Where I Went

I auditioned for the part. And this way
I came to dance
to a confusion of heartbeat monitors and

portable radios. And so it fell upon me
to be the singing one
in a room given too much to silence.

In the intermittent light I was
speckled and
free. At the far end of each jaded afternoon

I was a six-foot dispenser of
effervescent drinks.
The ward was in need of a popular song

and I was it – a sponge to remove
unnecessary detail
from the ceiling so no one

was reminded of a world before
this one. I was
the overflowing one in the parched room.

And beside the far bed I was a student
of an Austrian architect
a pair of sunglasses grazing the night sky.

For him I wrote ‘Vienna’ across Evans Bay.
But in the morning
he told me, it was the designs of Maori buildings

I wore upon my chin. I was light-footed
in the crippled room
where the floor stared up at me

an ensemble of coloured things, my words
a cloth to soak them up
or remove them. Later I emptied

all the instruments of their music
like fruit, then I emptied
any other thing that might contain

music. I stayed all night in the day room
and the night stayed
with me. I was its furniture, its sweeping broom,

ninety per cent song and ten per cent flesh
of its body. I was paid
to weep in the laughing room and laugh

in the room of diminished hope. I was
the ripe one
in the spoiled room, where it fell upon me to dispense

glasses of water and ceilinged sky to the
recently awakened
and to those who awaken each day

with a fresh skyscape sewn across the surface
of their heads. These men
and women who could see through me.

I brought them the brightest drinks, the most
iridescent straws
and the coloured shadows that fell upon

their throats as they drank were both the last
shadows of a fiery world
gone out and a reflection of

the next to come. When I left the dying room
I was the shape of everything
into which I had been poured.

And the room behind me was empty
and I was filled
to overflowing with it, where I went.

Gregory O'Brien’s newest books are a collection of poems, Afternoon of an Evening Train (Victoria University Press, 2005), a selection of work by New Zealand writers in France and French writers in New Zealand, The Colour of Distance (Victoria University Press, 2005) – which he co-edited with Jenny Bornholdt – and an essay/memoir, News of the Swimmer Reaches Shore, which is forthcoming from Victoria University Press and Carcanet (UK). His poems were the basis for the Winter 2006 fashion range from Auckland designer Doris de Pont and an exhibition of his poems opened at the Bowen Galleries, Wellington, in March 2006.

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