Fetching Coal

When the sky gives up and falls down white,

I can’t see the main road

where logging trucks skirt our boggy lagoon each day and night.

In the night-day the pines are headless,

and past our washing line, where the buses stop

our island ends.

 

Shapes traipse through the harbour mouth,

loaded with cargo, heavy with sky.

I create holes to see through and make them out, just,

as dark bodies spotted through ice.

Ghosts come out in all the hours.

 

She tosses me my gumboots, says, “your turn to fetch the coal.”

Drawing hoops through the early kitchen steam,

skittish flue prattling uneven, I stop, all a sudden,

peek-holes unfilled.

Bad things hide inside the coal shed.

 

I need two hands to heave the bucket down the stair,

mittens slipping.

Nose pinched with chill, I huff white clouds at it.

At the path’s edge grasses stand, stiff as green twigs.

There’s a frozen puddle in the mud.

I press the tip of my gumboot down, testing strength.

 

They say you mustn’t walk home alone

or the man with no pants will get you.

They say you shouldn’t crawl through the drain beneath the main road

or the rain will come wash you away.

They say the man at the top of the lane was blinded in one eye by a possum.

I don’t much like him anyway, because of his smell.

 

Wood block, wood pile and axe,

I’m nearing the shed.

Darker than the cave I make inside my bed at night.

When my fingers find the coal vat

I have to haul myself and bucket over the side

to grovel in the black.

 

Down by the creek, deep pools and stones,

I crawl through the drain pipe beneath the main road.

Across the lagoon, through the teeth, and flying.

Faster than ships, out of the fog.

 


percival

The poem was published in the Kiwi Diary 2014, and is based on true things. The painting is of the house where I grew up. Painted by my Mum, who sent all of us out to fetch coal.

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