07 May 2012

Tuesday Poem: 'Along River Road I' by Lynn Davidson

Along River Road I

The cows are all pregnant
or oozing at the rear.

The milk truck is low-bellied.

My unborn son kicks my ribcage
like it is swinging cowboy doors.

We can hardly contain everything.

One stormy night the meat-safe door flings open
with a hoarse shout

then sucks back impatiently through metal teeth.

When the sun comes it laps
against the hills –
it fills the valley.

My mother visits and kneels
at all these places:

          where ferns grow in a circle of pongas
          by the irises on the rise
          at the cornflowers along the palings
          at the fence where trembly calves patrol.

She brings me blackberries in a cup.
Lifts such sweet things for me to smell, to taste,
until I want to say      I know nature is lovely

I know I know

but it’s also strange and relentless and I long
for the settled grain of a page

for that big, still country
with its stable population.

On Saturday night I went to the most lovely event. It was at St Peter's Hall in Paekakariki, which is a cosy sort of old-style community hall. When we got there, the lights were dimmed and tables with white tablecloths were lit up in the glow of lamps and lights on the floor. We grabbed a glass of bubbly, admired the plates of delicious food, grabbed a lamington and sausage roll or two, and joined our friends at a table near the front. I had an excellent view.

When it all began, local poets Dinah Hawken, Lynn Davidson and Helen Heath sat on stage, their chairs gathered around a coffee table on which sat a large vase of gorgeous and fragrant flowers. Behind them were some lamps; I think there might have even been a rug - I hope you're getting the picture that it was very loungy. I guess I'm trying to give you a little bit of the flavour, the sense that this wasn't an ordinary literary event. When Dinah introduced the other two poets and asked them questions, this was much warmer than the average literary panel discussion. The poets talked about an aspect of their writing - the element of memoir, science, writing about difficult things, etc - and then read a poem that related to what they'd been talking about. I could have listened to their discussions all evening, but instead they ended after not quite long enough, and launched Lynn's brand new collection, Common Land. (Helen's debut poetry collection Graft was launched on Wednesday, but more about that soon.)

The first poem Lynn read during the evening was 'Along River Road I', and I was so struck by it. It is from a series of 'River Road' poems, about a time when the poet was young, recently married, pregnant and had just moved out to the wops (I think it was Taranaki).

The lines 'My unborn son kicks my ribcage/like it is swinging cowboy doors' seemed especially relevant - I had spent Saturday afternoon with a very heavily pregnant friend. While we sat and chatted on the grass near Otaki Beach, she was similarly being kicked in all kinds of places by her as yet unborn son. (I digress, but I also have to mention that while we were sitting there the sun was going down over the sea, and she excitedly pointed out to me that the moon was rising above the mountains. For a minute or so they were at the same height, gazing at each other across the distance. We decided this was a good omen and that they baby should come that night. Alas, we are still waiting for him.)

The whole poem really transports you to this other place and time. You can feel what it was like. You can almost smell it. But it tells you very little directly, it shows you.

But the kicker of this poem for me is the last bit:
                                            ...I long
for the settled grain of a page

for that big, still country
with its stable population.
Beautiful, evocative, and probably a feeling every writer understands.

I'm only partway through reading this collection, but I'm looking forward to the rest.

Common Land is Lynn Davidson's fourth collection of poetry - her previous collections are How to Live by the Sea, Tender and Mary Shelley's Window. She's also published a novel, Ghost Net. She was awarded the Louis Johnson Writer’s Bursary in 2003, and in 2011 was visiting artist in Palmerston North. She is currently working on a PhD in Creative Writing through Massey University.

And do check out some other Tuesday Poems via the blog: http://tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com/.


Helen said...

Wasn't it a delicious evening? I had a lovely time. X H

Helen McKinlay said...

It's a lovely poem Helen. Lynn has really captured that out of control feeling that one gets from pregnancy at times...and it's just what I remember my mum doing ...going on about the loveliness of nature. One is such a powerhouse of 24 hour production in pregancy that it seems one is nature and doesn't need to be reminded of it.

Mary McCallum said...

This is terrific - Lynn evokes the feeling of being full to bursting so wonderfully - you can feel everything: the cows, the earth, the meat safe groaning... and the unburdened page at a distance waiting... wonderful.

Michelle Elvy said...

We can hardly contain everything. Yes. Great poem, great feeling and imagery here.

Jennifer Compton said...

very very lovely