Tuesday, February 21, 2012

To a Cockroach, Aotearoa 2011 by Siobhan Harvey

I imagine you brighter than butterfly, winged
dancer of Indian summer, or lodestar, death-
headed dazzler of rainforest. But here,
you’re more dull fabric, threading together,
interstitially, brown Porchester Street staties
and sienna walled Princes Wharf apartments.
Great leveller wherever, you carry your whakapapa
like an exoskeleton: head, thorax, abdomen, memories
of ancestors who fought for Gaba Tepe, landed at
Poverty Bay, navigated Kupe’s constellations and,
with tuatara- and weta-like fortitude, felt earth made
electric by Carnosaurs voracious dash. Now, at twilight,
you’ve turned to us, ravening, antediluvian, bone fractured us,
who tend you with aerosols or rolled-up newspapers
even when you’re sharing your wardrobe, food, home.
But there are moments when light falls upon you,
perhaps during December’s late afternoons,
the breath of the land reaching out to us across
the ledges of open windows, when we pause, remember,
feel the heavy weight of our spines, the lethargy in
our skeletons, our psyches’ loneliness and doubts,
and so we stop, release our grip upon the fine-print
or liberate index fingers from the aerosol nozzle
and allow you and your mokopuna to carry on.

© Siobhan Harvey

Editor: Harvey Molloy

Siobhan Harvey is the author of the poetry collection Lost Relatives (Steele Roberts, 2011), the book of literary criticism Words Chosen Carefully: New Zealand Writers in Discussion (Cape Catley, 2010), aand is editor of the anthology, Our Own Kind: 100 New Zealand Poems about Animals (Random House NZ, 2009).

Her poems have been published in magazines in New Zealand, Australia, UK, Europe and US, and anthologies in New Zealand and the UK. She's the poetry editor of Takahe, Coordinator of National Poetry Day in New Zealand, was runner up in the 2011 Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems (NZ), and nominated for the 2011 Pushcart Prize for poetry (US). More here and here

In this poem, Siobhan begins with her imagination—it’s not the cockroach itself or even her experience of the cockroach but rather how she imagines the cockroach: not as a pest or a repugnant bug but as a glorious dancer. When you think about it we never leave the poet’s head—this is all an act of imagination.

I love that Siobhan explores the consequences of action without reflection—an automatic, unthinking, speedy grab for the bug spray with no pause for reverie or contemplation. The poem ends with empathy: all animals have a family and an ancestry; all animals want to live. We really do share that in common with cockroaches.

Whose world is it anyway? We humans think it's all ours—but look at the strange unexpected reversal of conventional thinking in “who tend you with aerosols or rolled-up newspapers/ even when you’re sharing your wardrobe, food, home.” It’s their world too; their house, their home. A good poem can shake how we frame our world.

For more Tuesday Poems, enter the sidebar. If a post says 'Tuesday Poem' click to read - we are a community of  thirty poets from NZ, Australia, the UK and the US.

This week's editor, Harvey Molloy, is a Wellington teacher who has published poems in a range of NZ journals and periodicals, and overseas. His first book of poems, Moonshot, was published by Steele Roberts in 2008, and he is working on his second. Harvey is also the co-author of the book Asperger Syndrome, Adolescence, and Identity: Looking Beyond the Label. He blogs here


Elizabeth Welsh said...

What really struck me about this poem was the pausing to consider the 'heavy weight of our spines, the lethargy in our skeletons' - that connection between the physical body and ancestry. Our bones hold our history. I love Siobhan's poetry (I was so lucky to be tutored by her in a creative writing paper at uni). Thank you for sharing, Harvey & Siobhan.

Helen Lowe said...

Fabulous! I love that moment when poetry makes us pause and look at things in a different light. And the use of language in the poem is so rich but also 'balanced.'

A great editorial choice, Harvey.

Mary McCallum said...

Just read this poem out loud - the dog and I enjoyed it immensely. What a treat. That gorgeous language and fantastic train of thought leading us into unexpected places. I LOVE THIS POEM. Thanks Harveys-a-deux.

Penelope said...

Talk about infinity in a grain of sand; here's geograohy and history in a cockroach. A wonderful poem, reminding us that even those creatures we class as vermin have something to offer. Thank you Harvey and Siobhan.

maggie@at-the-bay.com said...

You'll be able to spot the poets in your neighbourhood from now on - they will be the gentle souls moved by this poem who instead of rolling newspaper to thwack will be unfolding it to catch the cockroaches and deliver them safely outside, on a newspaper slide.

Yes, I am a fan too of 'Lost Relatives'

John Pilgrim said...

Awesome article, great poetry. When i was in high-school i used to love writing poetry for our school's paper. I used to write in french a lot. I miss those times. Keep up the good work !