Best New Zealand Poems 2002
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Cremation Blues

You were always good at shaking hands
with goodbye; and now you’ve done it.
That smoke-curl signature of your body on air,
not to put too fine a word on it; soul’s code
you once said: those ‘cremation blues’,
how you were always writing a long life
for the quickly dead.

Your ex-wife a late arrival; staring
down at her empty hands, small pips
of breath teasing her veil, she says
ghosting the air, she’ll ask now
for no more than the simple
justice of eating.

On leaving, I swear I can hear
on the bronze bell of the air
how all these long years your
words were strangers to yourself.
And so you learned to spy
on the waking dreams of others.

Long night palavers, we were hoping
for a clue or more – how death itself
makes life so liveable, incurably so,
and loveable you said, tossing your hat
into the air. Like kissing the widow’s
spoon that again and again caressed
her generous mouth. And you did that.


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