Poem of the Month – November: “Kikoi for sleeping in” by Mary McCallum

With the year nearly over we hitched
north, took a leaky tent, two kikoi
for swimming and for sleeping in,
a kilt pin for protection. Budget of
three dollars a day. Sandra and me.
We climbed the zigzag to be early
at the station, hips out, thumbs
out, first ride to Raumati, and each
ride after taking us further north. We
took turns up front but not the sheep
truck, both of us crammed in there
next to the driver, rigid with the stink
of animal fear. She drew the line,
no more sheep trucks. So it was squads
of station wagons packed to the roof,
‘Shove over, kids. Let the girls in.’
Gritty seats. Sticky legs. Cortinas
with dark windows, soft men with bad
jokes. The kind photographer who
drove us to Gisborne, took our photo
in a field, introduced us to a famous
poet. The hippies who dropped us
at Nambassa, where it rained on the
clothed and unclothed and I got sick,
and Sandra, mud-slick, slid down
a whole bank on her small efficient feet.
Then there was that ute and a side trip
to the satellite dish at Warkworth—
the dish as big as a house, no one in sight,
ute refusing to go. ‘Get on the roof, for
heaven’s sake, jump-start it.’ His voice
whistly, thin with irritation, those
too-light eyes elsewhere. Knowing
nothing—nothing—we climbed up, sat
on our hands on the hot roof, back
to back, legs down past windows, feet
on rims. And we stood and sat and
stood and sat, made it rock like he said,
the satellite dish a blank moon. Fields
and roads blank, too, not a soul out.
And oh, it didn’t fire. And oh, I didn’t
guess. Shiny with sweat, finger to lips,
Sandra leaned down, peered in, eyes
wide, mouthed something. Gestured—
wanker. With one breath we yowled
under that grey dish-moon, leapt
to the ground, blazing, ‘Take us back
to the highway, you prick!’ (The kilt
pin, where was it? Still pinned to my
shorts.) The ute started first turn of the
key. Back at the road we bailed—packs,
tent, kilt pin, kikoi waving like flags—
took off south, incandescent with our
sense of right, a torrent of women
wronged. That’s not the whole
story but it’s the gist. I’m talking
about two trips, both up north, both
on our wits. I packed the kilt pin, we
unfurled the kikoi to wrap around
us when we swam and, dried, to use
as sheets each night. Sandra talked
of Kenya while we fell to sleep. We
took it in turns lying under the leak.

Credit note: “Kikoi for sleeping in” by Mary McCallum is reproduced by permission of the author and publisher from Mary’s collection XYZ of Happiness (Mākaro Press, 2018). For more information and to buy copies of XYZ of Happiness, go to https://makaropress.co.nz/submarine-books-2/xyz-of-happiness-by-mary-mccallum/. The book is available from the website and all good bookstores for the RRP of $25.

Tim says: XYZ of Happiness is a collection I read recently with a great deal of pleasure and admiration. While the nominal theme is ‘happiness’, there are a whole range of emotions and experiences in play, as the wonderful poem above shows. This is much longer than my usual “Poem of the Month” picks, but “Kikoi for sleeping in” is so good I couldn’t resist. Thank you for the opportunity to post this poem, Mary!