The Whole of Boredom
On holiday between two world wars
your parents grew into authorities then
continents you had to cross. Take a window seat, see
the sky is the same
away from home. And the flag stays
folded in your case. No need to wave.
Your world rests upon the shoulder of a ghost.
In the pit of the stomach
pomegranate seed, aspirin
moon. The stewardess wears a thrift store dress.
Your mother wore an op shop skirt.
She was not American. You hope to be, joining
the exploited to the voracious who
stretch their lips. Say the magic words:
(Even the counterfeit
coin positions itself in our currency—but you
spin in the air, never to come
down.) The idle delight in trivial things.
Yours is not an important story—
a provincial punk looks for London or New York
yet smokes outside the corner dairy. Eddie, you useless fuck!
The idle are trivial things, delight
being the reason for being.
Your parents owned a house, you rent
a room. The song of the waterwheel:
Every country is water’s country, water belongs
to none. The telephone operator explains
It takes money to talk to Mummy…
Your face is radiant as a one-bar heater. From roof to roof you
bounce through the centuries, bruising
the air with your Nazi salute. Goo goo.
Your tongue is the stump of the Tree of Knowledge.
There is a child’s cry in the sky, there is
a pensioner’s memory under the veggie garden.
The wharves are for worker and idler alike.
When a fisherman mends his net he expects snapper.
You prefer to tear, catching air
with a stutter: g-g-generation…
The fisherman dreams of sleeping
on the ship in the bottle, its crew
Gary Stone, Michael O’Donnell, Lindsay Poskitt and Mark Fox.
Lacing your Docs, you want to wade mudflats
to an abandoned scow that creaks each quarter.
The full moon, you murmur, what a lost opportunity.
The fear of being found out sparrows in your fist.
No, Blondie ignores you because she understands.
It is in the nature of a gathering that it
disperses. The word help will arrive shortly
before you die. It will look
like an empty chair in front of a television.
When you whistle it is in the dark.
But the echo arrives at dawn, when dumb fucks
push off their best fucks to brew
the strongest cuppa, which is the offer of refuge
from what’s to come. If you set out for the island
you’ll arrive old. If you
divert to Cathedral Square, you’ll get there
on a Zimmer frame. There’s no choice yet
you must choose to turn
into the word and its happy ending, echo.
Fed up with everything, settle on nothing.
The weather is indifferent to an obituary.
When you walk be sure to kick
air as if it was soil, covering
the one who lacks conviction, the teacher
equally. Never swear when you ask about the forecast
Eddie, it might offend the gods
who want the best for you. Put on a cool pair of shades, then
set the controls for the heart of the sun.
History is for pissing on (Malcolm McLaren)
and your boots are beautiful with the gloss of sewage.
The pond extends, like your step, beyond the acceptable
because that is where gods live, plotting
the memory of living for
the day after tomorrow, when you’ll eat
cherries in front of a mirror.
The motive to speak is being (oi oi oi)
heard. The birthmark is real even if
you wish you’d never been
born. Immaculate as zero, Eddie Rex, survey
the empties. One cold is much the same as another;
every fever is different. No dope to cop, no
feel. The kettle caked in soot, look
over the yard… A leather ball bounces
off the wall. Schoolboys
turn to stare—Blondie, her leather skirt
swirls if you please yet leaves
the stink of iodine like a dental nurse.
This ball is a bit flat. The boys kick themselves and all.
Stop hovering as if your squint was real, as if
its object is. I like you because you like me.
Oi! call up, we’ll talk for a billion hours…
Your voice trails off into the slipstream of memory.
From this window seat the sky holds
the whole of boredom. Adopt the crash position.
Yes is irregular; it
upsets the order of things, being active. Of course
order is not passive: no
things require the attention they cannot demand.
My blue heaven ends up muddied.
There’s your cue, Eddie.
You trample forget-me-nots, chew
dandelion stems, kick
the ‘o’ in rainbow. Hang out with all the vowels.
That’s no reason to infer purpose—language
twists what it insists upon. Earth curtails light by turning
the back it does not have. The sun has no intention to set, suddenly
it’s so overcast that the trees reach nowhere.
—That isn’t true, and simply. As for art: in the candlestick’s shadow
a rat scrambles over the unknown, a dialect
bites the dust. (A cemetery’s humour is scatological.)
How we adjust to our surroundings is called character;
how our surroundings live with that
begs the question. Here is a suburb of character homes—
the shadows in their ‘exuberant’ living
rooms were left by exiles convinced of God’s beneficence.
There’s a little black spot on the sun today (The Police).
Dark is coherent: it levels until foreground is no more
here than there, the perennial
elsewhere. Worry is the currency we spend and let spend us
wherever. It is the dust we cough,
the phlegm of the sun coming up.
Press your palm against a cloud, no rain clears the pores—yet
morning has caught your cold.
If this universe is authorised it was in an idle moment.
Corridors need walls to exist, spider webs neither: they fly
while we tunnel, hunched in the knowledge of our mortality.
Eddie, belief is immaterial. An empty vessel echoes best.
Don’t speak of a tree’s dream, a river’s virtue.
Instead mention the port’s noise, which is ours.
The promise of fire that frees
the promise of sea to clean what’s left.
Web tree river
shiver. Already our legs barely reach the earth.
The clothes on the clothesline hang
around, try to catch the eye
in order to fit
in. They want to belong!
If a bird rested there it would be a mockingbird.
Its song would parch the earth
the way sorrow parches your heart.
Photosynthesis is not a lyric let alone a credo.
The rose goes on the rosebush.
Just as a smuggled cigarette impresses most
so forbidden love overcomes marriage bans
in memory. A rooster dominates day in day
out—his conceit seems reasonable to the sun
he honours. Your working man’s hands make light
work; they turn the generator of sex until morning.
If your familiar cat scratches the moon, catching
the Sea of Tranquility it
withdraws that paw
ruefully. Sleep is a White Russian
governess who spells out nothing
but the sea.
The dust on your Doc Martens
the dust of the homeless, go
The songs on your mind belong nowhere
but the moment that is no longer
In the Northern hemisphere an audience applauds.
In the Northern hemisphere an audience applauds
the Northern hemisphere.
Here the parched earth, the parched throat.
The climbing rose lends its red to roofing iron.
You go to bed. There’s no choice.
The floor is more solid for a dog’s scratches; dark
peers out of an underwear drawer
towards. There are no neighbours, no door-to-door
Mormons hold their bicycles
close. The washing is nearly dry, its colours
subdued as you move through the room
you don’t allow your self
room to move through.
The narrative of air
includes you, beautiful
absence. The god of your childhood hovers, the weathervane
turns its back. If the goat gets off
its tether then the smalls will be eaten,
the moon chewed
through. You’ll wake (if you do)
to bleating rather than music. Don’t make
a scene: there are the lovers, manacled
together, tattoos matching
the horizon’s beautiful bruise.
Colour does not need a metaphor, light does
the trick of standing upright.
‘We imagine we are observed and are of concern to someone.’ (Czeslaw Milosz, ‘I Saw’)
Born in Christchurch, David Howard co-founded Takahē magazine (1989) and the Canterbury Poets Collective (1990). He spent his professional life as a pyrotechnics supervisor whose clients included the All Blacks, Janet Jackson and Metallica. In 2003 Howard retired to Purakaunui in order to write: ‘The rural hinter is perfect for this,’ says Howard, ‘by getting clear of the social whirl you realise what matters is the dirt under your fingernails.’
In November 2011, Cold Hub Press published Howard's collected works as The Incomplete Poems. In September 2012, his collaboration with printmaker Peter Ransom, you're so pretty when you're unfaithful to me, appeared from Holloway Press, the same month Otago University announced his appointment as the Robert Burns Fellow 2013. Howard's poetry has been translated into Dutch, German, Italian, Slovene and Spanish.
Howard comments: ‘I write to know more about my self and the world that turns irrespective of self, the world where you are. For me the most precious aspect of poetry is its capacity to capture, perhaps even to create, intimacy—however I know language can also distort the thing it names. I take heart from William Langland’s poem “Piers Plowman”:
Counseleth me kynde quod y . what craft is best to lerne
lerne to loue quod kynde . and lef alle oþere
‘“The Whole of Boredom” evokes the Christchurch of my youth, a city where bands like The Gordons and JPS Experience played in venues that are now piles of rubble, a city captured by the printmaker Peter Ransom—who collaborated with me on the book you're so pretty when you're unfaithful to me (Holloway Press, 2012). Addressed to Eddie Genet, an incandescent and now burnt-out punk, my poem also names Gary Stone, Michael O’Donnell, Lindsay Poskitt and Mark Fox—they are ash. So is punk impresario Malcolm McLaren. Yes, the most charged moment is when everything is going. Stay with me.’