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Live Encounters Aotearoa New Zealand Poets & Writers April 2023
Silverback, poems by Ashley Smith
We appear pallid prototypes
alongside this primate monarch.
The ultimate alpha, emanating power and potential menace.
The wildlife park’s commercial coup.
Publicity showed him towering triumphant.
Reality showed him slumped dejectedly in the doorway
to his architecturally contrived kingdom,
his magnificent head drooping to his knees.
Even if he’d been bred behind bars
his DNA wasn’t duped by ropes as vines,
poles and beams as misty Congo crags.
As if you could compel the manager of a vast alpine sheep run
to oversee a kids’ petting zoo
and think he wouldn’t notice the difference.
My grandsons and their father paid a recent visit.
The gorilla’s position was as we’d seen,
curled in the doorway to his playground paddock,
disconsolately checking his nails.
Occasionally, in the shadowed caverns
beneath his brooding brow
shrewd, sad eyes would swivel
to catch a subtle glimpse of the gawkers
wadded thick against the vast viewing window.
Glass thickened and toughened
against an (eagerly anticipated) Kong-like rampage
but insignificant against the assault my family saw.
In fact, instead of being the shield, the silverback shrewdly
made it his weapon!
To the thrill of the crowd the great ape finally unfurled
and on enormous knuckles pivoted up to them,
settled into a relaxed squat and shat into a huge cupped hand.
As one would a canapé at a diplomat’s dinner
he disposed of it.
My grandsons were delighted!
‘Do you know who felt sick and ran away?’ asked the three year old.
‘Everyone except us!’
Let’s draw an elephant riding a monocycle on a tightrope
I say to Bodhi.
Let’s draw a road says he.
So we draw a bridge…with squiggly roads fore and aft.
Trucks and vans and buses and a lone cyclist upon it;
And underneath; a sea-monster, a shark and the amazed rabbit on a log
which Emmet Daly’s dad once saw riding the Hurunui’s floodwaters.
Then upstream, the terrible tempest that fathered the floodwaters.
Bodhi does rain over everything.
When I find a red felt pen the storm turns electrical.
Fierce forked lightening lunges at the bridge.
‘Quick, draw a fireman to put out the lightening!’
Bodhi cries above my roaring thunder.
Fortunately, fore of the bridge, we’ve already drawn a fire-station-
Swiftly, before the storm can intensify, a fireman leans his longest ladder
against a sturdy thunderhead
And pours a pacifying torrent into the fiery flashes!
© Ashley Smith
Ashley Smith escaped into the wilds of coastal North Canterbury almost 40 years ago and still finds fascination in its rural myths, practices and crazy weather patterns. He reacts to these in paint, bronze and word.