The first time I saw you
I don’t know which I loved more
you with your tranquil neck
calmly transporting yourself through the world
or the one who followed you everywhere
trolling the dark waters like a hook.
The strange thing was that
as each other’s opposite and negative
we were even visible
I with my tatty winter coat
smelling of reeds
you consisting entirely of surfaces
or should I say one fabulously curved surface
smooth and white as an egg.
I have no idea what you saw when you looked at me
a shadow dully pursued by the shape that cast it
a placeholder reserving a space from nonexistence.
Perhaps you saw God’s fearsome ability
to be absent, his morosely taken option
to hoard his riches in another universe.
In anyone else, such a thought would be absurd.
In your case, it was luminous and adorable
shining in the dark location known as me.
It was inevitable I would follow you
the sound of laughing that came
though you never laughed
the sweet nonsensical conversations
in which you remained impassively silent
the pointless journeys you took
your eyes perfectly round.
My desire was the desire to be superlative
I, who had spent years in domestic craft
became selfishly single-minded as an artist
inflicting your beauty on myself
like some ecstatic adolescent
cutting her arm with a pocket knife.
At night I would disappear.
You and the moon would glow.
I hated to think of the dark
covering you over like a mouth.
LISTEN to ‘Mute song’ by Kate Camp
Kate Camp is the author of four collections of poetry, all from Victoria University Press: Unfamiliar Legends of the Stars (1998), Realia (2001), Beauty Sleep (2005) and The Mirror of Simple Annihilated Souls (2010) where ‘Mute Song’ first appeared.
Camp comments: ‘This poem was inspired by a news story about a black swan in Germany which appeared to have fallen in love with an enormous plastic paddle boat in the shape of a white swan.
‘I wrote it after hearing the Canadian poet Christian Bök speak in Wellington. Bök's work, with its crazy ambition and gigantic scope, reminded me that poetry need not be limited to the possible, the real or the confessional; territories in which I had previously spent a lot – maybe too much – time.
‘As well as this poem in the voice of a swan, my 2010 collection The Mirror of Simple Annihilated Souls includes poems written from the perspective of a donor kidney, a man with a sixty-year-long bout of hiccups, a one-armed Austrian pianist, and the white whale Moby-Dick.
‘I think exposure to Bök’s expansive poetic ego gave me license to explore this wider range of avatars, so I am happy that “Mute Song” has now been published in his hometown of Toronto, in the literary journal Brick.’
New Zealand Book Council writer file
Victoria University Press: The Mirror of Simple Annihilated Souls
Review in Listener’s 100 best books of 2010