Disjointed on Wellington Railway Station

Where the night ends & the pallid day begins
several dirty old groaners lie & stand around
the railway station. One sleeps, a boot under
his head, a plastic shoulder bag clutched to his
belly, his pants half down exposing a white bum . . .

I sit on a kauri bench & light up a Capstan,
place a boot on my rolled-up sleeping bag
& a free hand on top of my canvas pack.
A skinny man with a battered nose drops down
beside me, requests a smoke — his red eyes
unpicking my duffle coat, travelling over my
tennis shoes to the tailor-made cigarette in my hand.
‘Non-filter,’ I say —
‘Better than nothin’ his reply.

I light him up & give him half of what’s left of
the pack (about five) which he tucks away on the
inside of his overcoat, then runs a hand over
his smooth grey hair — the only tidy part of him.
Two mates stand off talking with another guy:
secret laughs, hands in pockets, knowing nods.
An air of deliberate disjointedness. Last night’s
close shave. An agreement to rendezvous
at an early opener later. Nervous like stage-fright
children ill at ease in a moneyed world . . .
They produce a bottle of sherry, which gets my mate
off the seat like a shot — but they don’t want
to give him a drink.

Seems he played up last night, allowed himself
to get done over by the boys — took a lot of shit
on himself. The sight of him turns the others away —
seeing themselves in his snot-smashed face, blubbery
lips & puffy eyes.
They drink the sherry, smiling, rolling back on flat
heels like heroes having come through a horrific
night unscathed.

Another man in cowboy hat joins them, all belly
& beard, carrying a guitar. Wears moccasins — long
grey frizzy hair poking out from under the hat’s
brim, an intelligent twinkle in the eye.
But when he opens his mouth & speaks his previous
demeanour changes from something strong & sure
to something weak & gone. His speech practically
One asks the cowboy where he slept last night & he
somehow conveys ‘Here’ (at the station). He gets
the poor bastard look . . .

Suddenly, they take off on separate paths (in case
they’re followed) toward the city centre, to meet up
later for tea at an all-night shelter.
My mate with the cigarettes tucked into his chest
waves a gloved hand (but not too revealingly) &
disappears in a swirl of railway grit . . .
The next time I see him (on Courtenay Place) he’s
battered more than ever, looking like he’s been
rolled. Clothes ripped, hair dishevelled, wild pale
eyes, paranoid pallor — charging apologetically
through the clean crowds heading God knows where
from God knows what.

Peter Olds was born in Christchurch in 1944 and now lives in Dunedin. His most recent collection,Music Therapy, was published by the Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop (2001). Earlier books include two from Caveman Press — Beethoven’s Guitar (1980) and Lady Moss Revived (1972) — and After Looking for Broadway (1985) from One Eyed Press (Chris Moisa) . He was Robert Burns Fellow at the University of Otago in 1978. He has travelled widely around New Zealand, hitch-hiking and taking odd jobs. In his younger years, he spent time with James K Baxter at Jerusalem on the Wanganui River.

“I made notes for ‘Disjointed’ (in notebooks) during the late 80s,” he comments, “while travelling around the North Island, shifting, broke, looking for something . . . Wellington Railway station was a favourite place for sleeping/shelter, and a meeting place for the ‘down & out’. I’d been down & out myself on occasion, and sometimes when travelling around, half-broke, my path led back into it: sometimes just waiting for a train, a bus, something to open, to eat, or company . . . I’ve got notebooks full of this sort of writing. Another poem ‘Journey to the Far South’ published in Glottis 7 also comes from these notebooks.”

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