I want you to forget the beginning. Forget the mercurochrome drum, the long Senecan bath, the first fluorescent aches (as if colour were all that mattered). Do this for the sake of your brand new bellows. Sing.
Has all this slipped away?
Now pour six-by-fours into the void and see yourself bundled in your mother’s arms, 1:30 frozen on the hospital clock, one hour old biroed on your backs. Take three or four, Daddy, just in case. Preserve the sweat and stickly hair, off-white walls, Property of Waikato Hospital rolled around pale and pink in a hundredth-second. Here comes Doctor Bowen and the cold aluminium and acetal for your chest. Look for the buckling faultlines of his forehead, the how did I miss this before? look. Listen for the following words: Ventricular; Cardiology; Electrocardiogram; Chambers; Valve; Septum; Defect. Listen for the thunderstone in your chest muttering brontide prayers. Diagnosis: benign. Appointments: quinquennial. Exit Doctor, pursued by a nurse.
You have contributed nine pounds to the surname; you have that in writing. Let this pickle of gelatin and silver do the work for you.
Do not look back. You cannot afford the salt.
Forget your first memory. You have not made three revolutions. Daddy made a pomegranate from kitchen water, gave it a knotted crown. Take it back to the grain, little Proserpino; this is the season for the big starlight, and we need a little glow. On the front doorstep: hold the cold and pregnant skin in both hands. Roll it a little too far to the left; to the right; back; forward; to the bank of the front doorstep. Look for summer in mica flashes. Gravity will take it all away from you. Imagine the first bounce as a surprise; imagine the vibrating sequels more so. Let it burst and hiss on the path without any fuss. Enter audient left: Kasi, Weimaraner Vorstehhund (trotting to the puddle) to taste a little Lethe. Cigarette burn top-right. End of reel. Ratatatata. Ta ta.
This is a refugee camp. Take Pausanias’ advice. Do not let this memory wander your bone locker and rattle in the night. Hush.
Forget, for this is of no consequence.
Forget Roses. Forget the broken thorns, the licking sticking summer flesh. One. Two. Three’s a triceratops knocking at the gate with pricks round his mortal temples. Four. Six. The crown slips when you crumple your eyes. Five. Do not blink, do not tempt this hollow delight, do not hiss and blubber over punctuated heels, do not hobble up the metal driveway. You are not blood-shod. This is not a test.
Forget Rosie, Rosanne. She has seen two thousand stars more than you. She will not live up to her name, but she will symphonise soil and make her own chutneys from market onions and you will love her despite the sinister way she holds her ink. She will ache before the blackboards and she will never keep tiny time upside down on her breast. Tick lub. Tock dub. No no. No kicking. No wailing. There, there is the pale blue coffin that looks so small in Mummy and Daddy’s lounge. A teddy bear, brass gut full of carbon. Wrinkled pewter arches on the wall. (Do not feel anything when you walk past this frame. I tell you, do not feel at all.) Seal the cracks before water heaves its way in and fractures the winter. And after the cakes and coleslaw, the barbeques and beasts, the words of kindness, the acres of tea, the light that bothers the window panes, the oh isn’t it a shame that this is the only time we all meet, the slow drive west and the sag of headlights, the loam to clay, you will see one last time her daughters of lilium and November that she grew among the strawberries and know that you have done as you were told.
There, there (it can still be new). Frown; it runs in the family. What wonder; how brave. Do not dwell on high tide while the water is out. For that matter, do not dwell on high tide when the water is in. Do not dwell on it at all. No, do not dwell at all.
Forget Michael before two decades, and forget Mike after. He knew them all from Cordelia to Ferdinand before your turn. Character study: he sits in a gorse yellow pedal car, platinum hair; you, still in nappies, push him between the ponga log fence and a six foot by six foot litter box. Show diastema dentals, drunk on vitamin D and the pollen of suburbia. Pull at his blue ribs just for the fingertip itch. Unravel him in your temporal lobe. Wind him loose around your proximals, then fold him into a ball and roll him down the stairs. Or take the fractured light of December: the garden hose, dish soap on woven polypropylene. A spring to the groin is brief; a seam over vermillion lip less so (both parties were at fault, m’lud). Pace out a year or two; keep going until it slides out of focus (this negative is no longer printable). Bring him his green, his strawberry third of ice cream, his whispering grommets, his grimaces and mulligrubs, his broken little key six weeks slung. Look up to him by three inches. He is made of perseverance and oak; you are the coward of the family (you do not need to forget this, it is buried in your coils). Forget concertina laughter, Mark Knopfler dialled to thirty, the brazening of forearms, chests bruised and brined from nylon and polystyrene and the Pacific. Give up on the gossip of his suit, Granddad’s golden pin in his lapel, the silver of his tie, Dad’s pearlescent cufflinks. If you must hold on, do so to the hesitations and exhalations of your best man speech, the truncated dances, the Frangipani of your ex on the friend of a friend.
Forget how he enpurpled your soft young arms; breathe once (or twice), button the white twill, adjust his tie, and close the lid.
What do you want for Christmas, Nuncle?
Not nothing. Now. No; not now. More now. More then. Now then.
Ma mère a dit que je ne devais jamais
Jouer avec les gitans dans le bois.
They stole Mummy from you, piecewise. They wore long Latin names to cover their tracks. First the flittering flies poached her mantle; they tore at her vitreous humour until the cherry blossoms lost their plural. Showmen brought out ivory on safari and sold her china instead. A hungry ghost gave her a peroxide drip and fractured the colour of her leather. Some came in white and some in red. They took the respite of dreams, the distant sand bars, an outcrop of sweet Bridlington rock, Thalassa singing hurrah, hurrah. (Vale, vale). They stole her radio, station to station, and fined for an ocean of noise. They scratched and splintered her vinyl. They moved her shoes, replaced her baking powder with moon dust, sold her belt holes in back streets. They collected the percussion and moved on to the brass. They blacked out pages of her dictionary; they swapped entries in her encyclopaedia.
They left for her an unfine millennium of dimensions. (What did you put down for tomorrow’s breakfast?)
Dig through camphor for a slice of 1999, you and her triangulated a thousand metres superbrine, fringes and December in your eyes. Frame it in the hallway until Janus takes back the kahikatea green.
She will leave you: the Edmonds Cookbook New Revised Edition (1992); threads of mitochondria (1989); chocolate eyes (1990); a hollow trifle bowl packed in tea (1968); grey and yellow polyester sweatshirts, fading elbows, chewed cords (1994-1999).
Let the rest go to the tide. If you know what’s good for you, you won’t go looking for her (even if you could).
Daddy can take the fluff from between goats’ horns, blue pohutukawa flowers, upside-down tui feathers and glow-worm snares and spin them all together to make story-cloth.
It’s made strong by wide eyes; patched thick by receipts and medical records; worn tired by the rolling doubt of adolescence. In some places it’s so thin we daren’t breathe in case it breaks. In others it’s the strongest stuff in the world. Take Moira’s word on that.
He will pass it to you in great heaps and folds, and on cold nights it will keep you safe.
If you find a loose thread of cotton on your clothes, keep it safe.
He was felled as quick as a sneeze.
You will have a dozen loves:
One for the bad luck of January;
one for Viola, smiling patient on a monument;
one for Mona Tessa, outwearied with the weight of the sun
(My mistress’ eyes are nothing like);
one for the eye of the day (I would be Fool of anything);
one for Mary’s tears (how I envied those willow bells);
one for the dark seas of Diana;
one for the three or four virtues of Carmen Lúcia;
one for the long sleep of Flanders;
one for glory of mourning;
one for little weather-glasses;
one for chrysanthemums;
and one for the Echo,
and blood for the bulbs.
You could do your own bit of drowning, I tell you.
So you knead the waxless midday sea. On a small island on the southwest coast you see her sitting on the rocks, wet face in hands. The sea kisses her ankles. She looks up to see your bark of daisies. And, tired of faces in the water, she adjusts her hair, fixes her Acheron stare, takes the garnet plumeria from behind her ear, and smiles across the blue.
While you row past right to left.
There are no rocks in the black. There is no wind but slack.
You will think of her that day and know you could go back.
And when they see you in the street they will not kill you; they will knock you down, rifle through your pockets for morphemes and desserts for two, the hum of car heater set to three-quarters, the moan of rolling friction. Think of her as you kiss the spaces between jaw and ear, above belt loops and foreheads, impressions of lace. Wonder, lightly, if her lips would too taste of cherry and vain orchids, distant tannins, the burning mound of Jacob’s thunder, rain. Lose the only photo of you together, dark-eyed at 3 a.m., to pages sold to second-hand ghosts. Forget her when the street cleaner scrubs your Babel and ink down the drain.
And at five thousand you shall forget your globes, and at ten thousand you shall forget your knees, and at twenty thousand you shall forget the mouse’s ear, and at thirty thousand you shall forget the little boy blue, at forty thousand you shall forget the storm and lightning will strike three billion and stop.
Do not ask more of the thunder.
Do not speak ill of the living. Do not speak at all. You have no more words to play with.