Two security guards talking about Jupiter

Four little canvas bags of takings, one float, one
cash box and two guards to open the security room
where the squat safe is waiting. End of day ritual

but tonight they are talking of Jupiter
in male fashion. Did you see that
TV programme? About what the Earth

will be like when it dries out? A prune
sinking in on itself, a dust bowl falling
inwards like the orchestrated blowing up

of a building that comes down on the
spot ordained. Jupiter, on the contrary,
is a crystal planet. How strange, fitting

the cash bags in, pushing the cash box back
turning the handle so the teeth of the door mesh
and the maker’s gold seal glows in the light

then finally the long thin key that someone
locked in the room might turn to open
to take out the bags and play with the money

but be unable to escape because the door
is deadbolted. Walking away, thinking
how like a little safe this planet is

locked tight, we trust, for the night
its systems meshed. Earth preserved in its
abundant waters, Jupiter in its dark moonlets.

LISTEN to ‘Two security guards talking about Jupiter’ by Elizabeth Smither

Elizabeth Smither was New Zealand’s first woman Te Mata Estate Poet Laureate (2001—3). She has published 14 collections of poetry as well as novels and short stories. A new collection of poetry, The year of adverbs, will be published by Auckland University Press in August.

Smither comments: ‘At the end of each day’s work at Puke Ariki two librarians in their black uniforms plus two guards (armed with torches and walkie-talkies) would carry the day’s takings from the adult and children’s libraries, the reference room, to be deposited in the safe on the top floor. I always used to enjoy this moment: our heels ringing on the board floor, the two guards following behind, the little bags and the cash tin (with about enough takings inside to get us to Eketahuna). The safe (a small squat affair with a golden design on the door and formidable teeth which you had to make sure meshed) was in a room housing old uniforms and spare furniture. The guards waited while the bags and floats and cash box were stowed and the long thin safe key turned and left in its lock. (Someone could open the safe if they were locked in the room and count the takings).

‘The night of the poem I was eavesdropping on the guards talking about Jupiter and noting the differences between male and female conversations —the male concentration on facts — the facts of Jupiter and the Earth were offered in the manner we had offered money to the safe. As we walked back, glimpsing the starry evening sky through the long windows, Jupiter seemed the perfect and hopeful end to the day.’

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