Jim Nevis

It was after Holmes had started,
so it would have been gone seven,
past my bedtime.

I stood on the window frame,
toes hooked like a monkey’s,
hands on the glass, looking through
the tropical Northland downpour
for something to witness.
That night, I found it.

Bored of the bush, I turned my head,
pushed my other cheek to the cool glass.
My eyes floated over the gravel road,
dilapidated barns, cotton buds of sheep.
Then I saw it. I didn’t understand
what it was. Then I sort of did.

Jim, the farmer, Jim Nevis, stood on the grass,
naked in his black gumboots,
just there in front of his house.
His pale body was shocking,
like the inside of an oyster.

He was facing away from me.
I could see his sagging bottom,
his hairy back. He turned around.
I wanted to hide but I was frozen.
My stomach felt like it did
when I walked to the bathroom
in the black country night.

His chest hair ran down like seaweed,
the type that stank up the beach.
I stared and stared. Was my heart
knocking too loudly on the glass?
Were my parents seeing this?
His penis was a pale fish bone.

This alone was mystery enough
to get on with, but, when he walked back
to his house and climbed onto his deck,
he kicked off his gumboots.
And I realised
he hadn’t really been naked before.

I got down from the window
because I felt so strange.
I thought I knew it all,
but here was a book just legible enough
for me to realise how little I could read.

I agonised for a week
about whether to tell.
I said the word ‘naked’ to myself
under my duvet, louder and louder
until I was so scared by my own daring,
I held a hand over my mouth.

Mum wheedled it out of me in the truck.
She threw her head back and laughed.
‘Honey,’ she said, stroking my hair, ‘oh, honey.’
She thought for a moment and said:
‘You used to do that when you were little, too.’
She smiled and started the engine.
That was it.

I sat silent, thinking.
I knew this was different. Jim Nevis wasn’t little.
What he’d done had meant something.

Jake Arthur is a writer and teacher living in Pōneke, Wellington. His first collection of poems, A Lack of Good Sons, was published in 2023 and his second collection, Tarot, will be available mid-2024, both from Te Herenga Waka University Press. He also writes fiction, and recently received second prize in the Sargeson Prize with his short story, ‘On Beauty’.

Jake comments: 'I think we all remember moments when we caught adultsusually our own parentsacting in ways we couldn’t understand. You come to understand that your parents are lying to you. Not maliciously. But because the truth is in a language you can’t yet comprehenda language that they know will confuse you even more than knowing that you’re being misled. I wrote further about this poem onNewsroom.'


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Jake Arthur's Te Herenga Waka University Press author page



Photographer credit: Ebony Lamb