Forty Years of Habitation
For love has fairly drove me silly—hoping you’re the same!
— Jack Judge, ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’
Under the tarpaulin of his face he’s fumbling with matches.
A flare. I watch its history (young, at least
so far). It rains outside, enough to swell the river.
I might come in.
I had an another idea and that was
he’d be the mountains and I’d be the long white cloud.
My outstretched hands inevitably encountered how things feel.
Since then I have carried it everywhere with me.
No, no weight.
My finger delineated the giant. I said I will go up and down
and he turned to face me.
Oh no! Where is it?
My nose and mouth
amphibian: air and his hair.
When someone occupies most of a bed
despite a treaty
you still consider the occupied bit
Speak loudly because I am a little deaf.
Little bit. This then is about
his voice, not my reception.
I like it.
I said I like it.
A long time ago I saw a man lying under a car fixing it.
I came home.
I have likened them to Captain Cook’s after three voyages to the Antipodes
pacing the deck but going nowhere,
as on an exercycle.
He has the good fortune of already being down here,
between the ball of my foot and the heel. It largely contains air.
I didn’t know it was there before.
This happens seldom, is years in the planning.
When it comes it is a perfect island, still,
self-contained. I take over the thinking temporarily.
Books, discs. How lucky
He’s fond of it and gives it treats, so it has grown up to be affectionate.
There’s a heart in there,
not a heart, a centre.
Hands can be so foreign. Sometimes
I am shocked by hands. But these hands are
native to the body. They grow big
Ditto the arms, more or less,
except they can lift boxes.
A maypole (not to be too
Eurocentric). I plat
my arms and legs
in a complicated fashion.
are poets. Tell everything
The depth of them initially a challenge.
I hadn’t been in past my waist since a near-drowning experience as a child.
Also, they read a lot of material.
Here’s a one-cell-wide cross-section as of 11 a.m.:
Samoan Material Culture, by Te Rangi Hiroa.
Will give you some idea.
therefore, is colourful, like a library or railway station
or bazaar or wall
of the people.
He doesn’t know much about his back, so there is no
history of his back. I could make up anything.
In fact I will
Where to start? I suppose it propels
all of the above. Maybe I am
out of my depth here. Help!
The feet are actually pivotal. Sometimes they swell painfully.
I could almost say ‘like a nineteenth-century bishop’.
But that’s quite unfair.
All of it is a distraction from the true nature of the feet which are big
and powerful, plates of meat,
but tender, absorbent, with movable parts,
the tectonics that move
and keep the man on the ground
Ah. Happy birthday. I think. I must say I was expecting
some sort of continuity but now I see
from its location
that this birthday is different from the last and from the one before that
and I’m not sure what to say about it,
I’m not sure that happy birthday is appropriate
for a copy
which may or may not bear any relation to the original.
For instance the original occurred
in a fixed place
but there is no guarantee—never was, it turns out—
that subsequent birthdays
will be in that place. They can roam
out into the world and be celebrated
His sense of smell:
in strange ports
where new-smelling flowers grow and complicated insects
fly out suddenly from behind bookcases
and buildings remain calm
as if everything were normal.
If the birthdays can be removed
so far from the original birthday
then the man, I think
needs to redefine ‘ground’ as
anything that he happens to find at that moment under his feet.
He needs to redefine ‘brain’ according to the new knowledge
in it, and this is knowledge he never sought out,
it just came into the brain.
‘profile’ as something that changes its outline depending on
the expression, and is filled in variously with beads, shells,
with climbing plants, guests. He redefines
‘face’, or I do,
because I touched it. I had taken it everywhere with me
fingered it blindly in my pocket
like some kind of talisman,
but when I looked at it again
I saw it was transient, the features
flickering like a years-long series of photographs posted
on YouTube, and in the end alarmingly
His glance down:
forgettable. (I have forgotten
the face of my dead brother, for instance.) He redefines
‘thumbs’ because when he looks down and sees them
lying in his lap
the thumbs lying in his lap
are like hermit crabs in a new place,
where he has taken them.
His body temperature:
It is the same for other parts of his body.
His ‘fever’, which came so rarely, inhabited his body for the years
he lived near the equator
and raised its temperature by a degree
so that he seemed less hot
by comparison with his surroundings.
He didn’t ask for this change in temperature
or necessarily want it, it just happened.
He redefines ‘have’ as nothing,
His other surprise:
and finally he redefines ‘dream’
which he had thought, because it was subject to history,
could at least be relied upon
like the original birthday
to be fixed
but his dream turns out to have no bearing on anything
even less than any of the other attributes
his dream turns out to be an introduced species
with no predictability beyond a random crazing of possibilities
which crack and fan out into the world
with a seemingly malevolent
energy, although it isn’t malevolent, it is trying
to do good
because if in the beginning there was no dream
how would anyone plan the next footstep?
Without his dream he would constantly look back
to see if he had forgotten anything.
He would wonder about living
all these years in his own body.
He would wonder if the sum of the parts,
the face, hands, shoulder, soul, the rare fever,
the lost birthdays,
amounted to anything
or whether it was just dust
and that in the end he might walk away from it
like a farmer from
If he had no dream he might float upwards
because there was nothing heavy,
arms, legs, torso. He might
fly apart because there was
nocentre, no puku
connecting the other things.
And in the end he knows for certain
(or I do, who loves him)
that the least concrete thing
the thing that is so light it isn’t even there
holds the heaviness together.
Anne Kennedy is a writer of fiction, screenplays and poetry. Her sequence Sing-Song won the 2003 Montana New Zealand Poetry Book of the Year. The Time of the Giants was shortlisted for the same award in 2005. Her most recent book is The Darling North (Auckland University Press, 2012). A novel, The Last Days of the National Costume, is due from Allen and Unwin in 2013. Anne recently returned to New Zealand after a decade in Hawai‘i, where she taught fiction and screenwriting at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.
Kennedy comments: ‘“Forty Years of Habitation” is a birthday present. It is also (I think, but can’t really know) a meditation on love, place, and the body. Living as a foreigner in Hawai‘i made me constantly question the things we take for granted—gestures, habits, rituals. Sometimes writing is like that anyway, even when you stay home.’