On the car windscreen I saw the line of roses
tucked beneath the two front wipers
and how they were placed, wholehearted over glass,
as if by Rousseau or some fabulist poet
laying no leash upon his energies – not
those hybrid buds displayed in shops,
pruned, pared, all red perfection,
but the blown centres of blowsy pinks
from beyond the reach of gardens.
You must have been cold when you went out to pick them
for I’d needed my coat when I stormed from the house
and drove to this play about sisters, dying.
You would have leaned over the bank’s dark edge
scratching your hands as you felt for each bloom,
cutting the head from its stem.
You couldn’t have known you would find my car.
I couldn’t have known you’d come looking.
You couldn’t be sure I’d be there at all –
I might have gone for coffee, to a bar, started walking
(this need to see the forces that move our own lives)
gone searching for the blue flower.
Me now, coming quickly out into the night
– weight of our fight, those sisters, dying –
crowds pushing past, a crane too, I’m sure,
bulked up on the wharf with its own force
of gravity, and stars coming on, when across the car
park, your fervid interruption:
– rose upon rose upon rose upon rose –
(Romanticism grew out of a craving for the infinite)
and how suddenly it all simply falls away,
the part of the night which was my own making,
the part of the night which was the day’s making,
and in its place, the part which is my knowing again,
again, that you know, you really do know,
how to utterly slay me, baby.
Jo Thorpe was born in Wellington in 1948. She grew up in Gisborne and after graduating from Auckland University in 1968, lived for years at a stretch in south east Asia, New York and Australia. Since the late 1990’s, she has had poems published in a range of periodicals and anthologies including Poetry NZ, Listener, NZ Books, JAAM and Takahe. In 1998 she completed the Whitireia Writing Course and three years later graduated with an MA in Creative Writing from Victoria University. She currently teaches dance history at the New Zealand School of Dance and her first book of poetry Len & Other Poems was published in February 2003 by Steele Roberts Books.
Thorpe comments: ‘At the time of writing, I was reading Isaiah Berlin’s essays on the roots of Romanticism – hence the references to Rousseau and Novalis’ “search for the blue flower”. I had also just discovered Jorie Graham and the phrasing of “Windscreen” owes a great deal to her. Graham’s poetry has continued to inspire me ever since and it is only in retrospect that I see the connection between what so appeals to me in her work (her book Errancy has been described as a “pilgrimage in which the heart’s longing is guide”) and what was identified by Berlin as the Romantic notion of depth – inexhaustibility, unembraceability –
Then (of course!) there were the roses themselves. When I “aired” the poem for the first time, a couple of readers had reservations about the last line, but subsequent attempts on my part to change it failed. I think this was because, as I was writing the poem and nearing its end, I realised it always was going to be about that last line.’