Fleur Adcock was born in New Zealand but spent the years 1939-47 in England and has lived in London since 1963. Her poetry is published in England by Bloodaxe Books and in New Zealand by Victoria University Press. In 2019 she was awarded the Aotearoa New Zealand PM Award for Literature Achievement in Poetry.
Below, a selection of three poems of seven – from issue takahē 97.
A SMALL CORRECTION
(i.m. Mike Doyle)
It was a brown coat, Mike, not a blue one
I was wearing when you first caught sight of me,
Alistair’s wife, in Philosophy I;
the only coat I owned that year was brown.
Blue was the colour of your little Austin,
at the sight of which, pulling up outside,
Alistair would prepare his excuses,
leaving you to confide again in me
about whatever it was this time:
your dying wife, your platonic ardour
for the one who would be next, or just exactly
how guilty that ought to make you feel.
Gentle, apologetic, vaguely awkward,
good-looking enough to pose in a full page ad
for a tailoring firm, decked out in paper hat
and streamers: I hope they let you keep the suit.
What you do, he said,
to make divining-rods:
take a metal coat-hanger, like this,
and pliers; clip it into an L-shape –
you won’t need the bit with the hook;
bend the angle to 90°.
Make another one the same: two L-shapes,
one for each hand, matching.
Right: the long side is the divining-rod,
the short side is the handle.
Curl your fist round it – loose like this –
softly; no pressure;
looser: you’re holding a baby bird,
it’s timid, it needs to breathe.
Now: one step at a time
steady as you can, slowly, slowly,
glide forward, both rods parallel,
pointing ahead, level with the ground.
No, no; don’t clutch – let them flutter
when they want to. Not everyone can do it.
The first time I tried, he said,
I was visiting an infants’ school:
rows of little kids cross-legged on the floor.
A teacher was giving a demonstration
and she let me have a go.
When the rods are aware of water
they swing slowly towards each other
and cross over. It’s a powerful sensation,
like living things writhing in your hands.
We took turns walking round the hall,
divining the radiators for a start –
you couldn’t fail to notice it.
And of course people are just bags of water;
all those kids down at knee-level
triggered the divining-rods –
got them criss-crossing as I walked through.
There I was with these wire antennae
flexing and flipping over all the little heads.
TO STEPHENIE AT 11 PM
One last crumb of family history,
dear cousin, all these months after your death:
our great-grandmother Martha used to say
‘Night brings home all sorrows’. So I find it.