By Gail Ingram
When I was 35, I went to my ‘uncle’s’ 50th
in his seventies house with a brown wall
of books. I’d never been there before.
I watched my 12 year old ‘cousin’ having
a melt-down, and my ‘aunt’ – my ‘uncles sister’ –
sat him down on the step of the split-level living room.
Her husband and daughters hovered; they talked
in whispery voices. That nuclear family
seemed separate from me, and separate
from the rest of the ‘family’.
Throughout the evening, my ‘uncle’s wife’,
my other ‘cousins’, my ‘brother’ and
my ‘sister’ with her flicking teenage eyes
gave me light touches, asking
if I was all right. I danced all night,
limbs crazy-expressive because my tongue
My red-headed ‘cousins’ had organised
a book of poems, a gift for their father. At some point
I wrote my school song in it, a conservative hymn,
thinking about how I sang it on road trips
with old friends, out loud out of tune but with ownership
for the place I’d lived from my birth
until this place now that
radiated something despite myself, I was part of,
I was generating.
The next day, they all went to a cafe. I only remember
the chatter filling the high ceiling, and the sobbing
that rose from somewhere I couldn’t stop.
She took me to our own table, away from the others, She
took my hand, She said it was okay, and still
I couldn’t call her by that name that filled my mouth
because it already belonged to another.
The boy lay on the grass and watched
the shapeshifters – red, purple and green
clouds like the bruise on his thigh.
He’d fallen from his bicycle
when he took off
rode through the wheatfieds
wheat fencepost wheat fencepost wheat
until he reached the lone totora
and dropped. The shadows play
across his face in the grass.
The branches slice the breeze
like witches’ rags twitching
as they stride, raising fists and shouting no good
no good through the cowering sky.
He wonders how it will be
when the light fades at last
and he’s not home for tea.
still wracked by guilt, and belly stretched
by child-bearing years, no longer
as those male artists painted her
hair too long and thick to emphasise
the gloss of her genetics; she can’t help
the demographic of the plump
who own four cars & a boat
their tax bills shrunk by accountants
with degrees obtained in middle-class
university courses that produce the designers
of the billboard she contemplates now from nowhere
near her neighbours’ cream villas; it says
sponsored by the ministry of development
in the corner and it’s larger than life, the child
with the unwashed face, the schoolbag rag
heavy on his shoulder, and the light
carefully considered to draw attention
to the bare feet. Godiva looks so serene,
patting her box of apples
strapped to the carrier, her own wrinkled toes curled
round the footrest of her V Star 950, pulling
70 at the intersection by the Linwood mall, out
delivering the goods again.
Gail Ingram’s poetry and short stories have appeared in numerous publications, including Poetry New Zealand, Atlanta Review, Blue Five Notebook, Penduline Press, Cordite Poetry Review, Bonsai and Manifesto. Awards include winner of New Zealand Poetry Society International Competition, third prize Poets Meet Politics International Competition, Runner Up National Flash Fiction Day NZ Micro Madness, shortlist for Fish Short Prize, and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She is a poetry editor for takahē and Associate Editor for Flash Frontier. She teaches at the School for Young Writers in Christchurch, and holds a Masters of Creative Writing from Massey University.
You can find her at