Jessica Le Bas's first collection of poetry incognito,  won the Montana NZSA First Book of Poetry Award in 2008. Her second collection Walking to Africa looks at mental illness in adolescence. It will be published by AUP in October, 2009. She lives in Nelson.

  S  e  c  r  e  t  s    blackmail press 24
Jessica Le Bas
New Zealand

How things Lie

And you say yes, that’s good
as in, Good morning. Yes, I am good
and the weekend, yes that was good

You tell Ruth there was an accident
on Monday night, and your daughter has bruises
and Ruth says, I hope it was not serious

Good afternoon. Yes, plans for the weekend
Yes, good to see the sunshine
and yes, this rain is good for the garden

You don’t tell Richard about the night
they rang to say she’d run away, in her pyjamas
and was found later, covered in blood

A good day to catch up on some planning
Yes, there are reports to write. Yes, a good result
for the swimming team, the basketball

The mention of ghosts would leave Frank
really wondering, taking notes perhaps. How
they have returned, out of fear, anxiety

It’s going to be a good year, says Frank
drinking a glass of good red wine with you. The fire
gives off a good heat. You are good friends

She has not been admitted to the hospital. Yes
things are good. She is at home. You do not say
that she hasn’t left the house in six months

When Cath asks about your week you say it’s
been OK. She says hers was shit. Her husband
isn’t talking again. Jack lost his running shoes

You don’t mention the way her body
has ballooned, and how her mind needs tuning
like a car. Racing one moment, stationary the next

You say O, that’s not good, as in having lost
something, like running shoes.
Yes I am good, and the week, yes that was good.

The Carpenter

The day I stood behind drapes with Maureen
and watched you in her yard with your leather
apron and your serious tools. O how
we crooned over the circumference of your tight
thighs, the sweat gathering like crescent moons
darkly in the rise and fall of your shirt.
The way the rap and smack of your heavy
hammer sent your flesh quivering - and ours.

ten years on, in your best pressed Sunday shorts,
your knees white and bony. You were pushing
a trolley. A woman was up ahead of you
selecting tins from shelves. At the meat fridge
I thought of saying hello, but couldn’t.

The Finding - Out

Before the understanding

She wore her black hair clipped short and elegant
He made the tea at 5am, a slice of lemon
She sent invitations - Yours Truly, and RSVP
He took a top posting
She left the financial affairs to their accountant
He sang in the Male Voice Choir
She said, O darling, and goodness gracious
He spent weekends at golf, or in the garden
She never attended an engagement
without him at her side

Muscled back and one arm

With secateurs clutched like a wad of hard earnings, and his face screwed tight to the damning light, he set about pruning the gingko tree.
Above the ridge another ridge, and a seasoned yellow cloud of gorse in flower.
As parochial at Sunday roasts in his Presbyterian youth,
he set about the task of cutting back
        of cutting back
all the greenery outside their bedroom window.

He started with the gingko tree and worked his way around the house, found safe harbour the next afternoon on the deck where they drank a chilled glass of Woollaston’s sauvignon blanc, and she admired the fresh view.
Below, the harbour drained blue through black, and the night crowded in.

Living and not, one afternoon

Above sea level
you never drown
a storm comes
raises the tide
over dunes
and a bag of sand
(a souvenir)

He’s shaking it out
of his trouser cuffs
when she asks
what is this I’ve

-- and strawberry flavoured…

There (their) lies
are and down
his (not hers, no)
but there is denial
of a sort
and it’s 3 years long
if measured.

The land
the lying
the mean flow
of sea/see spot
How she washed
(and was tested)

It never came out
the way she expected it.

Theory & practice

She falls on tiles not laid professionally
takes the reparation money and walks crooked to a counsellor
where Rachel teaches her how to yell about it girl
tell me how it is for you
let it out
let it hang
It all hangs -
Out, damn it!

She mentions dunes and the strawberry secret
and how a woman would’ve been half the load
surely to God, half the load?
a woman a woman woooman
Rachel understands and offers herself up

Up the ridge, another ridge
the sky is still the yellow-gorse-flower-glow
the sky is golden, honey-honey-bold

Forward, but not fast

She takes a subscription for a garden magazine
She turns weekly-Wednesday into a kind of thrill

He takes on a boxed hedge, and a fence between neighbours
She takes in The Inheritance of Loss

Together, the sun finds its way to the gingko tree
No new buds appear

He worries about his heavy hand
She carries poison to her heart.


The steep climb up the hill, up my drive…
- past the green stucco house that you can just make out between the ancient plum and the buddleia grown tall and wild with abandonment - the old man has a vegetable garden on the northern side with huge cabbages, globular and gray like some alien plant form intent on consuming the earth – on your right the new apartment block where they excavated the cliff, drove steel rods in deep to secure its foundations – now you look down onto the pristine back doors of the affluent; rubbish bins have been banned you know, written into the contracts as part of the common good, the condominium’s appearance must be maintained, by all – up, up nearly as high as the ridge now, up past the clay escarpment that still bears the scar of last winter’s slump which saw the residents of a lower abode evacuated, in the interim, said the council, till we determine the likely pathology of the earth beneath us –
… yes, the climb will set your old Toyota fair panting, and your pulse racing. Love and death carry the same heady apprehensions, the same unsolved mysteries.

The view, should your eye detour…
- from the cracked bitumen, the tenuous verge of broken drain, those gray tufts of paspalam, the rusting wigs of fennel – from the Toyota’s temperature gauge where (if you look) you will detect an imminent boil over – from the stand of trees further up, behind my garage, trunks dark and thin like pencil marks, and where in all honesty the best view can be had. But we will not be going to the garage, nor beside it to that forehead of perfect grass kept mown for picnics -
…yes, the view would match that of any cockpit window. The crests and troughs we find in the human condition have parallels in aeronautic dynamics.

Did I mention the airport below?
- with its tails of tarmac stretching, tying mountain and sea, arrivals and departures. From here I look down daily on the backs of planes landings, the bridge of their noses pointing high as they lift into the sky. I will see you too, coming up that steep hill.

You will wear jandals for the summer heat, and you will smile as I open the door. We will stand there – we may even venture out momentarily because you have seen a small jet landing, and we will talk about the cloudy haze the heat has drawn across the bay. I will tell you a breeze is forecast. It will clear. There will be a bottle of warm wine hanging like a slaughtered hen between your fingers. You will not bring flowers, but will gaze at the geraniums in pots at my door. They will be red. In your other hand something geometrical, wrapped in red paper with golden stars.
Yes, I will see you coming up that steep hill.