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Nicole Wallace
New Zealand

Moka's Utu - Penny Howard
Nicole lives in South Auckland with her husband and children
For my husband who asked if I had ever written a Love Poem

I did write a love poem once before,
but it was all young and angsty –
Me, unzipping his skin and slipping inside.
It was full of images of two souls colliding
and our bodies free-falling into one another’s.
Looking back I wish I’d paid more attention
to lecturers at Uni and less time
trying to catch the eye of Morrissey lookalikes
focused on being all deep and misunderstood,
I might have done better than a C average
and known to avoid clichés in love poetry.

If I wrote you a love poem today,
I’d reference moments in our life -
how you always know the answers
to my questions, like, “Why haven’t
you asked me about my day???” And you
reply, “I can see you need a glass of wine.”
I would also talk about the time you said to the
husband of an artist friend, “Aren’t they creative.
Your wife is an artist and mine is a poet.”
You were smiling but you weren’t joking.
It was all easiness and no steamy undercurrent.

Funny thing is that I wouldn’t have
chosen you at 18 because I was all
young and angsty (in 70s denim)
and you tell me you wore that clashing
Kozmik sweatshirt and stonewash jeans.
You just wouldn’t have been the right fit.

The day I lost you at ‘Colour the Sky’

In the park
kites darting, spinning, streaming, whistling,
you gone from my side - suddenly. The sky an artist’s palette;
my face - bleached parchment paper.

searching, seeking, shrieking – kites swirl
happy  laughing, delighted squeals - children skim
and skip along grassy plains.  Jackets billowing,
hair whipped by wind – gusting.

anxiety, guilt – only a mother can know
A crumpled chip packet and a
carelessly discarded apple core from a
carefully prepared lunchbox, left thoughtlessly.

tongue darting furtively across dry barren lips
sweet, the moist richness of the half eaten biscuit
I ate when you crumpled, called out and cried -
overwhelmed by the wind, the noise, the chaos.

frantic, fearful.  Next time a harness, I’ll bring
tether you to my side, like those kites –
bright lights, flashing colours, whizzing controlled motion -
anchored firmly, safely to their owners.

In the park,
I saw you.
The wind dropped away.
Kites slumped and drooped instinctively -

were gathered up in protective arms.
I exhaled,
feeling your soft breath
against my wet cheek.

My father was a short man with lofty ideas

6’1” already and only 14 he said admiringly of Tom.
Tom lived down the road and my father had already carved out for him a basketball career -
a basketball career for a boy who wasn’t even his own son.
My father was never backward in commenting on the height of others.
With him, respect could be measured in tenths of inches.

Tall men achieve success in the workplace and with women he reported.
In the kitchen, a wall scarred by horizontal scratches, each telling a story -
each a whip lash - speaking of my failure to progress up through sport and social hierarchies.
This one here marks the time I stuffed my shoes with tissue paper,
The old man’s excitement was palpable; he was pleased as punch.

I read somewhere that we start with 33 vertebrae and by adulthood have only 24.
I wondered if at 14 that meant I had 38 with one currently fusing.
When I stood against that wall, if I held my breath and stretched upward,
I believed I could create a bubble of air between each vertebra.
I pushed hard against the book my father placed on my head

Driving my soul into the lino, holding my breath, holding those bubbles,
Only collapsing like a man with the bends once I knew the line had been indelibly etched.
My father sighed, eyes hard as obsidian. Physically slump, he did.
I dropped my head, hanging like a kid handing over a bad report card.
He looked at me in the pitying way you save for a stray dog that’s only good for being shot.

“Why can’t you try harder? You’re so small. When, for God’s sake, will you grow?”
I was tempted to remind him of his own short stature, talk of gene pools and inherited traits.
I considered asking him about his failure to achieve a promotion in his dead end job.
Ask if it really was his ‘prick’ of a boss that had caused his career to be stunted.
And why he spent some much time swilling beer with the bottom dwellers at the pub.

I wondered, in his state, why he was pre-occupied by my ‘failure to thrive’,
Why he couldn’t rise above his ambitions for me, and ask me what I wanted.
I asked my mother once, but she only rolled her eyes and accused me of failing to
Keep my feet on the ground – that all this ‘kind of thinking’ was not helpful.
She told me to remember where I came from and stop trying to reach above my station.

At my height, I assured her, this was highly unlikely –
Hard to imagine this coming from a woman married to a man with such lofty ideas.