Going Back

My mother is the gap in the windbreak
the fallen macrocarpa
the flooded river and the flooded plain.

The radio, not tuned to any station
the rails removed from a siding
the gash in the mountain’s side.

My mother is the doorway
and the grip of my father’s hand
and the stubble of his cheek on mine.

The missing face in the kitchen
the absent chair at the table
the silence under all we say.

Remembering, unforgetting,
on the edge of sleep in the darkness
my mother is each toss and turn.

The need to leave in the morning
the long goodbye to my father
the driveway and the car I drive.

My mother is the corner
the anxious overtaking
the yellow lines that double in my eyes.

The last lap of the journey
the final tick of the engine
my mother is the road I travel home.

This poem is included in my latest collection, All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens.

No Oil

I’ve posted here previously about our dependence on oil, and how to start addressing it. There’s a story in Transported, “Homestay”, which touches on the same theme — though, being fiction, it also includes people with wings flying around rural Southland, which I don’t actually expect to be a prominent feature of post-Peak Oil scenarios.

Here’s my one attempt, so far, to tackle the topic in poetry. “No Oil” was first published in Southern Ocean Review (together with “Replicant”), and is included in All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens.

No Oil

Bad news from the north
and the queues growing longer.
Late winter, I remember,
when the shipments ceased.

There was still oil for some
which showed
where power intersected with need:
Agriculture.
The rich.
Ministerial limousines.

The rest of us walking,
riding bikes, taking trains,
living
as our grandparents had:
valuing land
for what it can grow.

A Great Leap Forwards
in reverse
our faith now
in the wisdom of the old.

The world to the north
turns to poison
a battle
of each against all.

Here we cling on
in the ruins of a false economy
doing to others
being done unto
looking back with angry eyes
on a century of waste.

(If the “shipments from the north” ceased right now, we could meet about 2/3 of New Zealand’s present oil demand from domestic production — but that’s unusually high at the moment because of the exploitation of the Tui field, and there’s no guarantee that production levels will stay this high for long.)

Twittering Robot Lands on Mars

Here’s three poems about Mars from All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens to celebrate the arrival of NASA’s Mars Phoenix Lander spacecraft on Vastitas Borealis, where it’s now Twittering from the Martian surface. (Hmmm, robots blogging from Mars. Where’s Sarah Connor when you need her?).

These poems are from the “Red Stone” sequence: the first one, the last one, and the cynical one in the middle. “Stone” was first published in Astropoetica and “The First Artist on Mars” in Blackmail Press 15.

A Mars-related poetry event is coming up: the guest reader at the AGM of the New Zealand Poetry Society is Chris Orsman, whose third collection, The Lakes of Mars, has just been released.* Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to make this meeting, but I am looking forward to getting my hands on Chris’s book.

*I have a suspicion The Lakes of Mars may have more to do with Antarctica than Mars, but no matter – I like Antarctica too.

Stone

Magnesium
silica
manganese
and all over iron

erosion shaped
ventifact
survivor
of the warm wet days

sitting on this
arid plain
for the last
two billion years

standard Martian
regolith
red-brown drop
in a rust ocean.

The First Artist on Mars

Well, the first professional artist
There were scientists who, you know
dabbled
but NASA sent us —
me and two photographers —
to build support for the program.

The best day?
That was in Marineris.
Those canyons are huge
each wall a planet
turned on its side.
I did a power of painting there.

You can see all my work
at the opening. Do come.
Hey, they wanted me to paint propaganda —
you know, ‘our brave scientists at work’ —
but I told them
you’ll get nothing but the truth from me

I just paint what I see
and let others worry
what the public think.
Still, the agency can’t be too displeased.
They’re sponsoring my touring show.
That’s coming up next spring.

Would I go back? Don’t know.
It’s a hell of a distance
and my muscles almost got flabby
in the low G. Took me ages
to recover — lots of gym and water time
when I should have been painting.

But Jupiter would be worth the trip!
Those are awesome landscapes
those moons, each one’s so different.
Mars is OK — so old, so red,
so vertical. Quite a place
but limited, you know?

Red Canvas

Red to white-blue-green
a thousand years, a million
doesn’t matter really

we will see it when it comes.
The God of War will grow
a coat of many colours

and life will paint another
tribute to the sun.

UPDATE: See this remarkable photo of the Phoenix Lander descending, taken by another robot, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Awe-inspiring! Skynet would be proud …

More Poems on Being a Parent

Swings and Roundabouts: Poems on Parenthood

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.

“Elfland” appears in my second collection, All Blacks Kitchen Gardens (which you can buy online), published in 2007.

The Weather

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
come spring.

At the Gate

This morning
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.

Elfland

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.

Wellington Blogger Offers Modest Giveaway!

I covered several reviews of my poetry collection All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens in a recent post. Another review has since appeared, in Issue 63 of the Christchurch-based literary journal Takahe. In his review, James Norcliffe looks in detail at the three sections of the book – Inside, Outside and Farside – and concludes that:

All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens is a most enjoyable read, full of intelligent poems intelligently arranged so that they set up echoes and conversations. Although at times there is the slight clunk of contrivance, there is more than enough here to surprise and satisfy.

Slight clunks apart, I’m pretty satisfied with this as a summary.

There’s a lot to like about Takahe. It’s a handsomely-produced magazine, featuring striking, full-colour front and back covers with artwork by Phil Price; it contains an extensive reviews section, the centrepiece of which is a long review of the latest collection by Stephen Oliver, Harmonic; and it is full of high-quality fiction and poetry.

I have a couple of poems in this issue, and the editors kindly sent me two contributors’ copies. I’m offering one of those copies free to a good home. If you’d like a copy of Takahe 63, please email me at timjones (at) actrix.co.nz with your postal address. I’ll send a copy to the first person who responds, and post a note here when I’ve done that. UPDATE: We have a winner – thanks for getting in touch, Rod Scown!

Reviews Roundup

I posted a while back on the first two reviews of my poetry collection All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens. Several more reviews have now come in, and my fantasy novel Anarya’s Secret has received its first review, which you can read in the Earthdawn Live Journal.

All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens reviews

In the New Zealand Herald’s Canvas magazine on 8 March, Graham Brazier gave favourable reviews to both All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens and Johanna Aitchison’s A Long Girl Ago. Despite insisting on describing me as a young poet (well, I look young, but I have this really dodgy portrait hanging in the attic), Graham said some very nice things about the book, describing it as a standout among the recent flood of local poetry publications, and saying “each poem stands on its own merit, a polar opposite of its predecessor”. Given that Graham is the lead singer of New Zealand band Hello Sailor, it’s perhaps not surprising that he draws particular attention to “New Live Dates”, my poem about an aging rock star strutting his stuff one more time.

In Poetry New Zealand 36, Owen Bullock describes the book as “a second collection from this wry and insightful Wellington poet”. He focuses on those poems in the book which incorporate some reference to the rich and famous, such as “Fitness” and “Oprah Relents”, saying that “the results can produce a zen-like, frozen look at the ridiculous in life”.

In Bravado 12, Michael Lee is kind enough to say that the last line of the opening poem in the book, “Elfland”, makes his scalp tingle.He also notes the varied subject matter, and gives some extracts from his favourite poems in the book, concluding by saying that the book “gives us Tim Jones’s lively, poet’s mind”.

In the March issue of a fine line, the New Zealand Poetry Society newsletter, Joanna Preston is less keen: she calls the collection “uneven”, and particularly dislikes “Oprah Relents”. On the other hand, she does like “First Light” and several other poems, so it’s not all bad news.

So, three very good reviews and one less good one: that’s not too bad a ratio.

I’ll add links under “Sample Poems” on the left to those of the poems mentioned in this post that are available online. And here’s “Oprah Relents” – see what you think.

Oprah Relents

Oprah relents
allowing us food and water.

Her guards look on
as we wash off the grime.

The symphony of severed heads
demands a new movement.

In fifteen minutes
we go live.

This poem was first published in the New Zealand Listener, 2 July 2005, p. 42, and republished in All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens.

A Reading and a Deadline

The news today consists of two items:

First item: I’ll be the guest reader at the next monthly reading session of the New Zealand Poetry Society. That’s taking place on Monday 17 March, from 7.00pm [not 7.30pm as listed earlier – sorry!], in the Paramount Theatre Lounge in Courtenay Place, Wellington. There’s a cafe and a bar to hand, and (judging by February’s session) a nice, relaxed atmosphere. Entry is by koha, which often entails a gold coin donation.

The format is that we start with an open reading session, where you can bring along your own work to read if you wish, then there’s a short break, then I read for a while, then there’s a Q&A session if anyone has any Qs they’d like me to to A. I’ll be reading a mixture of poems from All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens and newer work. We’ll finish round about 8.30pm. Hope to see you there!

Second item: there’s just under a month to go until the submission deadline for Issue 26 of JAAM Magazine, which I’m editing. You can find all the details at http://timjonesbooks.blogspot.com/2008/01/im-editing-jaam-26.html. Submissions have been coming in, but there’s room for plenty more.

South

From Taiaroa Head
I rise into the wind
that flows sunward.

Rime grows on my feathers.
I skim swells
that beat the slow pulse of this ocean.

Yachts race through the bergy night.
A whaleboat founders
with six sea-eyed men at the oars.

Whales ruffle an open lead.
Leopard seals shake penguins down for blood.
Captain Oates rises from his shallow grave

and asks for bread or meat.
Told I have none, he sighs,
and turns, and shuffles on.

This poem is included in my latest collection, All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens.