Robert Smith Month

The hair of men 
raised itself up, black and barbed. 
Lips curled at one edge 
and bled Ruby Woo red 
and Roberts jaywalked like crows 
in the back streets 
in closed jackets. When we called their names, sheet lightning faces 
looked back over shoulders, eyes questing; looked away. 
Robert Smith Month had come too soon. 
We all wanted to be the one 
to understand — to get under the creaky leather jackets 
and into the creaky hearts inside 
to kiss better the open wound that was a mouth 
to warm the skin 
but they always looked away and walked on, 
devastating the streets 
casting bitter cabbage tree shadows. 
There was no cure for winter 
except spring. We lay awake 
at night, our hearts 
crouched like cold bulbs in the dirt. 
Robert Smith Month had only just begun 
and the birds wouldn’t sing. 

Five O’clock Mum

She’d been zigzagging between desks 
when a schoolbag’s strap caught her ankle 
like a lasso. She went down fast. 
Yes, she remembers opening her eyes 
when struck down: 
those boys’ hanging faces 
the Japanese alphabet high on the wall, the words 
rokku and ojiisan, a drawing of a blue dog, and a photo 
of some girls in Nagasaki, their sister city. 
Three grinning boys had made a crane 
and winched her to her feet. 
To get up is a triumph, she says, 
to be upright is to be the tallest person in the room; 
to move is to make anything in the world, if it were a classroom, possible 
but it reminds you how recklessly 
you’ve grown: the business of having legs and feet, 
finding your head among paper horses and fish 
drifting on strings, 
and being supposed to tell people 
the words for rock music and granddad. 
At five o’clock, a first glass of wine 
rests upright in her hands. Her face is full 
of lines today; a smile keeps catching on them. 


Ashleigh Young is a writer and editor who lives in Wellington. She is a contributor to the New Zealand Book Council quarterly Booknotes and a poet in fits and starts. ‘Robert Smith Month’ was written as an ode to the frontman of the band The Cure. ‘Five O’clock Mum’ was written after falling over in the street.