Blue Shirts, Descending

(after Apollinaire)


I was happy
in the South,
so happy with what
I smelt and saw –
wild mint near the washing,
peppery roquette on opening
the door.
It was so good
that the moon
hung around for much
of the day, anxious not to miss
anything. And the light . . .
the light on her blue shirt,
descending . . . the
lights . . . even the fig tree shone
at night.
All transport lived
in a suitcase
and the children travelled
in search of the past
at the speed of two
horses, but carefully,
so as not to break
the eggs.
So happy were we
at our friends’ house
that I emptied my
pockets, then emptied them
some more, then
surrendered my pockets
to the wall.
Three quiet skirts
circled over all.

Jenny Bornholdt was born in Wellington in 1960. She began writing in earnest after attending the Original Composition course at Victoria University of Wellington. Her collections of verse are This Big Face (1988), Moving House (1989), Waiting Shelter (1991), How We Met (1995), Miss New Zealand: Selected Poems (1997) and These Days (2000). She is married to Gregory O’Brien, who makes occasional appearances as a character in her poems. They co-edited My Heart Goes Swimming: New Zealand Love Poems (1996) and, with Mark Williams, An Anthology of New Zealand Poetry in English (1997), which won the 1997 Montana New Zealand Book Award for Poetry. Her latest book Summer, written during her time as the 2002 Meridian Energy Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellow, will be published by Victoria University Press in April 2003.

Bornholdt comments: ‘This poem was written as a record of happiness.While in France in 2002 as the Meridian Energy Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellow, I read Apollinaire and admired the unashamed directness of some of his poems, their intensity. He’s pretty over-the-top – far more than I wanted to be, but I liked his drive.

During the time of the Fellowship we spent a couple of days with artists Pip and Bill Culbert. Much of the poem concerns Pip’s work – the title is from a work of hers – and she herself wore a blue shirt when we visited – that’s her, descending. Bill had a collection of tin cars, planes and buses, kept in an old brown suitcase; and our sons travelled in a 2CV in search of fossils (the 2CV’s suspension is supposedly so good that you can traverse a ploughed field with eggs on the back seat and they’ll remain intact).

Pip makes terrific works out of pockets (among other things), cutting them down to their seams and pinning them to walls. I liked this image of emptying pockets and somehow them remaining full of potential. The final image is from an installation made by Pip – three ceiling fans with skirts attached, flaring out over the room. Marvellous.’

Poem source details >



New Zealand Book Council writer file
Victoria University Press author page