Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Country Life by David Howard


If things tarnish allegory
if the picture puzzle becomes
commodity, a fruitful but useless
woman marking her birthday
obsessively on friends’ calendars, then

what? You want to object to objects;
a shy child, retire hurt to the countryside
as if it was tabula rasa. The dark –
that’s centuries of varnish.
Get your knife ready.


You think the root is silent
but it grumbles: holding the bank,
that’s harder than dancing
like the leaf – even when frost is expected
and that leaf wants to trade places, to

drop the non-sense of God’s love
which warms beyond knowledge. The leaf
falls silent before the root’s warning:
Yours is the light but mine is the glory…
Cold, the farmer starts his chainsaw.


The wasp that knocks on your windowpane
represented conscience for a younger man –
now it demonstrates partial knowledge,
the limits of will. It is also a wasp
being a wasp.

The wasp never expected to be born
either. When you open
the window it does not come
in, redoubling its efforts to crack
the mystery of what’s clear.


Everything gets burnt: picture perfect
landscape and the figure that moves
across, from left to right
if you’re watching – but you’re not
because you, too, burn

like the shy child who tries to hide,
the wasp that wants to come
through the glass clarified by a kiln
when you were little
and things appeared to be… symbols.


Love isn’t so much an angel as the stump
where a wing used to be. Come middle age
it’s a curiosity, abandoned
like the tractor in a fallow field,
where there were tracks… forget-me-nots.

What confuses you is the clarity of loss.
So many abstracts as you
twist your ankle in a rut, swearing
there is a God. Why are your shoulders
sore? You thought the root was silent.


If allegory tarnishes things
if a puzzle’s the right picture, then
it’s child’s play. Why try to name it?
A name is neither transparent nor opaque –
it clears up nothing.

Nothing is what most of us live on.
Nothing is what most of us live for.
Yours is the glory but mine is the light…
Leaf to root. Such lovely
serrations! This glossy finish.

                                                                      Editor: Catherine Fitchett

Born in Christchurch in 1959, David Howard co-founded Takahe magazine (1989) and the Canterbury Poets Collective (1990). He spent his professional life as a pyrotechnics supervisor whose clients included the All Blacks, Janet Jackson and Metallica. In 2003 he retired to Purakanui in order to write.

David was the inaugural recipient of the New Zealand Society of Authors Mid-Career Writer's Award (2009) for a body of poetry that has been translated into Dutch, German, Italian, Slovene and Spanish. In September 2011 he was joint winner of the poetry section of the international literary competition to mark the launching of the USP Press by the University of the South Pacific.

David comments that "For me the making of poetry is inherently private, while the poem itself is inherently public."

Country Life appears in David's new collection the incomplete poems, published by Cold Hub Press, which will be launched in Christchurch on Wednesday November 2nd at 5.30 pm at the CPIT Students Association Hall, 5 Madras St. More of his poems here. 

This week's Tuesday Poem editor, Catherine Fitchett,  lives in Christchurch NZ.  She wrote poems in high school but studied chemistry at university which led to several careers as a forensic scientist/toxicologist, and work in accounting. She returned to writing in 1999 and is the member of a poetry group, The Poetry Chooks, which has published The Chook Book, and Flap, The Chook Book 2. Vist her blog Still Standing on her Head.

When you've got to grips with Country Life, there are more poems waiting in the sidebar where up to 30 Tuesday Poets post poems by themselves or other poets they admire. 


Helen Lowe said...

This is an interesting poem, Catherine. I'll admit to having difficulty with lines like "... a fruitful but useless//
woman marking her birthday//
obsessively on friends’ calendars ..." but overall I found the intricate density of the style repaid the read.

Harvey Molloy said...

A wonderful labyrinth. David Howard's poetry once again stimulates the reader's intellect and curiosity. He's the real deal.