14 March 2011

Tuesday poem: 'Tooth' by Siobhan Harvey


Today, you’re twelve teeth old,
and we fossick for shells,
star-fish, pipi and paua

until the tide goes out
when we wave goodbye
to yachts moored in the marina.

At home, you float
across polished floors
until you keel over.

Your jaw leaves an alveolus
in the matai deep enough
for a tear-drop’s caress.

As I stroke you,
your eyes collect water;
your gums are an ocean of blood.

But only when you’re sleeping,
do I discover a tooth
anchored to blue woollen blanket.

Suddenly, you’re eleven teeth old
and have grown, like Lazarus,
younger beneath moonlight.

White and hull-shaped,
tooth’s a boat,
isolated by low tide.

In the morning,
I’ll show you how it can rest
safely upon its starboard.

Siobhan Harvey has just launched her first New Zealand collection of poetry, Lost Relatives, from which 'Tooth' comes. She's lived in New Zealand for a decade, but grew up in UK. She's the poetry editor for Takahe, and is a consulting editor of International Literary Quarterly. She was the editor of Words Chosen Carefully: New Zealand Writers in Discussion and Our Own Kind: 100 New Zealand Poems about Animals. I got to know Siobhan after accepting three of her poems for JAAM 22, and met her for the first time when she came down to Wellington as part of the Winter Readings. Since then, I've met up with her each time I go to Auckland, and it has been lovely getting to know her.

Lost Relatives is, in great part, about Siobhan's experience of moving to New Zealand - leaving behind and, in a sense, losing her home and her family. And then building a new life here, with her new family, her partner, her son, and her 'found' family. Sometimes reading Lost Relatives was like finding old friends - there were many poems I'd read before, including those three poems I'd published in JAAM 22 all those years ago.

Last Thursday I went along to the offices of Steele Roberts for the Wellington launch of Lost Relatives. (She also launched it in Auckland, where she lives.) I wasn't surprised to find a bunch of other writers there, because Siobhan has a knack of making connections with people - not in a 'networking' sort of way, but in a genuine connection sort of way - and has made friends (found family) all over the country. Roger Steele began, Harry Ricketts launched the book, and then Siobhan spoke and did an excellent reading of some of the poems in the book.

I've chosen 'Tooth' as my Tuesday poem because it was one of the poems she read, and I was particularly struck by it - by its simplicity - a story of her son falling and losing a tooth - which belies its intricateness. I love especially the marine metaphors - 'keel over', 'your gums are an ocean of blood', discovering the tooth 'anchored' to the blanket, the tooth 'isolated by low tide'. I also really liked the idea of her son being 'twelve teeth old', and then going back in time to being only eleven teeth old. He was at the launch, and is now six (I think), so many more than eleven teeth old - but still has the gap where the tooth once was.

As always, check out the other Tuesday poems via the Tuesday Poems blog: http://tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com/.


Mary McCallum said...

Thank you for this poem which I've been thinking about ever since I read it yesterday. Apparently simple, but not at all simple. Good to find out more about Siobhan whom I've met only briefly - I hope her poetry collection does well.

Tim Jones said...

That's a lovely poem and a great introduction to Siobhan's poetry. Thanks, Helen!

Helen Lowe said...

This poem is a favourite of mine. I was so disappointed that the Christchurch launch of "Lost Relatives" had to be postponed until later in the year, but am very much looking forward to reading the collection.