Lorna on Monday


By Monday morning Lorna is too tired to do anything
but leave him in his bed, and when at work she tries
to ring yet another counselling service
from her desk, first she finds herself unable
to speak, and then, on ringing back, is interrupted
by the first child arriving early for class.
It is Miriam, whose solitude last week
worried her, although she seemed
quite happy to draw pictures in the corner
of the room. Today she pairs her with
Kayleigh for spelling and is relieved
to see her follow Kayleigh and her friends
into the playground, and, when playtime ends,
to come back into class with Kayleigh
pushing her, giggling, ahead into the room.
She’s rung two more counselling services
about her son, and even tried
the government child and youth agency
but found no one able to intervene
or offer any new advice. She wonders
why Miriam’s lips look red and sore, and why
Carlotta’s mouth is flecked with bits
of bark. At lunchtime, she finds the girls
gnawing on an apple tree, Carlotta on one side
of a branch and Miriam on the other. ‘We’re
seeing if we can get through,’ Kayleigh
explains, hanging upside down from
an unbitten branch, her undies pink with
purple hearts. All afternoon Kayleigh whispers
in Ruby’s ear who whispers to Carlotta.
Miriam doesn’t seem to mind but when Lorna
finds her at four, still chewing on the apple
tree, her mouth beginning to bleed
on the left side, her cheeks are streaked
with tears. ‘I have to get through,’
the girl insists. The wood tastes pleasant,
Lorna thinks, starting to gnaw. It is a long
time before her own mouth starts to
feel rubbed raw, and longer still before
it first begins to bleed. It is starting
to get dark by then, Miriam has long since
been sent home, and the first stirrings
of hunger make her think of the kitchen at
her own house – she can imagine the smoke,
the mess, the arguments that will begin before
she’s said a word – and she gnaws harder.


In need of planting out


The house smells of toast crumbs and is full of clothes
that drift into corners of hallways and rooms, behind
furniture and doors, under beds and wardrobes.
Tabi has just realised she has a lot of radish seedlings
that need planting out.  Laura is reading Frost,
as if Frost were reading her, she says.  Mara
is photographing the blinds.  I am only visiting
but I have everything I need: I do have a tendency
to stand scarlet in the corners of rooms holding
little sticks I’ve gnawed the food off, but here
that is simply not the case.  All the sticks
are on trees or in the trays of radish seedlings,
there is toast to eat that when it is eaten
leaves nothing but crumbs, and I am writing this
in a corner of an empty living room, awash
with sun, beside a spotted handkerchief, and a pair
of briefs so dusty they may have been here
for weeks, for months, for years.  




I take Phoebe down to the swamp garden
where I hope she will admire the flowers
but there seems to have been flooding
and more gravel than anything.
I think that’s something, I say, pointing.
We stop on the way back up to the house
so I can show her my basil seedlings,
only Phoebe thinks they are radishes
which means she will have to come back
in six weeks to harvest them, being
the only person I know who likes radishes.
I grow them because they are easy to grow –
look how all the radish seeds came up
and not one of the basil seeds.  They
will taste of clean dirt, and water, washed
dirt, and crunchy water, like sea water
without the salt, like pond water
with pepper silted through it like salt
through the sea, like a friendship
in which each friend is oblivious of
the wrong she has done the other, and each
friend is washed through with the wrong
her friend has done her, like the middle
of the day with an eclipse of the sun,
like midnight with a full moon,
washed through and washed clean.



Anna Jackson is an Associate Professor in English at Victoria University of Wellington and has published six collections of poetry with Auckland University Press. In 2016, she held the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship.