my mother in this way mixing me wings and tongue

(‘Red’, from Chrome by Paula Green)

 

Mint’s fresh breath on all its haka tongues                        marigolds       white pebbles
battered wooden chair   geraniums      fruit canes     lemon verbena
chives and thyme  and from a blue jug on a red formica table     a waft of
memory     rides on fine fragrance         a woman says                        ah look
           sweetpeas            darling           you know       though you are knee high to a
footstool   busy with your trike            going round and round the clothesline
aware of something good and solid to your left that you are saving up to look at
later                 something as anchoring as bread and butter or a handsewn rabbit
in swallow-tailed coat   that her voice somehow means     wild enchantment
                  beauty calls for pause            soon it will dissolve  as elusive as the
silver moths that cast quick shadow darts on your skin             with     the cool
sensation of water                        though see the sky is dry

 

So you stop    and you plunge your face in                       and the scent takes you
somewhere like stained glass            fountains and maze walks in towering
hedges     white picnic cloths and wicker baskets      burnished ringlets and
          forest tangle  centaurs        dryads           a small elfin thing hiding under
nasturtium                      rangiora leaves written on with sticks, call it bush paper
            barefoot topknot man with pounamu in his hand                 pixies suckling at
the flowers’ thin teats     green tree shade tunnels      careful leonine saunter
                bird cry-cascade       and it all melts down            over the years
          to white ankle socks              scuffed sandals          metal trike      her
brushed-cotton zip-up dress    ample hold    bare arms             the full voice of
this brown-haired woman saying            in that slow   though urgent           way    ah
           look     sweetpeas      darling

 

Emma Neale
Re-reading Paula’s Chrome many years after first reviewing it I realised how much had already bedded down in my memory. Curiously, the lines that perplexed me as an earnest 20-something were the ones that seemed to still hum to me as a 40-something. Not for the first time with poetry, the ideas, methods or images that I initially found hardest to haul ashore are the ones that I end up recalling without the effort of incantation or active memorising. I suppose that’s because their place in the mind’s ear was earned by thinking them over and over: itself a kind of singing. Re-reading Chrome I was also struck by the way Paula manages to draw together a shawl of memories but also show where the stitches have pulled and loosened. Like mist snagged on manuka.

That sequence is often about family, origins, bonds. The role Paula herself has played for many writers has been a nurturing one: strengthening the sense of local poetic family tree. Keeping the branches together. Happiest of Birthdays, Paula!

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