Nicholas Messenger
New Zealand

Paying on the way out, as Kiseki's peep-show pander cries,
I bow out through the canvas where the woman, outside advertised
by a gipsy-like Delilah wrapped in yards of damask python,
pokes snakes up her nostril, bites out lighted candles,
and as a climax, chews the head right off a writhing
rather harmless grass snake, indisputably deserving no such fate.
It's all done in the unconsidered manner of someone's elderly landlady,
one who would never give up her peasant eating-habits, receiving you
into the privacy of her cubby-hole, with a grubby bib of melted taper.
Welcome to the Floating World, where children with rice wafer
scoopers fish intently, bending over goldfish tanks with gilded faces.


She is carefully scooping trees up off the surface
with a little net this morning,
but they won't come in un-torn. Their shreds, curvaceously
entwine the filaments, more malleable even than the air.
Of all days just one other is as melancholy and enchanting
to her as the day the surface silvers
over, and she lifts whole fragments of reflections clear
of it, and it is this one,
which she gathers up in scales of rose and lime, and ever and ever
more come down, as if the chore was savouring being done.


Everything they thought a god :
a rock, a tree, a river or a railway station.
They believed it neither difficult nor odd
to deify an utterly enormous item
like a mountain range, despite such complications
as what look like mountains from a distance
are just trees and rocks again from right in
close, and which of which to hang a rope of rice below
is tricky;  or, to give another instance,
when you make it to the summit, typically
you are the one worst-placed to know.
Perhaps being gods is quintessentially ambiguous.
But anyway I wasn't meaning to be critical
about the main thing.  Just that scale is crucial
where theology's concerned.  Are gods too big for us
to even tickle stamping on them ?  Do they roughly match
our mediocrity ?  Or is the usual
idea of their size mistaken altogether ?
What if they were tiny, like the pieces of a watch;
more microscopic, like electron tunnel sculptures
dancing not just metaphysically, but rather
literally on a pin; or worse,
the quantum nonsense.  If one thing completely captures
our celestial arrogance, it must be how we place
ourselves exactly at the centre of the universe
of measure - between gods we glimpse beyond the telescope
and those we pulverise into the points of space
in cyclotrons.  Stoop down.
The water droplet from a leaf of moss escapes
into the air.  Infinities of deities are born and drown.


The first star light and bright, is out.
I recite the formula and close my eyes -
a risky moment since I'm on my bicycle
and it's a windy lane. I wobble about
but peddle on, the wish left empty.
When did I give up filling in the gaps
of wishes ?  Is it an insult to the universe
to wander around it and say "Nothing tempts me" ?
Drifting in darkness stage-lit from beneath
with garden doorways, and above, already,
with other stars (like the tardy sperms
which glimmer round a fertilized desire)
I can only feel the blurrily benevolent
vacuum of hope.  Can anybody wish
for more than the well-being of his children,
more than an ardent beauty in his bed ?
As the offer closes in the evening sky
the stars can only see the top of my head
and hear a bell go "Ting !"
as an old guy with his used-up expectations
drifting among the pomegranate lanterns
shoots a blank wish off into the heavens.

Bio: I have been a poet all my life, and a painter on and off. I won the Glover Poetry award in New Zealand in the 1970's, and have had a few small one-man shows of my paintings. For much of my life I have made my living as a teacher, of science, art, and languages in High Schools in New Zealand, and for the last nine years, of English in Japan.