lying in long grass

your father and I have decided

we don’t believe there’s anything

after death


you don’t




there are no beautiful fields

or singing angels


there’s nothing


you just stop


given over two years ago

with no room for argument


this was a pronouncement

typical of my parents


because the opposite

could be said

to be equally true


your father and I

believe absolutely

in life after death


we are looking forward

to meeting in a beautiful field

with singing angels

who will pluck their lyres

or harps

for us


there is an eternity

heaven exists

and you live forever


the lies are mere contingency

the truth is out of reach


the lies are mere contingency

because the truth is out of reach


like trying to open a letter

when half is in the mirror


you follow the trail with your eyes

while birds eat the remaining crumbs


the picture changes

the page turns


the two are not connected


you know what you said about the unexpected

expect it


oma was always unusual


my heart has streamers on it

so we may see it



down a deep black hole


so that between the fiction

and fact





anton chekhov knew

exactly who

my mother was


a seagull


on her head

in the front seat

of the punt



on the avon


what is left unsaid is this


better to stamp your golden curls

lie with sticks

the wrong end of the book


what did they see

the dykes at the fish and chip shop

what did they say

that made her think


they wanted to pick her up


more breast

while I’m leaning over



she hated birds



in a reflected sky


you can write about us

when we’re both dead


a story

half-buried in heavy sand


it has escaped the ravages

of truth


it has escaped exposure

to the light of secrets

that are told at parties


it has escaped

wrapped in dresses

small and simple


small and simple

like a twin


gives each

a double gravity


like a thing which

has been wrapped

in dresses in layers

for centuries


and unlike a thing

that has been handled regularly

it is not worn smooth


it is sharp

it catches


a claw

a talon


on the silk and lace

of every piece of fabric


they must have known

their lives would be loud


for the rocks

in its course


but for that





she said she got fat

on school dinners

in the fifties


she said

stop writing poetry

in your head

look at the road


she also said

wait till your father

gets home


how do you feel


I don’t feel well


why not


I don’t know


where is the pain


I don’t know


silence an ocean

secrecy a din

night suddenly falls


the choir roars sleeps

by turns


the ship of the world

spins and fires


the land offends

because it floats not


noise drowns

in music


look at that

the last drops of the mixture


you shake the bottle pink

unscrew the lid white



you take out the wand

you put your lips together



a bubble pops

without a sound


it would be right

and wrong

to say

she passed away


she didn’t pass

she would not pass


and if anyone had been there

to remind her she was passing

she’d have said


no I’m not


each small perversion of the facts

doesn’t add up to one big lie


it speaks

a frail truth


how fragile

is the human heart


a model of negativity

a practical fiction


the road ends in darkness

as if darkness were only

a colour


I’m barking at shadows at the gate

bright sun


as if everywhere

a sign



a waterspout

a flood

a black beetle

a breakdown

a slow blink


the night of the night


a week hard with happening


each day

a child

a light


each day



this morning a slanting blade

and movement at the gate


the shape of it under the skin

of these events


a stranger outside

or one of us who has left


who has just left

who hesitates at the gate


no room in a world with too much sense

to account for any life


so what was mum’s about


dad and us


but put her in a theatre or a school

and she was shockingly



she only had to set foot on a playground

to organise some small child


who wouldn’t quake but connect

as if mum had access

to a special switchboard


and she only had to step

into a classroom

to calculate its average



as well as range

and modes


who the bright kids

and where the slow ones were

and where the trouble-makers


to each she would give

her full attention


which is exactly what she did

at any party


even family gatherings


it was quite wearing

for friends to pass her IQ test


but she never had to disarm a guest

grab the knife

kick him in the balls

at home


as she had at work

shockingly capable



in the application

of force


she hated housework

it was lonely


loved food and wine

and company


she pulled party food

platters of petits-fours

pâté and crackers

olives and cheeses

artichoke hearts



and whole meals together


out of the best ingredients


the credo of the good



true until two weeks ago


I like a full cupboard


her mother put her off poetry

because granny

was the last victorian


insisted on recitation

by heart and banned comics


and grandpa never spared

the rod


first year college

he asked me if I was

a fag


I misunderstood


mum rebelled and all her life

put herself against

if not above



probably why kids made

the connection


one look at dad

a dirty mick in a duffelcoat

wearing a goatee

was enough for her parents


then one look at dad

under the clock

at charing cross station

was enough

for mum


they didn’t live to enjoy a

happy old age together


but when they both had something to do

they were brilliant


they were brilliant at living


that’s not long


she told the specialist

when given only months


but you have surprised us

he said

so far



who can say


and once said

who can be sure


months passed

and on wednesday night

within the standard length

of a play

two to

two and a half hours


she not so much left us

as went without leaving


but she did do one last

extraordinary thing


as if to acknowledge us

but also and equally possibly

to graciously acknowledge

a grateful audience


to say

this is

all I am


she lowered her eyelids

raised them


a small drop

of moisture

ran from her eye


I didn’t see it

but it was there


a tear brought out

by the quietest time and also

the greatest noise in the world




mum wasn’t supposed to die

right now or




and she was expected to fight

to the end


she slipped away


as if she’d secretly rehearsed

lying at night

in the hospital bed in her room

she called her



the terrible years are gone

and the years

we laughed more

than we could have believed



I only have to look at you

to know where they are gone


they flit like shadows

on your face


they move like breath

they lift like mist

drop like rain

they pool in your eyes


they hide in pockets


look away

you will

miss them

when they’re



lying in long grass


the simple sky above


a still lake


every feature of the landscape

perfectly reflected


feeling the earth turn

and the way

time folds one

thing against the other


like the sky and the lake








[for my mother

Ianthe Victoria Taylor

29/1/1939 – 15/2/2012

the service

held at Kaukapakapa Church