The last run
Up the hill behind our house.
He’d hardly been talking,
too polite and quiet,
like he had to conserve energy,
take short shallow breaths –
like he was old.
Then he woke me one morning
threw my running shoes on to the bed,
in the doorway,
He was faster.
In the wind ahead of me
his white t-shirt billowed
round like a lantern.
The street lights flicked off
as we passed them.
The sound of our shoes
like a song.
I could almost smell jasmine.
I could almost smell snow.
He reached the top,
where you could see clear over the other side,
and turned to me smiling
Meggie, run faster, I was heaving,
heavy as a horse. Quick, he said
as if it were a gift he was giving me –
quick, before the city disappears.
Loss is a white bound package
so tightly wound, there can be no
leaks, nothing seeping through,
like the Egyptians, only no writing,
no pictures, no gold paint.
Loss is what slips into the sea,
like a silky silver fish sent home.
There were three that day,
only one of them mine.
Each time there was no resistance.
Each time the water closed over at once
like a wound’s uncanny healing.
On land there would have been ropes
at least, a gradual lowering,
the throwing of earth.
A stone to mark the spot.
The sea is a bilious field,
the wind a horse.
We lurch on.
I heard Maria McMillan read part of her 'Sab' series when she was a guest reader at the Palmerston North City Library Stand Up Poetry series in 2008. The piece was breathtaking live and the audience were visibly moved, particularly by the 'Ann' poem.
I find it hard to imagine the pain of not only losing a child, but then being forced to bury it at sea, to let the body go in the middle of the ocean with no hope of returning to the spot where they were lost. 'The Adamant' is the name of the ship the family is emigrating on. I love the way Maria's poems skip around in time examining the lives of multiple generations of one family – the threads that join them and the unique pressures of the different times they live in. Her work presents a facet of New Zealand history in an original, visceral way.
Maria says about the poem:
“This excerpt is from Sab, a series of persona poems spanning many generations of a fictional Pakeha family. I'm interested in how people explain huge things to themselves in not many words - like leaving your home country and never seeing your family again, or war, or the spirit-stripping recession of the 1980s. I wonder if grief that's never dealt with is passed on like eye-colour or strange shaped thumbs.”
Maria McMillan lives, writes and works from, the fish's mouth – Wellington. She has poems published in The Listener, and the Lumiere Reader and was long-listed for the Bridport International Poetry Prize. Maria also has two splendid daughters who teach her every day about keeping language crisp, flexible and to the point.
'Sab' (excerpt) is published by Tuesday Poem with permission. This week's editor Helen Lehndorf is a widely-published New Zealand writer and writing teacher. She shares a blog with poet Helen Heath at http://helensquared.wordpress.com/ Please visit the other Tuesday Poets using our blog list.