You yearn so much
you could be a yacht.
Your mind has already
set sail. It takes a few days
to arrive

at island pace,
but soon you are barefoot
on the sand,
the slim waves testing
your feet

like health professionals.
You toe shells, sea glass, and odd things
that have drifted for years
and finally
washed up here.

You drop your towel
and step out of
your togs, ungainly,
your right foot, then

the other
stepping down
the sand
to stand
in the water.

There is no discernible
in temperature.
You breaststroke in
the lazy blue.

A guy passing in a rowboat
says, ‘Beautiful, isn’t it?’
And it is. Your body
afloat in salt
as if cured.

Image of James Brown (photographer credit: Robert Cross)

Photo by Robert Cross

James Brown’s poetry books are Go Round Power Please (winner of the Jessie Mackay Best First Book of Poetry Award), LemonFavourite MonstersThe Year of the BicycleWarm Auditorium, and Floods Another Chamber, all published by Victoria University Press. He is also the author behind the useful, non-fiction booklet Instructions for Poetry Readings, and in 2005 edited The Nature of Things: Poems from the New Zealand Landscape. He has been a finalist in the New Zealand Book Awards three times.

James convenes the Poetry workshop at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University of Wellington.

Brown comments: ‘The poem is an attempt to capture the awkwardness and pleasure of skinny dipping. I used the second person to encourage the reader to identify as the protagonist, who also has a hidden medical condition. So the poem is kind of about our bodies, how we relate to them and what they do and don’t show about us.

‘I put a lot of thought into the line-breaks. I wanted to slow the reader down to island pace. At times I wanted the reading to be smooth, even languid, at other times awkward.

‘Waiheke Island is a 45 minute ferry trip from downtown Auckland. It is home to alternative life-stylers, retirees, and wealthy people. Waiheke (cascading waters) was the name of a stream where sailors would stop for fresh water. When I wrote the poem, I also read that the stream was thought to have healing properties, but I can’t find anywhere saying that now.’

​Poem source details >

James’s Victoria University Press author page
New Zealand Book Council profile
New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre author page
‘Hindenburg’: a transcribed poem