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’


His dream:
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.

His span:
I had an another idea and that was
he’d be the mountains and I’d be the long white cloud.

His face:
My outstretched hands inevitably encountered how things feel.
Since then I have carried it everywhere with me.

His weight:
No weight.
No, no weight.

His profile:
My finger delineated the giant. I said I will go up and down
and he turned to face me.
Oh no! Where is it?

His hair:
My nose and mouth
amphibian: air and his hair.

His volume:
When someone occupies most of a bed 
despite a treaty
you still consider the occupied bit

His volume:
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.

His thighs:
A long time ago I saw a man lying under a car fixing it.
I came home.

His calves:
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,

His thumb:
The pocket
between the ball of my foot and the heel. It largely contains air.
I didn’t know it was there before.

His fever:
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 is.

His puku:
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.

His hands:
Hands can be so foreign. Sometimes
I am shocked by hands. But these hands are
native to the body. They grow big
in summer.

His arms:
Ditto the arms, more or less,
except they can lift boxes.

His penis:
A maypole (not to be too
Eurocentric). I plat
my arms and legs
in a complicated fashion.

His shoulders:
are poets. Tell everything
by gesture.

His eyes:
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.

His 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.

His brain:
therefore, is colourful, like a library or railway station
or bazaar or wall
of the people.

His back:
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
one day.

His soul:
Where to start? I suppose it propels
all of the above. Maybe I am
out of my depth here. Help!

His feet:
The feet are actually pivotal. Sometimes they swell painfully.
I could almost say ‘like a nineteenth-century bishop’.
But that’s quite unfair.
‘Twenty-first-century bishop.’

His walk:
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
the man
and keep the man on the ground

Have I:
(Yes, me.)
forgotten anything?

His birthday:
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

His copy:
for a copy
which may or may not bear any relation to the original.
For instance the original occurred

His travels:
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
at will
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

His knowledge:
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.

His expression:
He redefines
‘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,

His face:
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

His ‘like’:
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.

His surprise:
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

His realisation:
but his dream turns out to have no bearing on anything
even less than any of the other attributes

His footstep:
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?

His dream:
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
his wrath.
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.’

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