Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tuesday Poem: The Landscape

My father serves lunch, lifts 
the salad with servers, offers 
a dish of olives,
the muted light stroking his

hands, head bent as if
in a pew, paler
than I think of him.
On the pergola

above, the leaves of the vines
are ecstatic and lime-bright,
a scribble of veins,
tendrils, shadows – a reminder how light

both clarifies and complicates –
how a simple landscape of skin, let’s say,
can become a whole atlas.
Here the x-ray,

there the scan.
The chickens
pant in the hedge.
He chops bread 

and chunks of cheese, lays 
one on the other
passes it across the table 
to my mother, 

his hand a plate. She’s feeling 
the heat, longs to be cool 
inside with a book, is looking 
up, grateful 

for the vines, for the lean of the tree 
beside us, its pollen rising rapidly like small fish 
in a vertiginous sea. 
The olive dish 

is passed around again. My father 
sweeps crumbs 
onto the grass with his hand. (He asks 
the surgeon now and then, ‘When it comes 

again how will I know?’) All this 
light and still the incomprehensible 
scrabble of things, 
dark scribbles 

that dim 
the bright falling. Above, 
the sky’s open palm, 
supplicating leaves. 

                           By Mary McCallum

Post updated 12:01 pm Tuesday July 24 - more on Mahy.  

This poem is from my small book The Tenderness of Light out earlier in the year which I'll be reading from in the Wairarapa this Friday as part of a poetry roadshow with four other poets for National Poetry Day. Do come if you're in the area! Details here.

by Kirk Hargreaves Fairfax/NZ
The Landscape is written about my parents, but I'll dedicate it here to Margaret Mahy, the astonishing children's writer who died from cancer yesterday in Christchurch. 

Her gift to readers is immeasurable. Her books are a joyful and magical part of so many lives, mine and my children's included. What would we have been without A Lion in the Meadow? And Maddigan's Quest

I met her once, she signed our treasured copy of A Lion in the Meadow. My mother met her too - she had to pick her up from Wellington station over 20 years ago, to take her to a reading at Newtown library where Mum worked. 

Mahy used to wear an orange curly wig to perform for children and you can imagine the writer's delight when she saw Mum's car: a bright orange Fiat Bambina with a sunroof. She leapt in, donned her wig, pulled back the sunroof and sailed through Wellington like that.... my Mum grinning all the way. 

Update: My daughter has just reminded me how, smitten by Maddigan's Quest when she was ten, and keen on writing herself, she sent Margaret Mahy a letter. She received a long handwritten letter in return that amongst other things said that she, Margaret Mahy, liked the same character Issy liked, and encouraging Issy to write down her stories too.  When I told Issy this morning that Mahy had died, she burst into tears. 

The Booksellers NZ blog has posted The Fairy Child today - a perfect choice. It begins: 'The very hour that I was born/I rode upon a unicorn' - yes! she did! God Bless the extraordinary people in our midst who ride unicorns - and ride them to our very door  - and ask us to climb aboard.  

Margaret Mahy, you will be sorely missed. 

Oh and please do visit our magical Tuesday Poem hub today to see poems from each of the NZ Book Awards finalists selected by Andrew Bell. An uplifting way to start the day. 


lillyanne said...

I love your poem - I remember one you posted about your father ages ago, which was equally tender and written with loving clarity.

Kathleen Jones said...

This is beautiful Mary - and so delicate - I could see the light falling through the leaves so clearly.

Elizabeth Welsh said...

Mary, how slight and still and delicate your words are. I could vividly see the 'head bent as if in a pew' as I read. It's always such a pleasure to read your poetry and a very fitting tribute to an amazing writer :)

Mary McCallum said...

Just catching up with blog comments - thank you for these - very much.