Roses, the single scarlet sort,
open at the throat as if for
coolness, sprawl at the window;
you heap on my plate a pile
of potatoes, steaming and small,
smelling of mint. `They're
basic,' you say as we go at them
lustfully, `they grow by the door;
you have to chase meat'- and I
notice a certain vegetable poise,
not striated like the fibrous
deposits of a more strenuous growing
but smooth, opaque; placid testimony
to the sufficiency of flesh.
`Of course you do have to hunt -'
I say, thinking of hopeful
burrowings in the soil, wresting
from the clutch of its black fingernails
each creamy nugget; and we agree
on that; we're a bit languid,
munching more slowly as each
pale pod splits open and fills
us with amber warmth - one flesh
sturdily giving itself to another.
Those roses, too, they lean over us,
and the squat black pot gives
off its dull gleam, grinning
crookedly from the stove.
This poem, (one of my long-term favourites), is archetypal summer – flower, food, flesh in an atmosphere of warmth. Her quiet and authoritative voice exults in the extravagance and fecundity of a domestic occasion. Before I shifted to Wellington I had been in correspondence with her. Once I lived here we would meet for lunch several times a year, occasions I looked forward to until her death in 2000, a sad loss which removed a major figure from the New Zealand literary landscape.
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