Gail Ingram – Five songs to my elemental souls

Profile Ingram LEP&W ANZ May 2021

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing May 2021
Special edition featuring poets from Australia & New Zealand.

Gail Ingram writes from the Port Hills of Christchurch, Aotearoa New Zealand and is author of Contents Under Pressure (Pūkeko Publications 2019) and editor of two poetry anthologies including The Unnecessary Invention of Punctuation (NZPS 2018). Her work has been published in Poetry New Zealand, Landfall, Atlanta Review, Blue Nib, Cordite, Fib Review, Barren Magazine among others. Awards include winning the Caselberg (2019) and New Zealand Poetry Society (2016) poetry prizes, and placed in Poets Meet Politics (2018) prize. In fiction, awards include runner up Flash Fiction Day NZ Micro Madness, shortlist for Fish Short Prize, and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She is editor of NZ Poetry Society’s a fine line, a poetry editor for takahē magazine and a short-fiction editor for Flash Frontier: An Adventure in Short Fiction. She teaches at Write On School for Young Writers and holds a Master of Creative Writing.

Five songs to my elemental souls

River of seeds

Mikoikoi, NZ iris (Libertia ixioides)

Little soul, I told them you travelled
in a muddy river, and then
you chose to be born
all starry eyed, as I chose,
at the exact moment, to be planted
in someone else’s garden
to fill their need
in a fiction. And you
shone your bright anyway
at each phase of the moon
until I came to understand
your out-of-placeness
dried me out,
and so
next time you choose me
from your river, and your seed falls,
my squirmy body will fall too
into my own
of spiky fingers.

Fire Child

Southern Rātā (Metrosideros umbellata)

Little soul, I’m meant to protect you
but you are made of ferrous
bark and you insist
on scorching yourself,
opening your face to the unbearable climate
we foolishly created, still
you will yourself
twisted, towards the sun,
though you know what happens
when you get too close, your flaming
brilliance desiccates,
you forget how to speak,
though I see you reaching
I’m not turning away, I’m only
shielding myself from your heat,
I’m inadequate, and your falling
flowers stick to my eyes.

Tied to Earth

Moth on New Zealand daphne, Pinatoro (Pimelea prostrata)

Little soul, like a naked caterpillar
with your nose sniffing the air, your front
legs pawing for a hold at the top
of a prostrate daphne bush, what do you reach for?
You, who cannot distinguish the sea
from the blue you breathe, unfocused
beyond these tiny leaves you consume, like me,
scribbling your nonsensical markings, no-one can interpret
your reaching. All you can know
is your limitations. You have no idea
of your birth
right – a transformation,
which will turn out to be giving
back to the sweet florets that belong
to the same old mother.

Form of Air Travel

Biddy-Biddy (Acaena novae-zelandiae)

Little soul, airless one, be carried,
fuzzy biddy-biddy, I beg you
take on the form that travels again,
bury yourself in the grease
of uneconomic wool. Can you feel the pull
of walking time? One. Two.
You thought I forgot. Even when
the lichen and seeds attach
to the sheep’s back and grow
a vegetable crust, once again
you might create the air!
you are the air! so fulsome, so sweet
and prickly, catching a ride,
I will forget my knees’
creak over ancient hills, the old woman’s
leak – the sting of it! – lost
in a dreamtime, I might become
maskless, windless, only
following the mournful bleat
of a lock-down sleep.

Thin wire dance

Common skink on Mikimiki (Coprosma virescens)

Little soul, copper-quick reptilian features,
see how I dart as the elements
that make up stars
over the backs of dusted silver
through the legs
of iron-hearted shrubs and orange faceted, divaricating
coprosma twigs,
when I am caught
in the plastic-wrap
daze of the middle ground, of going around
looking for a new tail, remind me
it will grow,
and again and
when I sleep, oh!
in that safe mysterious space between
silica boulders
I will dream
of babies, small slick lizards
like light slivers
on a branch, the tinsel dance
of a moving stream.

© Gail Ingram