When my father died we ate sandwiches.
On the day of the funeral a plate of sandwiches
before we went to the church, the cemetery.
What shall we have for dinner? Sandwiches.
I don’t remember the fillings. Ham or cheese?
Something mundane. Only the comforting bread
like mattresses pressed on grief
the small soft bites we took, the fine white bread
the crusts laid aside as if they were wearisome
or to eat them was greed. Cleaning of plates
was not in the prescription of those days
or taking the last crumb.
We grew thinner on days of sandwiches.
My black skirt hung loosely at the waist
and its deep box pleats strode forth
ahead of me, bolder than my feet.
Elizabeth Smither has published 15 collections of poetry, including the award-winning A pattern of marching (Auckland University Press, 1989), winner of the New Zealand Book Award for Poetry 1990, and The Lark Quartet (AUP, 1999) winner of the Montana New Zealand Book Award for Poetry 2000. She has published two selected poems: the Tudor Style (AUP, 1993) and A question of gravity; new and selected poems, edited by John Kinsella (Arc Publications UK, 2004).
Elizabeth was the first woman Te Mata Estate New Zealand Poet Laureate and her laureate collection, Red shoes (Godwit, Random House, 2003) was published at the conclusion of her two-year term (2001–3). Her most recent collections are The Year of Adverbs (AUP, 2007) and Horse playing the accordion (Ahadada Books, 2007). She also writes novels and short stories.
Smither comments: ‘My father died in 1984, the year I was Auckland University Literary Fellow. My grief at his death meant I could at last fit into the black skirt with its two wide swinging pleats I had coveted and bought at a recycled clothes shop in High Street. I wore it to his funeral and it did seem “bolder than my feet”.
The poem though is about making meals of sandwiches which is all my mother, brother and I felt we could eat. For the first time I thought of sandwiches as soft and comforting, the filling held between two mattresses of bread. And of course there was no question of eating the crusts, something my mother would have insisted on when we were children.’