Secret Vita

Ovid’s Amores were not yet on our lips 
(they were to circulate a little later.) 
It was Cicero’s kiss of friendship 
that St. Aelred tasted, found the sweeter. 

In the Vita Aelredi Daniel tells 
how Rievaulx’s tall thin abbot strove 
to sublimate his carnal 
desire to God’s eternal love — 

long hours of submersion 
in the cold-plunge he had built 
was how the young Cistercian 
assuaged his body’s guilt. 

The mortal fight against the flesh 
was high on his agenda, 
the strength of will to push 
away nocturnal hands that wander: 

swiftest smile, nod or sigh, 
these were permitted signs of love; 
yet in his heart he approved each happy lie, 
and reasoned to forgive 

his monks of fantasies 
that were just the same as his. 
Thus, in cloister or in Chapter House, 
he deemed holding hands to be virtuous. 

And he struggled on into middle age, 
waging war against his vices: 
the daily plunge to quell the urge 
brought consumption, arthritis. 

Yet Daniel says his body shone 
as it was laid to rest— 
except for one small cloud which hung 
above the seat of lust. 


In Defense of the New Zealand Fuck

And we’ve all drunk just enough to agree with her 
when she says in the backroom of the Bodega, 

No one says fuck as sweetly as the Americans — 
no other people in the world say the word 
with such love or tenderness. 

Think of it, she says: 
you’ve been so fucking wonderful, 
I don’t know how the fuck to thank you . . . 

It seems she has a point. We consider 
the other fuckers, how the Brits reserve 
their fuck for anger or malice, 
the Aussies for contempt and friends and beer. 

And of we in these thin islands? — 
it’s also true: no one says it quite like us, 
declaiming it in the adrenaline rush 
or tones of awe, or the voice of simple wonder. 



Cliff Fell lives near Motueka.