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Live Encounters Aotearoa New Zealand Poets & Writers April 2023
The Father with No Father, poems by Siobhan Harvey
The Father with No Father is the Father Who Rejects You
No one will ever love you, said in his deep delivery,
as if darkness – a night-terror – was trapped in his throat.
Trapped in your memory also: the room narrowing,
like his eyes; and those six loveless words given
oxygen as the heat of August scorched the air,
the space tightening until your body emptied
of breath, and everything about you felt myopic
in that place you blindly still thought of as home.
No one will ever love you, said with a constraint
that endures. Like your suitcase packed in a hurry.
A door closed, never reopened by the same hand.
A cold night, the sky empty but for a single, dead star.
A phone call answered years later by a silence that choked
you, line cut. The letters unwritten, unsent. The emptiness
of these and other memories living in you like the sustained
consequences of a childhood contagion, stunting your growth.
Because no one will ever love you wasn’t a point of origin,
but part of a lineage. A legacy: precious choker; genetic disease.
Bequeathed by a father who never spoke of his illegitimacy,
born – ‘Father Unknown’ – to an unwed mother in the war,
all spitfires and kamikazes, all air-raids and bomb-shelters,
the decades thereafter of its uneasy peace: whispers; bullies,
you bastard, said in their deep delivery; a cold stepfather; escape
into marriage … Instead, passed down passion as conditional, his
to define in six loveless words surrendered the day you came out,
so they might rescue you from being unlovable. To others. To him.
It begins like this: the night,
moonless, is broken by a flight
of clouds, of cranes, of gravity
hauling sea to shore. Settlements
of houses, lovers, loners, new-
borns, tricksters, witches, covens of
worshippers, last breath-givers follow.
Wars rage. Peace stills. Epidemics pass,
like whispers, from strangers to friends.
Falling stars are miracle moments. Quakes,
shipwrecks and train-crashes are cavities swallowing
the past, birthing the future. Somewhere at the edge of
this long line of history-herstory, you materialise:
child born to damaged parents; child launched into
walls; child consuming books; child marked by
their lost whakapapa, and unspoken identity
in an era of the Aids crisis and Section 28;
child owning only the skin, bones and brain
their parents have always sought to break
down to dust, forgetting this much is magic:
words; ideas; narratives. The child’s conviction
they aren’t alien for being who they are, survivor,
compels them also towards the empty page,
where they trick the invisible into existence,
where, each morning, the world disintegrating
into war, pandemic, environmental disaster,
extremism, racism, misogyny, transphobia,
hate hate hate … the writer finds devotion
in creating the first line of another story,
It begins like this: the night …
and the next …
and the next …
Since 1840, over 5000 whale and dolphin strandings have been recorded
around the coast of Aotearoa, New Zealand .
Her blue body bag had beached,
a spirit on the shore, ghosting
now against the eggshell tenderness
of sand, as yielding as her young.
From afar, she looks like cellophane
expanding and contracting in the sun.
Close up, she’s fine-silted and calloused,
as encased and infinite as a fluid home.
Memories of her, like her once reverential music,
her once insistent imitation of the waves, flood back
through me as the blue horizon surrendering
her, as the swell turned to an open air cathedral
for her choir and communion. Raise her roof
by all means, open her like a box or coffin,
set free her insides in time, but remember,
she’s the deep, dark space in everyone.
For too long have we envied her
magnificence. Too long have we ached for
a heart as strong and honest as hers.
Too long have we studied her
command of the world like light. Yes,
too long has she evinced the limits of
our existences in her gigantic lunging
against that which we can’t contain.
© Siobhan Harvey
Siobhan Harvey is an exiled writer originally from England, now resident in Aotearoa New Zealand. She’s the author of eight books, including the poetry and creative nonfiction collection, Ghosts (Otago University Press, 2021), which was long listed for the 2022 Ockham Book Awards. She was awarded the 2021 Janet Frame Memorial Award for Poetry, 2020 New Zealand Society of Authors Peter & Dianne Beatson Fellowship, 2019 Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems, 2019 Robert Burns Poetry Prize and Aotearoa New Zealand’s richest prize for poetry, 2013 Kathleen Grattan Award.
Recently, her work has been published in local and international journals and anthologies, like Acumen (UK), Asia Literary Review (HK), Best New Zealand Poems (three times), Feminine Divine: Voices of Power & Invisibility (Cyren US, 2019), Fourth Genre (US), Griffith Review (Aus), Mslexia (UK), Out Here; An Anthology of LGBTQIA+ Writers from Aotearoa (AUP, 2021), Stand (UK) and Strong Words 2: The Best of the Landfall Essay Competition (Otago University Press, 2021). Presently she’s a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at The Centre for Creative Writing, Auckland University of Technology where she holds a PhD in Creative Writing.