Dinosaur Times

You have brought me closer
to extinction than I have ever been
in the whole of my middle-sized life.

You, who were not even extraordinary!
With your round-toed shoes,
your polite well-modulated voice,

and your way of sometimes using
the word quiet instead of quite,
after which you would bite your lip.

You led me to the very edge
of a ravine on a day so cold that
breathing felt like a payback
for some kind of happiness.

Together we looked down
on road markers of mist
and the grey metallic fingernails of the gulls —
a sight seen more often from below.

And although my lungs hurt
you made me stay and look down further
still to where a desert lay,
scattered with white chalky remains.

Once I had acknowledged the bottom
of the world, you pointed out how far away
from it we were, and how close the sky was
to our faces on that particular day.

If you climbed on my shoulders,
you said, I expect you could touch it.

Then, after we had stood for quite some time
where no one (we believed) had ever stood before,
you took yourself away: neatly,
surgically, with the greatest of skill.
You, who were not even extraordinary!

After your removal I lay quiet
among the bones, listening to the birds cry.
Each day had the potential
to become an age.

And I would say this to you now:
if it were not for my constant vigilance
over the state of my heart,
if not for the hard-won years
stacked at my back like a wall to lean on
in times of fright

— well, let’s just say that
for the first time and because of you,
there was nearly no more of me.

Sarah Quigley is a New Zealand-born novelist and poet who lives in Berlin. She has a D. Phil from the University of Oxford. She has won many prizes for her poetry and short fiction, which have been published widely. Her new novel Fifty Days is published with Virago in May 2004.

Quigley comments: ‘A couple of years ago I went to the Frankfurt Bookfair, where I happened to meet an old classmate of mine from Bill Manhire’s creative writing course in Wellington. We had a long talk one night about how the world can be roughly divided into two types: “heart-breakers”, and those whose hearts are prone to be broken. The poem “Dinosaur Times” grew out of that conversation, and it deals with risk-taking and the strategies we develop in order to survive, both in life and in love.’

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New Zealand Book Council writer file
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