Life-drawing class

The book said if you wanted a cow 
you drew the cow. 
And if you wanted the milk 
you drew the milk. 
And if you didn’t want that snowflake anymore 
you simply joined the points together 
to make a spider’s web.

On the course, the advanced students would draw the sun 
then smudge the edge of the circle 
to warm up the room. 
The same technique made a static star shoot, 
then you could wish on it—for anything. 
I sensed the power of what I was learning.

There was one rule: you couldn’t erase. 
If you didn’t like something you drew, 
if the elbows of that tree were stabbing birds, 
you had to keep drawing. 
'Draw again. Draw better.’ was the brand’s tagline.

But if an online class has a back corner, then I was in it. 
I was flailing in a whirlpool of my own sketching. 
I had to draw my mum to get me out.

As she spoke, full of concern, 
I drew some coins: soothing, repetitious rounds. 
Mum recited my student debt (my age plus three zeros), 
and lack of pitched roof, weatherproof shoes, pot-luck dinner invites.

Boy, those coins were really mounting up! 
I ran their coolness through my fingers. 
Mum tested the metal with her teeth.

Every pencil in my pocket—HB, 2B— 
well I threw them away like crutches. 
Then I filled my pockets with my new wealth.

When I drew the river and walked into it, 
those coins worked better than stones.

Frances Samuel’s first book of poems, Sleeping on Horseback, was published in 2014 by Victoria University Press. She lives in Wellington and works as a writer at Te Papa Tongarewa, New Zealand's national museum.

Samuel comments: ‘The speaker in the poem is a stranger I saw—long ago, from a great distance—browsing the self-help section in Unity Books, Wellington. They were probably just waiting for someone, not really looking for answers. The ending still surprises me.’

Poem source details >


Victoria University Press author page