Best New Zealand Poems 2002
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The Strong Mothers

Where are the mothers who held power
and children, preserved peaches
in season, understood about
greens and two classes of protein
who drove cars or did not have a licence
who laughed, raged and were there?
Take Mrs Russell who rode her irate bike,
an upright fly that buzzed
with a small engine on its back wheel
up South Road past the school football field
on her way to the hospital. Consider
the other Mrs Russell, drama judge, teacher of
speech and elocution in a small front room,
part-time reporter on The Hawera Star.
And Mrs Ellingham who had an MA in French,
ah, the university. Or Mrs Smith, one knee stiff
with TB, her tennis parties on Saturdays, adults
on banks and we smoked their cigarettes in the bamboo.
Her legs shone, their skin in diamonds like a lizard’s.
Then Mrs Chapman who sang in the church choir,
formed brooches from fresh white bread,
made you look for a needle till you found it,
heated records and shaped them into vases for presents
who did a spring display in the window of Gamages Hats.

They have left the vowels uncorrected, the stories unproofed.
They have rested their bicycles inside their garages,
looked up the last word, la dernière mot, in Harraps Dictionary,
let needles lie in the narrow dust between verandah boards.
They have tested the last jam on a saucer by a window
comforted the last crying child they will ever see,
and left. How we miss them and their great strength.
Wait for us, we say, wait for me.
And they will.

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