Flight over Willow Creek

You describe the rapids that fume
                as a white unspeakable turbulence.
Below in the cathedral gorge, fuzzy with gnats,
                waters heave and gutter against the granite. I wonder
                about the previous woman
her name coincidentally conjoined with mine,
                her secret love of ten-pin bowling. You say the rapids are not the same
at the top of the river as those that leave a spare residue
                in the lowland shallows.
                She polished her ball during the day, filmy hand and waxy cloth.
                She rolled magic drives down the lanes as you slept
                fitfully. I cannot find Philadelphia on the map without your help.
We came here once, my family. Hauling a picnic of tartan and gladwrap
                up a sheep track bent like the back leg of a dog:
                it kicked crooked and dusty into the face of the hill.
                The look-out hung itself over the river. The white-water
rafters searched for relief – but instead they found him face down, floating
                like a sack of apples. The body
                has layers of being: skin shackled to the flesh,
                the flesh resting on the muscles.
                It would be so easy to fall from misdirection.
                They pumped his chest like a church organ, 
the red helicopter had a window through its middle –
I could see straight through it to the sky.
                She knew. Autumn is a decisive season.
                Cassandra, you called her, knowing she hated classical references.
Hitchcock, she said, and realised the brittle truth of leaving someone
                is never discovered at the time.
If you had owned a fedora you would have put it on.
You say calling the gorge a mouth and the river language is too simple
for the cut-and-paste of erosion. We try and find the natural world
in our bodies to understand the boundaries of both. You and I 
                and those rapids –
                burlesque nipples of water,
                wet wings of the ground’s beating pulse,
                the man who suffocated with tears,
                the rock-wren fossicking in the gravel,
                the pale, almost faded, blue alpine daisies
                with leaves the shape of mint jellies.
Without speaking we form a morning routine
at your pine breakfast bench. Two mugs of green tea. The sand whisked
away from beach to float along the pavement.
The land moves inland.
Warmly we discuss whether any good will grow in this garden,
an irregular shaped patch of dirt, one roughly hewn bench
and scrubby turf. Maybe tussocks or long fingered grasses? A gnome.
Plastic paraphernalia.
I detest the curtains (and tell you) but your bed is so large we make love
in every direction. I used to think I could know a person
from the crumpled fissures of their face, eyes like underlined text.
Your wall-hung bathroom mirror cuts me in half
so my body is strange. I try to negotiate
the stairwell in the dark. I can’t find where I hung my corduroy jacket.
One morning we see the ferry in the distance. Blue and white,
the South Island pushed into sharp relief by the clear day.
It amazes me – when I travel by sea – the way a thousand tons
of steel can dock so cleanly onto that skinny jetty
like the parts of a gun slotting together.
Chionochloa rubra. Red tussock. Common as muck
love isn’t. Kiss me.

The sea plays constantly, jazz tunes from an old man’s radio. You forget to pull the curtains and the sun wakes me through the hazy lace. I walk to the village passing shops, like orphans, crooked in a line. That morning the southerly died on the water as your fingers traced a circle on my breast. We decide, yes – we hadn’t understood love before now. The shops are joyous with turquoise sari. The middle eastern grocer. Appleton’s piano repairs and picture framer. Here the foliage colours out differently than across the strait, towards my home. Pale hills decease into dust-cream plains. Magnolia and white rhododendron pollinate front gardens. On those first nights I startle awake, longing for the dawn. My chest stuffed with rags and silk, I carry both the old and the new. I creep downstairs and watch the light roll off each wave. I am not afraid. Of repetition. Of living without children. It is October. Crocus, bluebells and forget-me-nots will be planted by my mother in the damp creases of her garden. Once, we had rich neighbours who’d whistle and leave their swimming pool empty. I remember hiding in their pear orchard, gleeful in the last touches of twilight to see the pool, a concrete giantess set into loam. Two people deep, six long. Riddled with moss. Too vast for any child or woman. Inestimable. The bluebell’s seeds are caught in the wind, a dimple on the local stream, the water taking them out into the coastal currents, beyond the rim. Your eyes are green in one light and silver in another. I want to know their true colour. I want to grow wild in South America.   



Sarah Jane Barnett was born in Canterbury in 1977 and now works as an IT professional and writer in Wellington. Her work has appeared in a range of literary journals, such as LandfallSportTakahe and JAAM and on the e-zines Blackmail PressDeep South and Snorkel. During 2006 Sarah completed a Masters in Creative Writing at the IIML and she is currently working on her first book.