Piece by Piece

Talk about promise, this Clifton courtyard
has composition, the thin ribs of the sun

umbrella, the canvas arc of shade
even the café lends itself to script

the man with the grey ponytail
eking out the last coins for coffee, a black

haired waitress with white face and the whiff
of circus, maybe a palomino pony in a sawdust ring

which makes me ask
how do the dead balance their limbs?

Up in the hills we see the possibilities
of height and light on rock, here is a pile

of sheep shit that marks the track, here
is a postcard view of the city, a rabbit

stuffed in a frame, the small cries of insects
is this how the dead laugh?

Here’s the idea, the cinematic version
the clatter of boards, the cutting of scene

the screen with black numbers counting down
a lion roaring and somewhere the Queen in polite

gloves and you in the Square holding her hand
with nothing to say

how do you talk to the dead?

Frankie McMillan is a short story writer and poet. She completed an MA at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University in 1998. Her publications include The Bag Lady’s Picnic and other stories and a collection of poetry, Dressing for the Cannibals. Recent poetry has appeared in TurbineSnorkelJAAMInternational Literary QuarterlyThe Cincinnati ReviewThe London Grip and Shenandoah.

Her short stories have been included in Best New Zealand Fiction (Vintage, 2008 and 2009). In 2005 she was the recipient of the CNZ Todd Bursary. In 2009 she won the New Zealand Poetry Society International Poetry Competition. Currently she teaches creative writing at the Hagley Writers’ Institute.

McMillan comments: ‘“Piece by Piece” began with a few observations but then a shift occurred and grief announced itself as the subject material. Where the dead “go” and what form they take is a mystery to me—“is this how the dead balance their limbs?”

‘I quite like the naïve enquirer approach as it allows some risk taking. In this poem it’s more important to ask the questions than answer them. The person shaking hands with the Queen in the Square is my mother.’

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New Zealand Book Council writer file