My son turns 12 soon. That, and the recent publication of Swings and Roundabouts: Poems on Parenthood, Emma Neale’s anthology of parenting poems, made me want to put up some of the poems I wrote while he was growing up. (My poem “Coverage” in Swings and Roundabouts is about an imagined father.). So here are four such poems, written from 1996 to 2002.
Publication note: “The Weather”, “At the Gate” and “Action Man Is Sleeping” appear in my first poetry collection, Boat People (HeadworX, 2002). Copies are available from me – please email timjones (at) actrix.co.nz for more information, or see my website orders page.
The weather is a matter of cultural safety
for us white Englishmen.
I talk about it with my father:
it’s fine up here, Dad, not a breath of wind
(so rare for Wellington)
how’s it with you?
Cloudy, he replies, and raining
wind from the south-west
I can’t get the garden done.
In his voice is the gloomy assurance
that more is on the way.
I talk about it with the barber.
We agree it’s
not such a bad day
for this time of the year.
We’re talking the prices of houses.
I tell him I’ll be a father come June.
I don’t tell him, the child will be born in winter
as the wind and the rain prowl outside.
I don’t tell him, we will carry the infant
back to our wooden house
shaken by the gale.
I do say, I’ll have to check the gutters
At the Gate
at the kindergarten gate
my son said “You stop there!”
He didn’t want me to come in
He would place his bag
on Hook 22
put his nametag on the chart
go in to mat-time by himself
He opened the gate, turned, and waved goodbye
I waved back proudly
and started down the path
close to tears
He was so tiny once
that I could hold him in the palm of one hand
He starts school in two weeks’ time
His bag will fill with books
his heart with other friends.
Smiling and crying, I take the long road home.
Action Man Is Sleeping
Action Man is sleeping
wearing his yellow bobble hat
(taken from a fluffy bunny who won’t be needing it again)
blue underpants which keep him rated G
and two cloth nappies which serve him well as sheets.
His bed is a wheeled wooden trolley.
My son, who’s sleeping too, said Action Man should have
a bed with legs, like him — but Action Man
must always be ready for action
even in his jut-jawed dreams.
He (my son, that is — I wouldn’t
want you to get confused) has decided
he should not be kissed or hugged.
“Not by you — not by anyone!”
We blamed Action Man at first
but now the boy’s relented —
he can kiss us
we just can’t kiss him.
Outside, the world is growing darker
counters clicking downwards to perdition.
Inside, the children bring me
cup-cakes, pizza, new and better clothes
all made from pure cheek
and six-year-old imagination.
I’m story-writing helper for today.
It’s not too hard:
“What’s that word? Let’s sound it out.”
“Nothing to write about? Let’s see …
what will you do tomorrow? What
would you rather do today?”
At the end we’re smiling: a whole page written!
Teacher, give these children praise.
As they start on Printing
I’m taking my leave, walking
out of the enchanted wood
back to the world’s long darkness.