Last year my mother died. Today is her birth-date. 1912 in Little River, where I also was born twenty-two years later. For a while in the early 1920s Mum as a girl lived at the seaside resort of Sumner as her parents were between farms. She often spoke of playing in the sand and in and around Cave Rock. In those days at full tide the sea surrounded the iconic rock.
I wrote this poem about 1981. My work – curriculum development – had taken me to Christchurch. I stayed on in the weekend to spend time with her - I recall it was during the winter, we were wrapped up warm. Dick, her second husband had died twelve or so years earlier. I had driven her to Lyttelton and around the port before going over the hill to Sumner. She expressed a desire to climb Cave Rock. So we did as I describe. The sea was winter quiet and calm. There was the incongruous sight of an old man with a large ice cream. Do I recall that because I wrote it down – a snapshot for memory. I remember we talked about it at the time.
The poem not only records a scene, it records an emotion. I had been living with Anne for roughly a year. Naturally, a mother wants reassurance her son is happy. She pried with questions and got dissatisfied with my responses. The poem reflects my medley of emotions – filial responsibility, loyalty to a new relationship yet at the same time conscious that she wanted me to make a commitment beyond the point that I felt I could safely say. The poem is a snapshot of a very complicated period in my life.
It’s not about Mum, it’s about me. Yet in a strange way it is about Mum. I am her son. Years later in a mood of irritation and speaking about her I said to my niece ‘she’s just a stubborn, stupid, old git.’ Janine looked me in the eye and replied, ‘takes after her eldest son.’ I miss her. Speaking to Bruce my brother yesterday he said ‘most days I think something about the ‘old duck’. Well said.
A regret about putting this poem on the blog is that because I cannot master putting free verse in the blog – the blasted machine keeps bringing everything to the left margin.- the poem’s shape does not follow the emotional flow. From a steady beginning, the sentences and stand alone words become jerkier and spaces are used to signify breaks in expression. Anyway here it is.
With my assistance, awkwardly
she climbs Cave Rock, known so
well sixty years ago. ‘It’s changed
a lot, the sand’s shifted.’ We settle
out of the wind and it seems I’m
child again to that younger, stronger
woman, half my lifetime back
heads towards the harbour. Earlier we saw
the pilot launch leave. A couple clasp hands.
An old man licks an ice cream. Empty estuary
and across the city and the plains
alluring as ever, the sun-capped Alps.
She doesn’t comprehend my work;
asks instead after Anne. Do I love her?
How can one reply?
Love covers posturing,
suits some of the facts –
taunt of body
touch of hand
the same spare movement as today's sea.
Infallible in spray
a dog and his boy chase unreachable gulls.
‘I miss her
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