If you knew then what I know now - Alison Robertson

You would know that hot water can sear the skin off a baby's soft limbs in seconds
You would know that no phone has to be answered
You would know the difference between like and love, loving but not liking
You would know that some people die quickly, others linger for decades in a lost mind
You would know that just because you never hear your parents argue, they do
You would know that sunscreen is better than coconut oil
That your father is a sulker
And you will never grow to like tripe
or feijoas
You would know that nobody is 100 per cent happy 100 per cent of the time
You would know that Bata Ponytails are no longer the in-thing for way-out girls at school
You would know that sometimes conflict is healthy
You would know that your mother is too busy cooking, bottling, vacuuming, sewing, gardening and doing your father’s accounts
that she has no time for matters emotional
hers or yours 
You would know that Chesdale is not the only cheese
You would know that whacking someone’s head against the weatherboards can cause concussion
That your eyelashes are sharp as stubble when they grow back after cutting
That if only you’d practised more you could be in the NZSO by now
Or played doubles at Wimbledon – perhaps
You would know that sometimes your friends aren’t 
That people lie to escape punishment and lie to save hurt feelings
You will know that the little café at the top of the Taupo Road is called the Summit Kiosk and you will get an ice-cream.
But you will never know why that boy liked you, riding his motorbike up and down your street, never stopping to knock on your door except on Christmas Eve when he gave you an LP, and you gave it back.

When you were there - Alison Robertson

She arrives over-revving in her yellow Cortina, always with a pudding
apple sponge/crumble/shortcake/pie/
She’s round as a moon

Her hair is sometimes blue, sometimes a shade of pink
She combs wool straight from sheep
spins it through a wheel she drives with her foot
up – down, up – down
The wool becomes a long thin strand
We hold our arms out straight while she winds it into balls from our skinny limbs
Round ‘n’ round
She knits us jerseys that smell like a paddock

In her spare room, she tucks you into crisp white sheets so tight it’s hard to breathe
In the morning, her cornflakes are crisper, her peaches sweeter
She plays Mah jong
Her bloomers reach her knees
Her knees!
On the clothes line, flapping, they look like empty flour sacks
She laughs a lot, and her big, big bosom bounces

And when she’s even older
In her room with nothing but a bed, a single chair and skinny wardrobe
When her teeth are loose
Her volume’s gone
She cannot hear and barely see
and there’s biscuit hanging from her lip
I want to say:
Remember when I used to climb into your warm bed of a morning
Remember that hot pool at your house, its noisy pump
That house where all the furniture was stuck-fast to the floor
Where you taught me how to knit
Had good supplies of Dr Seuss
Refilled my hottie, made mousetraps and cheesecakes
When you took us to the lake
Where you nursed me through the mumps… 

But she doesn’t know who I am
Or why I’m there
And all I can do is swallow hard
Kiss her craggy cheek
Scoop up my children and almost run away

Contributor's Note

Alison Robertson is part of the Communications team at University of Waikato. She was a sports reporter for Radio New Zealand in the ‘80s, has edited a community newspaper in Porirua, written three children’s novels and several short stories and until now has never had the courage to publish any poetry.


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