Poetry from Auckland poet and musician John Adams. From his “Christmas Letter” Adams says:-
“My second poetry collection, Rumpelstiltskin Blues, was launched in August, a joint celebration with Brandon’s birthday and mine – a total of one hundred and one years between us. Eleventy-first, as Bilbo would say.
My band Don’t judge me has had a good year. I continue to write new songs. We’ve had gigs as far afield as Christchurch (for a judges’ conference) and we did one in the open air in the Wynyard Quarter in Auckland on a wild, wet day.”
The poetry below is as diverse as Adams’ life and and as varied and colourful as the birthday cakes in our main slider image. There’s a salute to a colleague the late Judge Jim O’Donovan and then at the other end of the word spectrum the many-penned, naughty but nice Jacindarellas (anyone who has heard Adams performing his Trump-focused In the Locker Room will know how gentle the Jacindarellas are).
Hablo de tener
(I speak of having)
Every issue of a howl speaks shrilly
of possession of one of two kinds:
external spirit – however silly;
or loss, which is apt to straiten the mind.
To have or not to have: we make vain claim
to own rights, say of passage, or to hold
a partner, to have an axe and grind the same;
but each such promise proves oversold.
We lie inwardly, unwitting, awkward,
for all nature tends to disintegrate;
feelings and thoughts alone move heavenward,
spiritual, so not prone to carnal fate.
Shakespeare told me to note this stuff – I own
his mastery, and merely write it down.
The glass slipper fits
the girl in the cinders.
Out with the Uglies,
in with Jacinda.
That opportune chance,
the open window,
the nation swiped left
on App Jacinda
Although it’s tough at the top
Jacinda’s having a ball;
at the darkest hour will
her coach be vegetable
The time wasted
The time passed
The time to come
This time Jacinda
with relentless smiles
in red lipstick.
What in ‘tarnation?
Free public education!
From increased taxation.
Ava and Cerys aged 17 and 14 – (incidentally Ava’s last day at school – ever – and on into a first year of free tertiary education)
She’s not a concern
Caused a turn
Our PM Silver Fern
Huia aged 14
Whether PM or MP
Took great care of the nation
And so education was free.
Little was Jacinda’s lamb
His fleece was hers to borrow.
Now everywhere that Little went
Jacinda’s clad to follow.
I’m not a religious man myself.
I’ve no idea if Brahma approves
these four-squared faces
or if Vishnu tires of working
four arms at once (I would),
or if Shiva truly wants to knock it
down and have us start again.
I like doing the devis best –
chiselling their roundness out
of hard stone
with each hammer stroke.
It’s not my job to count the cost
of the carvings. The supervisor
sends the bills: To so many
at such and such,
reduced for bulk.
At least the pay’s reliable.
Come nightfall, the frogs start croaking
in the moat, and bats dart for mosquitos.
I buy bread and a little wine.
My wife is cooking chicken in the pot.
My daughter’s learning to walk –
she makes me laugh. I pull her
onto my knee. My son taps
at a rock with my chisel,
watching me soften.
Poem Composed Across Centuries of Drunkenness with Sporadic Cloudbursts
for who would read a poem called
Poem Composed in Sobriety in an Air-conditioned Fourth-floor Hotel Room?
A fortnight shy
of seventy, I recall, years ago
in Shanghai, viewing
your centuries-old poem,
represented in English
as Poem Composed in Drunkenness
on a Rainy Night.
and now, after all
these years, I am writing back
to you, old friend. Let me tell you
it has started to rain
here in Saigon. Umbrellas
cross Nguyen Hue past the statue
of Uncle Ho. Thunder shuddering
the air, I am still affected
by an enduring inebriation.
And this much is true:
where, minutes ago, the road
was parched, taxis sprout
water-wings like water-puppet
dragons surging down the lane
from the Opera House
past the new subway
construction site but – look,
already the sky is starting
to slide blue. Elder brother
of Shanghai, like you,
I’m getting on. This hangover
is composed to shelter both of us.
Lower tide. More rocks sticking out
in the lagoon. Rain comes and goes.
My balcony door opens
onto bleached turquoise
succeeding this morning’s grey.
Nineteen ships today.
A pale dog prowls
a narrow ledge skirting
the first floor of a house.
Taxis are shared, anywhere
in town costs seventy-five cents,
navigating freely, taking people
up or down the street
where their needs move.
These Pacific shores are going
about their businesses: crabs
scale rocks, fish browse
feeding grounds, locals and visitors
hover under shade in the restaurant bar.
I have no daughters and she
could be one of them:.
look at her, pulling against
an invisible leash
like some sort of Gujurati
tango that slides and yet
Her head flicks quick
for the next tack.
A traditional arrangement of sticks
tells how to find the atolls
by wave patterns. I thought Majuro
was a long way from Auckland but,
now I stop,
I find this is the same ocean;
the patterns are not all that different,
not so very different at all.
Turning the sod
(in memory of Judge Jim O’Donovan)
There are some who, when the poor sod is turned,
require breaking down. Not one of those,
Jim clings to his essential nature.
I’m bound to say, he’d say,
tethering to language
with his wilful brand of obedience,
an Irish sort of catholicism. Never bound
down, Jim was always bound to the ground.
You knew he understood the common clod,
the errant soul, desirous
of more than they could reach. Jim’s text
raised folk to ground
level, offering forgiveness freely
in his court – the O’James Version.
We decided it was time to throw
some money at the house
last summer, changed it into fives
to make it go further. And it did.
Summer turned to autumn breeze, and all
those brown notes breezed down the street.
Hands in the air, we could be mistaken
for holdup victims
or trees. Realising our losses,
and clenching too late to make more
than a fist of it, we tell lies
calculated to comfort ourselves.
John Adams is an Auckland writer, author of Briefcase (AUP, 2011), winner of the Jessie Mackay Prize for Best First Poetry Book published in 2011, and the Elbow Stories (Steele Roberts, 2013). In August 2017 John published Rumpelstiltskin Blues a second volume of poetry John’s band “Don’t Judge Me” (a sextet) plays original compositions, song and spoken word. “Don’t Judge Me” is available to play at private and public functions. John Adams can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
John’s review of the Tauranga Writer’s 2016 anthology Byline, theatre performances and poetry can be found in the archives. In the archives you will also find reviews of the launch of Rumpelstiltskin Blues and the “wild and wet” performance of Don’t Judge Me at the Viaduct, 2017.
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