Autumn was ending. The new season's hard winds
blew sad phrases across our sidereal city.
The yellow harbour lights, no longer familiar,
spelt out their distance to me in cold semaphore.
Horns clanged on the docking container ships,
arriving from ports we would never visit.
Too many powder portents taken out of context.
Hours before, I confronted the silhouette
of your lover undressing by the bedroom door.
Ebb of the blood tide running through our days.
Love dwindled below us to metaphor.
Crossing over the bridge was pure nausea.
Unhinged, deranged. So insular and retracted,
my body soon merged with the car. Pistons
screaming in the soft housing of my stomach.
Gelid air blasted through the front windows.
My lungs opened. The carburetor throttled.
Every gearshift accelerated a rage suppressed.
I was the car, the car passing the pump houses
and humming turbines of the water treatment plant,
the shrinking factories and star-shaped suburbs.
Petrol tankers and late-night speeding couriers
hugged the inside lanes. Neil Young wailed
ragged loneliness through the Alpine speakers.
After the dark, vertiginous lanes of the motorway
came the satellite districts' hazy amber lights.
Moon-bright, Colonel Sanders' cackling skull
topped a stanchion pole on Ōrewa's main street.
Boy racers sipped beers outside the surf club,
slouching on the bonnets of their tinted sedans,
as if we happened upon them, there in the carpark,
conducting some kind of seismic experiment—
subwoofer boxes in open boots bumped anthemic
jump tunes by The Prodigy and Chemical Brothers.
Bass quakes rattled the shopfront windows.
The local copper rolled past their gathering twice.
Most of our friends indentured themselves
to student loans and generic educations.
Some would find God and never move away,
while others who had once been altar boys
put on ski-masks and preached with shotguns
to suburban bank-tellers, elderly pharmacists.
Most would blindly follow an inherited model:
careers, mortgages, the trappings of respectability.
That wasn't for me. I could never roll like that.
What I sought was a kind of psychic repatriation,
some way of harmonising with the ineffable.
Nihilism was chic in the decade we came up in.
We kept up our silence. Unhinged, deranged.
At this late hour, how could we be other,
when in the basement clubs and warehouses
the lean ablations of the chemical season
before this new century had already done us over.
The clocks did not stop as they had predicted.
I had wanted to leave it all behind us in the city,
the margins of blame, the games of attrition,
our new lovers waiting in their rented bedrooms.
Roused to action by the breakers' calm cadences,
your hand trembled into place on my thigh.
Our last rite. A new season. Autumn was ending.
Michael Steven is a poet from Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland.
Night School, published by Otago University Press (2022)