Best New Zealand Poems 2001


Peter Olds


Disjointed on Wellington Railway Station

Where the night ends & the pallid day begins
several dirty old groaners lie & stand around
the railway station. One sleeps, a boot under
his head, a plastic shoulder bag clutched to his
belly, his pants half down exposing a white bum . . .

I sit on a kauri bench & light up a Capstan,
place a boot on my rolled-up sleeping bag
& a free hand on top of my canvas pack.
A skinny man with a battered nose drops down
beside me, requests a smoke — his red eyes
unpicking my duffle coat, travelling over my
tennis shoes to the tailor-made cigarette in my hand.
‘Non-filter,’ I say —
‘Better than nothin’ his reply.

I light him up & give him half of what’s left of
the pack (about five) which he tucks away on the
inside of his overcoat, then runs a hand over
his smooth grey hair — the only tidy part of him.
Two mates stand off talking with another guy:
secret laughs, hands in pockets, knowing nods.
An air of deliberate disjointedness. Last night’s
close shave. An agreement to rendezvous
at an early opener later. Nervous like stage-fright
children ill at ease in a moneyed world . . .
They produce a bottle of sherry, which gets my mate
off the seat like a shot — but they don’t want
to give him a drink.

Seems he played up last night, allowed himself
to get done over by the boys — took a lot of shit
on himself. The sight of him turns the others away —
seeing themselves in his snot-smashed face, blubbery
lips & puffy eyes.
They drink the sherry, smiling, rolling back on flat
heels like heroes having come through a horrific
night unscathed.

Another man in cowboy hat joins them, all belly
& beard, carrying a guitar. Wears moccasins — long
grey frizzy hair poking out from under the hat’s
brim, an intelligent twinkle in the eye.
But when he opens his mouth & speaks his previous
demeanour changes from something strong & sure
to something weak & gone. His speech practically
One asks the cowboy where he slept last night & he
somehow conveys ‘Here’ (at the station). He gets
the poor bastard look . . .

Suddenly, they take off on separate paths (in case
they’re followed) toward the city centre, to meet up
later for tea at an all-night shelter.
My mate with the cigarettes tucked into his chest
waves a gloved hand (but not too revealingly) &
disappears in a swirl of railway grit . . .
The next time I see him (on Courtenay Place) he’s
battered more than ever, looking like he’s been
rolled. Clothes ripped, hair dishevelled, wild pale
eyes, paranoid pallor — charging apologetically
through the clean crowds heading God knows where
from God knows what.

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