Alchemy

Emma Neale Click to read more...

NealeEmma Neale is the author of five novels, including Fosterling (Vintage, 2011), which was short-listed for the 2011 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy. She is also the author of four collections of poetry. Her most recent, The Truth Garden (University of Otago Press, 2012), won the Kathleen Grattan Award for Poetry 2011. A previous recipient of the New Zealand Society of Authors/Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature, she was the 2012 Robert Burns Fellow at the University of Otago.

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The toys aren’t doing what they should,
his brother won’t use the voice he wants,
the window is in the cold clear way of the world,
he wants a helicopter now,
but all we can say is no, sorry, no,

so he screams as if to hit the note
that would smash the whole
nay-saying bunch of us to smattereens,
yet when he opens his eyes again
there we all still are, a frame of frowns —
so that’s it, he’s had it, there’s nothing for it
but to burrow his way into my chest,
push his nose into my neck,
inhale deep and long.

He tokes hard on the past ten hours’ patina
of day-job, housework, bike ride,
grocery run, talk about
child poverty, peak oil,
global warming, acidic seas;
the aroma of coffees drunk
as rest-stops on the route
of an age’s anxieties;
of dinner cooked while cat, kids, phone
and subsonic heart all mewl for something now and more;
of the scent we all must carry as the battered planet
takes us and takes us like a lover the bruises
another lover didn’t think they’d live
another minute without dealing out.

The toddler breathes, he breathes deeply
and I tense, wait for him to snarl or lunge
like a dog intoxicated by the tang of fear…
but at the back of his throat he hums
as if I’ve asked him something good
and he tells me I smell like warm,
like I am a bread-maker plugged in,
mmmmm, red trees. Mostly like red trees.

He breathes another draught, small man at a tankard
after a day of hard graft,
and despite the world’s overwhelming everything,
some alchemical tingle still runs the twigs and stems,
stamens and end buds of the body’s scarlet branches:
busy little tribe of oxytocin monkeys
that shake the edgy adrenal and noradrenal panic birds
right out of their evolutionary roosts
and for a moment,
ugly sister,
fat knuckled foot into narrow glass slipper,
I believe I might sit sweetly in that word mother
as egg along fallopian, nib within pencil, poem around caesura;
and that love, not oxytocin, might be
root cause of — life’s rhyme for — optimism.

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Discussion

One Response to Alchemy

  1. Sam O'Dell says:

    I really liked the way this poem contrasted adult vs. childish reactions to unpleasant realities. It seemed to be commenting on the freedom a child has in expressing itself in contrast to its mother or any adult. And in the second stanza, when the child nuzzles into its mother’s neck, we also see the poem examining the different ways in which children and adults cope with these problems after their inital reactions. Children typically turn to their parents to comfort them, but often adults are left to deal with these things on their own.

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