A Bit Late, But Still
I would like to talk with kindly Sister
Gabriel, with nervy Brother Remigius,
about eternity, say. I would listen
more attentively than ever I did
in the room with the high square windows
in Surrey Crescent, or the long prefab
above the gully in Richmond Road.
I would listen, old instructors,
as you began the story I always
longed to hear. I’d watch one of you turn
your plain silver ring as you did
when you told us simpler stories.
When even a child thought, How
handsome she is, how wonderful
if we could see the colour of her hair.
And the other, that considerate man
martyred daily in the fifth form’s
colosseum, how good to see you dab,
again, like Louis Armstrong, your
perfect handkerchief, ease your stiff
collar in the summer heat – to hear
you report, ‘It is even better, boys,
Than any of us imagined.’ The palm
and the crown as certain as the next
bell. To hear you both talking
of that would be something. And something,
I suppose, in its sad, distant way,
to say even this — how good it would be.
Vincent O'Sullivan was born in Auckland in 1937 and now lives in Wellington, where he teaches English at Victoria University. No New Zealand writer has been more versatile. As well as his poetry, he has produced acclaimed novels, plays, short stories and literary criticism. With Margaret Scott, he has edited five volumes of Katherine Mansfield’s letters. He is currently working on a biography of New Zealand novelist John Mulgan. A Selected Poems will be published later this year by Leviathan, London.
“Both the teachers mentioned in the poem,” he says, “were people I owed much to, decades ago, at two Auckland schools.”