Monday, August 8, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Grandmother by Kate Duignan

When I was five
you taught me how to separate an egg.

I watched you tap it on the rim
of the bowl,
press your thumbs to the spot
and crack it clean in two.

You let me take the speckled shell 
in my own hands
and rock the yolk back and forth,
as it slid from one half to the other,
a tiny yellow sun.

We put the splintered pieces
in the brown bin
for the compost

and the empty carton
in the red bin
for the incinerator.

In the garden,
the light went out of the golden elm.
We stood at the window.
The moon was a white cup.

The birds had gone to their nests, you said
and tomorrow would be a good day.

I spread my fingers on the dark glass.
Our cake, you said, would rise.


I heard Kate read this poem up in Palmerston North last month. We were both tutoring an Honours course in writing fiction at Massey University, and spent the weekend there with the students who were learning extramurally and had come for a 'contact' weekend from all over NZ and overseas. The course 'captain' Thom Conroy (who writes award-winning fiction as Thomas Gough) had us all doing an 'Open Mic' on Saturday evening - with wine flowing and loads of food. 

It was a terrific event - very relaxed (as Thom likes it) -- and Thom, Kate and I all read, as well as the students. Kate's poem was the stand-out for me.

I think it is wonderful the way she builds the love and intimacy in the relationship through the simple task of baking a cake. There's a contemplative beauty in every line, and a lovely evocation of child vs. ageing grandmother shown through the grandmother's teaching, the things the grandmother says, the child spreading her fingers on the dark glass. Throughout there is a feeling of inevitability - of a cake rising, the day turning to night, life passing. 

Kate's grandmother has passed away now and although she thought she'd be okay reading the poem, it was still emotional for Kate. The rest of us felt it. It could be any of our grandmothers or our children's grandmothers. It gives me a lump in my throat reading it now. And the last line - fantastic. 

This poem is posted with Kate's permission, it first appeared in Sport. Kate has published an excellent novel called Breakwater which is set in Wellington, and is a teacher of short fiction at Victoria University and book reviewer. Until we went to Palmerston North together I didn't know she was a poet. 


Kathleen Jones said...

This is a really wonderful poem - there's not a word you could change. So beautiful. What a fantastic choice. said...

I agree, it's a beautiful poem - and as my Saturday mornings are blessed cracking eggs with our four year old granddaughter, it sings to me - and the little bubbles rise too, on our pikelets. This is a love poem. She can crack eight eggs in a morning (for scrambling)one-handed,with Granddad fishing out the stray bits of shell.

And Kathleen, I'm finally dipping luxuriously into your big book on KM - you would have loved last evening here in the bay when we gathered to talk about the proposed KM sculpture (Gerri Kimber is in town) - a room full of KM devotees, just a stone's throw from the Beauchamp holiday home.

Claire Beynon said...

I love the pace of this poem - the methodical, metronomic domesticity, the intimacy of speckled shells and hands rocking the egg yolk back and forth. By the end, it's as soothing as a lullaby - the moon 'a white cup.' Thanks, Mary and Kate.