Thursday, 21 April 2016

from another time (a poem)

Mum's wooden kiwi cotton reel holder

Mum's pin cushion

from another time

(from notes taken 2007 and written in memory of my mother, who died 2014)

Through the nights, the approaching growl
of goods trains that threaten to burst through
the walls of my mother's house, wake me up,
the retreating rumble like comfort, like rain.
In the mornings too, it's not birds, but the sound 
of trains that greet me. Mum feeds me corned beef,

cabbage, mashed spuds, carrots
and thawed mustard sauce left over
from another time. She gets her veges.
from the Cloverlea Sunday market.
She tells me that for Senior Cits.
on Tuesdays there's free movies,

free parking, a free scone and coffee.
Mum is killing everything
that pops up in the garden, with Roundup.
It is part of her plan to put down bark.
Her garden; all those flowers, that blaze
of colour; all too much for her now.

And sewing is also too hard.
I find a cut-out vest that hasn't been finished.
“I'll give it to the Red Cross”, she says.
Her mustard-coloured mailbox is past it.
There are tiles on her roof that need replacing.
“I'll talk to your brother about it,” she says.

She doesn't go for walks any more.
That was when she was in her sixties.
I go for a walk on my own, along the stop-bank.
I see a girl walking a lamb. Dogs bark from behind 
back-garden gates. The bright sun shines straight
into Mum's lounge, its light diffused by net curtains.

A glass coffee-table sits in the middle of the room,
a china-cabinet in one corner, her lazy-boy chair
in another, a dictionary (sixty years old now)
collapsing from over-use, sits beside the lolly tin.
She's sold a lot of her ornaments and crockery
and given to family some of the ones that mean something.

She has her cards and her bowls and good neighbours 
like Mike, who fixes things for her and Joy who cuts her hair. 
One day while I was there, she got out the record player 
and played some old John Hore records, singing along.  
"Sometimes I dance," she said.  She has gin 
on Wednesdays and sherry on Fridays. 

On the way to the airport we discuss why
on earth the Palmerston North airport charges tax.
Mum has no idea of the reason why they do it, but wishes 
they wouldn't. The land here is flat and gleams
like hammered steel. Mt Ngauruhoe stands out
on the horizon. Mum parks on the yellow lines

right outside the front of the airport,
justifying it the way she does
her habit of speeding up at orange lights.
“I'm dropping off”, she says.
“It's not like I'll be there for hours”.
A heart-fluttering moment ensues

when we think I've got my flight time wrong.
Past memories of her daughter's forgetfulness
causing Mum mild panic, until we see that all is well.
“Good luck with your new job”, she says.
We hug. I watch her leave; I watch her white hair,
her familiar Mum-waddle. I watch her

until I can't see her any more.
Then I text my sister, 'I'm feeling tearful
what is that about? ' I picture Mum back home.
The sun will have reached the corner
where her chair is. She will be sitting there,
feet up, maybe doing a crossword, maybe reading

some more of her library book. A murder mystery.
My plane takes off in the opposite direction,
up into clear blue, over the wind-farm.
When I get home I text, 'The eagle has landed'.
Code for 'Arrived safe'. It's one we'll keep 
using until it no longer applies.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Dear Reader,

Pangs of missing my mother as I wrote this from notes taken on a visit to her home in Palmerston North, seven years before she died; when she was obviously, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, already preparing for that event. 

The times I spent with my mother in a place she lived for nearly forty years, are very precious now. Like me, she was also born in Southland and in a sense, Southland never left her; indeed it is where her ashes are buried. 

My mother made her home in the North Island after moving there with her second husband, and if we wanted to visit her in her home, that is where we had to travel to. 

She of course also made pilgrimages south to do the rounds of her large family, but these visits were beginning to take a lot out of her towards the end. 

I am so glad I made a lot of visits to her North Island home. It gave me precious insight into the woman that was my mother as an 'old lady', and how she was dealing with getting older. (Maybe I wanted pointers, as well as picking up attitudes to avoid in my own life). A lot of those memories are bitter-sweet.

Absence and distance. Time and memory. Forces that keep those we love near and far. 

It's life and we learn to live with it and make the most of it, I trust.


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