06 December 2010

Tuesday poem: 'Forty-League Boots', by Vivienne Plumb

Forty-League Boots

Everything about the day feels massive –
at the beginning I am careful to make sure
I am wearing my forty-league boots.

At Bidwell Street the plaster Madonna
stands on the mantelpiece and rattles
whenever a visitor shuts the bedroom door.
She lies at rest in her wooden casket.

Such a strange late afternoon light
during our pre-funeral picnic.
We drink with parched gusto
and laugh so hard that
the winking knives and forks laugh with us.

My dusty boots are leaden feet
on the plaid picnic blanket.
Above the city in shivering paspalum
and talking trees
the invisible ones are with us,
kissing our foreheads.
The vaporous fog draws in closer
off the tongue-shaped hills.
The words are pearls in our hands,
running, running away through our fingers.

Best not to endure life
in the shallows, better to dive deep –
a pure white sheet, a kiss between
the thighs, and cachinnations not sighs.

By Vivienne Plumb

I'm afraid there's been a bit of a dearth of Tuesday poems from me lately, though today there is not just this one, but I'm also the editor of the Tuesday Poem hub blog today, and you'll find another poem selected by me over there - that one is 'Hunt the slipper: a romantic divertissement' by Jo Thorpe, which is from the recently published JAAM 28.

Here, I've chosen 'Forty-League Boots' this week to celebrate all the busyness that has been keeping me from such things as Tuesday poeming (and almost, I sometimes feel, from breathing): publishing stuff - both JAAM and Crumple recently.

I'm still buzzing from the two launches we had for Crumple: one in Wellington - my home turf, and Vivienne's home for years and years; and in Auckland, which is where Vivienne is living now. The Wellington launch was in my neighbourhood - at the Aro Valley Community Centre hall, just down the hill from where I live (possibly I can see it from my lounge window, but its too dark to check), and only about 25 steps from where Vivienne lived for a couple of years. It was a perfect venue: cosy and welcoming - there were even couches - with large windows and doors and a playground next door for the many younger launch attendees. It was great having our friends and family around. It was a great pity that Kate Camp couldn't make it at the last minute, but I read her launch speech in her stead.

Because Vivienne is living in Auckland now, and has so many important people there, we decided to have a second launch. This one was at The Women's Bookshop, which was so appropriate as they are really supportive of independent publishers, they're Viv's new local bookshop, and she and Carole, the manager of the shop, go a long way back to when they were both acting in Wellington. Crumple was launched with aplomb by Janet Charman. I was blown away by the support everyone gave Vivienne and the book, and how many poets turned up. I had such a wonderful time meeting people I'd communicated with in various ways over the years, meeting other people I knew only by reputation, and getting to see some of the friends I have in Auckland. It was also a good opportunity to introduce myself and Seraph Press. I realised that I have always had really great experiences at poetry events in Auckland – though admittedly not have that many, but three out of three isn't bad.

Back to 'Forty-League Boots' though, it's my favourite poem in a book full of favourite poems. It's the final poem in the collection, and seems to me to be really key. It's also a poem that never fails to make me emotional. There is a lot of travelling around and rootlessness in Crumple - a lot of homelessness. In 'Forty-League Boots' home is in people, both here and gone. But the bit of the poem I love the most, which always gets me, is the final stanza - it's a call to life and really living. When I first read this poem, I typed up the final stanza and sent it to several of my friends (also with the explanation that cacachinnations means laughter, more or less) because it touched me so deeply.

After you've checked out my other Tuesday poem selection over at the Tuesday Poem blog, you can have a look at the many other Tuesday poems in the sidebar on the left.


elderflowerpressee said...

Thanks for posting this beautiful, wise poem. Just what I needed to read today.

Helen Rickerby said...

Thanks elderflowerpressee, that warms my heart to hear!

Caren said...

And I also love the invisible ones kissing the foreheads - really beautiful.

Elizabeth Welsh said...

What a stunning call to life this is, Helen! The final stanza is deliciously affirming. Thanks for posting!

Unknown said...

my boots are light as feathers after reading Vivienne's wonderful poem
i missed her launch in auckland but fortunately she will be reading at Lopdell House on feb 17 and selling her book as well