The Child in the Gardens: Winter

How sudden, this entering the fallen
gardens for the first time, to feel the blisters
of the world’s father, as his own hand
does. It is everything dying at once,
the slimed pond and the riffling of leaves,
shoes drenched across sapless stalks.
It is what you will read a thousand times.
You will come to think, who has not stood
there, holding that large hand, not said
Can’t we go back – I don’t like this place.
Your voice sounds like someone else’s. You
rub a sleeve against your cheek, you want
him to laugh, to say, ‘The early stars can’t hurt
us, they are further than trains we hear
on the clearest of nights.’ We are in a story
called Father, We Must Get Out.
Leaves scritch at the red walls,
a stone lady lies near the pond, eating
dirty grass. It is too sudden, this
walking into time for its first lesson,
its brown wind, its scummed nasty
paths. You know how lovely yellow
is your favourite colour, the kitchen at home.
You touch the big gates as you leave,
the trees stand on their bones, the shoulders
on the vandaled statue are huge cold
eggs. Nothing there wants to move.
You touch the gates and tell them, We
are not coming back to this place. Are we, Dad?

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, to be published later this year.

O’Sullivan comments: ‘So many poems and stories are about being tossed out of the garden (usually Eden) that I was interested in one where people actually wanted to leave. And instead of it being a good place to be (the beginning of all) it was rather a grim place, a place where things ended. Perhaps the son and the father might be taken in different ways, but I didn’t want them to be at odds as they are in the Eden story, but close and trusting before and after they pass the gates. A dead myth is good to leave behind; and winter of course is where so many myths die – at least for a while.’

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