Putting a Line Through Addresses
A new book would be more satisfying. Pristine pages
where the dead and divorced are deleted.
Those who have fled and left no forwarding addresses.
One at a time and carelessly I delete them.
Months pass. I turn the pages looking for a phone number
and see on the facing page a name no longer extant
a once and faithful friend, a dear contemporary
whose address was amended many times
for change of circumstance. The phone ditto.
Now the book is so cross-hatched it looks
like an exercise in defence. Barbed wire
thrown up, dark obliterated trenches.
The unpartnered ones seem like half a house
but at least that’s better than a eulogy I heard
delivered by a dark-suited woman in spike heels
who fell through flailing images to locate
someone newly dead in metaphors and similes
of air, perfume, and hovering butterflies. At least
from the address book the names are honestly gone
and when you sight one through the crossings out
bold love and bolder details return your look
as if they peered out: names and addresses
hours of wine and conversations, their
world view which you made together
now utterly bequeathed to you.
Elizabeth Smither was the third Te Mata Estate Poet Laureate (2001–03). She has published seventeen collections of poems as well as novels and short stories. Her most recent publications are The Blue Coat (Auckland University Press, 2013) and Ruby Duby Du (Cold Hub Press, 2014), a little suite of poems for her granddaughter, Ruby. In 2008 she received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry and an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from The University of Auckland.
Smither comments: ‘My old address book, which I am reluctant to throw away, is now so cross-hatched with deletions and alterations it is almost unreadable. Yet there is a history contained in it, like the stamps on an old-fashioned passport. The names metamorphose many times before they are deleted with a single stroke of the pen. The last line is deliberately isolated since the loss of a friend (or an address) produces a sense of vulnerability.’