In Dad’s old council house

for Karen


In Dad’s old council house we sat
on sawn-off elephants’ feet.
We slept in tropical hammocks
and chewed raw rhino meat.

Spears bristled in the hat stand.
Dead snakes were nailed to the stairs.
The sofa was always neatly stuffed
with old hippopotamus hairs.

My sister wore a wild grass skirt.
My brother bred cannibal fishes.
Mother served us meals-on-leaves
and Grandma ate the dishes.

Father hid in the garden,
digging a pit for stray sheep.
He liked to use them as bait
for the tigers that walked in his sleep.

Peter Bland’s latest collection Coming Ashore was published by Steele Roberts last year. He was recently given the Prime Minister’s Award for his outstanding contribution to New Zealand poetry. He lives in Auckland and is currently working on his collected poems, due out later this year.

Bland comments: ‘I was originally going to call this poem “Echoes of Empire”, but stuck to the present title because it sounded more like a nursery-rhyme for grown-ups, which is the feeling I wanted. Before emigrating to New Zealand in the early 50s, I lived in a rather grotty council house in the English Midlands. My father had once been a trader in West Africa but fell on hard times and ended up working in a munitions factory during the last war. Our house, however, was still full of reminders of my father’s past life and, once you opened the door, looked more like the tomb of a Zulu chief than a factory worker’s rental. The local kids would queue up to shake a spear or beat a tom-tom. The incongruity of those childhood surroundings has always stayed with me and I’m still attracted to a sort of surrealist vernacular where strange fusions occur.’

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