Poetry Competition 2016 – First Place

Jillian Sullivan lives and writes in the Ida Valley. Her latest book is the memoir A Way Home (Potton and Burton) on building a new life and a strawbale house in Central Otago. Her previous awards include the Kathleen Grattan Prize for poetry and the Highlights Fiction Award in America.

“I left my hometown of Masterton for the South Island 36 years ago. My return has often been by train – the most poignantly so towards a parent with an uncertain future.

My mother at the edge of town

On the train to visit my mother,
I think of Robert Dessaix’s
paradoxical question –
how to live well when you know
you’re going to die.

Two black swans on the inlet,
the sky grey over the Rimutakas.
When I was 16, my mother had a baby
out of wedlock. My grandmother,
when she’d found out she was pregnant,
threw herself down the stairs.

What is our heart? Dessaix asked. It’s when
our feelings merge with our ideas.
The man I sat beside at the lecture
wrote letters in a tumbled book. Later,
his ribcage next to mine, his heart a fluttering bird.

Tickets from Maymorn. Children garrulous on seats.
Only last week, our hands knew nothing of all this.
I want to put my faith in lemon juice and silver.
Every month I begin to think
differently, Dessaix says.
My mother, at the edge of town,
waiting for the train.


First published takahe 88
December 2016