Poetry

Arriving

Life, creativity, better even than God
which many believe in, more than the dollar

or the existence of fermions—does it matter
that Antares can consume 663 trillion Earths?

Monstrous weight, that can, if you like, be lifted
by the work of bees: a miracle none foretold.

We can’t get it right like Newton—we search
for patterns to lay it down in best durable forms

[laughter]:

watch the sea deal with rocks, feel sand between
your toes—let’s say of art that it thinks differently

about the shape of mushrooms we picked together
on Saturday—we don’t know anything about them

except two hours of fun in paddocks: the biosphere
and adventure ours—no one’s going nowhere

but the infinity of our own creative purpose
arriving at a place unknown.

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Poetry

Spooning

Old married couples still spoon.
Even more often on winter mornings
—in fact, they’ve looked forward
to embracing the pleasures of a winter bed.
Which is not to say they don’t enjoy
a summer bed, when sheet and duvet,
somehow, end up knotted together
on the floor.

Old married couples get older.
Now lying parallel on their backs,
like stone effigies in churches of kings
and queens, who, after lights out, unlock
their arms from hard evocative folds
and reach across to gently nudge
each other, and suggestive of
so much more.

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Poetry

Debt free

You’ve written
that because it’s my birthday
you’ll do all my work for me
for a day a week

if you’re referring in your promissory note
to the dishes I wash
you’re not tall enough to reach the sink

and I’m not sure just yet
that I’ll trust you with a hot element

and while you’re strong
I know you’ll struggle to push a lawnmower

so how about
I accept your promise
knowing it doesn’t need to be kept

because you’ve already done your best work:
the work that matters,
the work we do for each other

when there are no debts
or promises.

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Poetry

Untitled

An open door at midnight, summer.
Naked in the orange glow of a street light.
Silent houses across the road facing:
The blue-black sky curtaining down
Behind their peaked roofs.

Cars and trucks on State Highway One:
A constant echoing roar, punctuated
By the bark of a dog on Clark Street,
Which sets off other dogs, noise-spots,
That map the town around me.

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Northern Advocate Column

The toilet, can we move on from him and hers?

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I’m writing this next to a toilet. Well, it’s on the other side of the wall to the booth seat I usually take up in my favourite café. The wall is solid, and there’s enough conversation hum and kitchen clunking to drown out any embarrassing noises. I don’t even hear the toilet flush.

It’s a single toilet. There’s no separate mens and womens. There’s no area to wait around in, you exit the café through the mandatory two doors and you’re in the bathroom. People come and go, without any fuss. It’s the most normal of things.

Toilets, however, have gotten political in New Zealand of late, thanks to proposed amendments to the rather dull sounding Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration Act. The changes being considered by Parliament would see adults over 18 able to “self identify” their gender, such that a transgender woman would be a woman before the law and have legal entitlement to spaces regarded as women only. These include Women’s Refuge, pool changing rooms, prisons, and of course toilets.

One of the issues for transgender people is the situation arising when there’s only mens and womens toilets available, which should they use? Both choices can lead to difficult, embarrassing or confrontational situations. Transgender people would like legal recognition that it is their right to use the toilet of the gender they identify as. Understandable.

There has, though, been opposition to “self-identification” on social media and in opinion columns, most notably Rachel Stewart in the NZ Herald (28 Nov 2018). They’ve been criticised by transgender people and other supporters of the law change. The debate has got ugly on social media in particular. 

Opponents of the bill, have expressed concern that spaces currently restricted to biological women could be compromised by a still biological man who identifies as a woman. They cite Women’s Refuge as an example of space that should remain the preserve of biological women only.

Women’s changing rooms at a pool or a gym have also been much discussed as spaces which should not be available to transgender woman who are still biologically male (not having had a sex change operation).

How widespread these concerns are is hard to judge. Many people probably aren’t aware of the debate. But if “self-identification” is accepted by Parliament — which on balance I support — then there’s going to be situations arising that will need to be talked through and negotiated publicly, with understanding required from both sides.

As for toilets, might it be time to continue a quiet revolution in public toileting and make them all unisex anyway? Unisex toilets have become much more common in public spaces, as well as in many cafes, restaurants and bars. Changes to local bylaws have made this possible. This means no urinals (which nobody misses) and visible waiting areas outside cubicles or simply a direct through-door access to the toilet. Designed well, no one is made to feel unsafe in a concealed space. 

Whatever your thoughts on gender self-identification, let’s at least agree that toilets should be a human-centric public facility, used by women, men, children, nappy changing mothers and fathers, gay, straight, transgender and non-gendered. The toilet in my favourite café caters for everyone, and there’s not a problem.

Perhaps, for toilets at least, we can forget the labelling and all go about our business quietly reflecting on the universalism of our most basic bodily functions.

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Northern Advocate Column

Trending this century…

mini-iron-bucket-500x500In the wake of what’s hip and hot for 2019, it might be worth taking a somewhat longer view. How about the next 81 years? Here are some predictions for what will be trending this century: 

The bucket. Not the flimsy plastic ones, but those big galvanised steel ones that used to be essential on the farm. You can use one to transport garden debris to the compost bin, and compost to the garden; collect water from a downpipe or leaking guttering; transport food scraps to chickens or pigs. You can even pee in one (dilute with water for a nutrient boost for the garden). Buy one of these family heirlooms now before they’re selling for hundreds of dollars. 

Our own two feet. With petrol prices destined to rise, it’ll become common sense to swap the hours we work each week paying for a car and petrol for walking instead. We might be surprised how far we can go and how fit we’ll get. And as walking trends, so will roadside accommodation make its comeback. Medieval Christians used to go on pilgrimages on foot across Europe to see holy relics, like Christ’s foreskin or Saint Anthony’s tongue. They needed places to stay at the end of a day’s walking. This was big business. In New Zealand, we’ll probably want to walk to the beach, the closest thing to a pilgrimage for most of us. Forget freedom camping, then, freedom walking will be trending this century. 

Fruit and nut trees. Perennial agriculture that grows food for a local population is probably the best thing we can do to mitigate the effects of climate change and achieve a sustainable food growing culture in the twilight of the fossil fuel era. If done right, food-producing trees can be planted quite densely. Their foliage, root system and decaying leaf matter retains water in the land. With all the tree crops, ladders will also be trending well. 

Second-hand. You’ll know that second-hand is already trending if you frequent charity shops, got to garage sales or buy on Trade Me. Getting over the need to buy things new saves money. Many of us are already sold on this low-spend strategy for the good life, but as it gets more expensive to bring quality stuff into the country what’s here already will need to go around further. Second-hand markets in every town and suburb will likely appear and thrive. 

A spiritual text. It’s said that every home used to have a Bible, and then a lot of empty bookshelf space. The Bible was the go-to reading material, you dipped back into it again and again. In these days of information overload, with an infinite variety of things you could read, this century will see more people wanting special books they return to for comfort and wisdom. The Bible, the Koran, the complete works of J. K. Rowling, might suffice for some, but a mash-up of ecological science, practical food growing tips and accumulated philosophical wisdom is what a 21st-century secularist like myself needs. It would need to have as much poetry and story-telling power as the Bible to satisfy a spiritual thirst. Someone just needs to write it. 

Doing nothing. As one of my spiritual mentors, John Lennon, once put it: “I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round, I really love to watch them roll.” He was referring to the merry-go-round in Central Park, New York, that he loved to sit and watch. Call it meditating, call it taking time out, call it mindfulness, but doing very little while taking in with all our senses the world around us is sometimes all we need. And if we stop and look we might see that there’s beauty and wonder in a well-made bucket sitting under an apple tree. 

 

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