Tuesday, July 27, 2010

'Sab' (excerpt) by Maria McMillan

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,
stood shining
in the doorway,
dressed already
brother again.

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 Adamant

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.


Helen said...

Love love love! Why o why is Maria not more widely recognized?

Bee said...

wow! so many nice lines in this poem about nature and related to the senses - I can almost smell snow...really awesome, thanks for posting this

Anonymous said...

Amazing. I'm with Helen – where has Maria McMillan been hidden? Glorious poem.

Helen Lowe said...

I LOVE this--amazing! 'Ann' is very powerful, but I love the brother poem as well, the energy and authenticity of it. And to echo the others, why have't I heard of Maria McMillan before?

Helen Lehndorf said...

Damn good question, people.

hinemoana said...

Maria, I love these so much. The water closing over like a wound, the wind a horse - this is so the book that hasn't yet been written, please may it happen soon...I am still your hugest fan!! (yeh that's right, line up people...)

Mary McCallum said...

I realise my comment fell off for some reason. So here again - a wonderful poem(s) especially the final three lines: 'The sea is a bilious field,/the wind a horse./We lurch on.' And just to say Maria does exist - i met her at a book launch at Unity this evening. She is working on a collection now. Wonderful, too, to hear you perform Hinemoana. I-was-blown-away (using hyphens as anchors...). Thank you.

Natasha Says said...
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