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.
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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.