Saturday, October 3, 2009

Two loving poems about fathers

The first one is by Bill Manhire, who Lloyd Jones said is the best living New Zealand poet (I don't concur, as I have my own favourites). In Our Father, I love how he builds up a sense of height in the poem, from a child's foot to a child on his dad's shoulders to a tall pole out of reach. Parents are indeed larger than life.

Our Father
by Bill Manhire

On one trip he brought home
a piece of stone from the river,
shaped like a child's foot

and filled with the weight
of the missing body. Another time
he just walked in

with our lost brother
high on his shoulders
after a two-day absence;

and it seems like only yesterday
he was showing us
the long pole, the one

out there in the yard now,
taller than twice himself,
that still hoists

our mother's washing out of reach.


This next one is by earlier New Zealand poet James K Baxter who has a new book on the shelves 37 years after his death, a fresh selection by Sam Hunt. There is such love in this poem, as he describes his father's smile like 'a low sun on water'.

To My Father In Spring
by James K Baxter

Father, the fishermen go
down to the rocks at twilight
when earth in the undertow

of silence is drowning, yet
they tread the bladdered weedbeds
as if death and life were but

the variation of tides -
while you in your garden shift
carefully the broken sods

to prop the daffodils left
after spring hail. You carry
a kerosene tin of soft

bread and mutton bones to the
jumping hens that lay their eggs
under the bushes slily -

not always firm on your legs
at eighty-four. Well, father,
in a world of bombs and drugs

you charm me still - no other
man is quite like you! That smile
like a low sun on water

tells of a cross to come. Shall
I eavesdrop when Job cries out
to the Rock of Israel?

No; but mourn the fishing net
hung up to dry, and walk with
you the short track to the gate

where crocuses lift the earth.


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