The Undertaker Gave Me
Janet Newman (Massey University, New Zealand)
In the office on Queen Street East
the undertaker gave me a white envelope,
the weight of a handful of stones.
His watch, he said. I peered in:
a folded silver crescent, a moon without a sky.
I held it in my hand into the dim chapel
past rows of empty chairs. The coffin,
chest-high before a backlit backdrop:
beech, flax, nikau, silver fern.
It gleamed, the polished rimu shone,
the mirrored handles curved. I saw
the white satin frill, my father –
as much like my father as anything else –
shoulders back, nose pointing skyward,
face a perfect calm. Through the lambswool
lining of his checked shirt, erect grey hairs
protruded. He lay like a god,
untroubled, unburdened, unfurled, unfurrowed
as though floating on the river
carried by breeze and tide
towards the mouth, the gentle rocking sea,
arms and hands by his sides
at parade rest, the skin below his cuffs
around his left wrist
the bright white band.
Janet Newman lives in Horowhenua. She is a PhD candidate at Massey University with a research topic: “A Tradition of Ecopoetry in New Zealand.” Her poems have been published in journals and e-zines in New Zealand and Australia. She won first prize in the 2015 New Zealand Poetry Society International Poetry Competition and was a runner-up in the 2016 Takahe Poetry Competition.