

now at the centre of the banquet table
the pristine cloth, the forks in a line
the knives and plates, a bowl of roses

and the big blue platter for the beef
the salads like forests, the tongs
the mountain of bread rolls heaped up

fresh from the oven under a steaming cloth.
‘Oysters,’ someone drunkenly exclaimed
as she edged them slightly out of sight.

Around the table her husband’s fellow-
managers from the chemical plant. He
was in design, did advertising bumf

in an office filled with cardboard and stencils.
The oysters were status: he would climb
as each one slid down a manager’s throat.

The sheath dresses pressed in against the cloth.
The crumbs cascaded down. Next day
would be devoted to slow loving cleaning.

But where were the oysters? Suddenly gone.
The silver bucket, drops drying in the night air
was through the French doors, at the garden’s end

where three hooligans sat on their heels, scoffing
and hurling the shells. Should they hide the bucket too?
Separately they came into the room and downed

three whisky and sodas to disguise their breath.
The hostess saw them from the doorway, held
a towel for their hands. They burped and smiled.

She smiled back with thin oyster lips.
The Rape of the Oysters was talked about
all next week by the water cooler.




Alice and the carrots

We three advance across the uneven field
to where Alice, the horse, with one white sock
and forehead blaze comes forward to take three carrots.

Two are experienced carrot-givers. I stand awed
by a mouth so removed from the grinding jaw
and that my carrot must be inserted.

A fool, Alice thinks. In need of training. Yet
my carrot is the fattest, biggest. And I turn back
and look at her longest.




Swimming with our fathers

…………………………………………………for Beth

You used to swim with your father and
I used to swim with mine. The same
beach but perhaps never at the same time

though that’s a possibility. We’d never met
when, aged ten or thereabouts, we swam
in our ruched swimsuits, our flat chests

with our handsome fathers. Mine
going further out than I dared –
or maybe he was guarding me from the sea –

swam breaststroke in. I saw his legs
snap and open like scissors, his head
regarding me and my dog paddle.

And you, my long-time friend, saw your
father too, floating on his back, but
turning his eye, time and again, towards you.




Ukulele for a dying child

No right to write in longhand with a black pen
the stroking words as fine as ukulele strings.
The ukulele pink and curved, the little girl
whose dying is unknown to her, adults presume.

She sits propped up with pillows, plays
with her teacher who has come visiting,
sweets in his pocket, if they are called for,
music’s notes fat in the air, and infallible.

And everything is pressing in, before it flees
(how unbearable to live this way forever)
and yet to live would be nothing fairer
with just the ukulele and the giver.




Elizabeth Smither has written 17 collections of poems as well as short stories and novels. She was New Zealand poet laureate (2001-3) and received the Prime Minister’s award for literary achievement in poetry in 2008. Her most recent publications are The blue coat (Auckland University Press, 2013) and Ruby Duby Du (Cold Hub Press, 2014).

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