Derek Schulz of Kapiti travelled to Dunedin to read his winning poem ‘you can’t be here’ at our International Poetry Prize Awards Evening on Thursday 29 November 2018 at the University Book Shop. Read Derek’s poem below. We look forward to hosting our winner at the Caselberg House and we hope he is enjoying his prize of $500! Read all the winning poems in the current issue of Landfall #236.
you can’t be here
They dropped Gem on the road where it was continuing to bucket down, so I ducked out with the lobby umbrella and scooped her up from where no-one else was looking. She was feathery and light as a korowai, and had just finished dripping so there was nothing left inside, but I took her up to my room as if she was still here then held and held her, until I’d called her back. It took about a week, and another before she began to move; then cooked up her favorite invalid stew, kumara and puha. The puha was just where she said it would be, in the lobby planter, growing behind the dahlias. You wring it out like your underwear, under the bathroom tap. Screw and screw and screw it until the bitterness flows right out, then boil it up with the kumara, skins and all. Mash & feed, mash & feed, mash & feed, that had been her Māori regime and every day she seemed to glow a little lighter under it, until suddenly her eyes flared open. I asked her what she could see. -Is that really you? she said, as if she dare not make up her mind. Yet then… -Nothing, she decided. There’s nothing in here, grey clouds of it. -OK, I said. I need you to hold your breath. -OK what? -You heard. Pretend you’re under water, just like in the old days. See how long you can stay down. Just do it! She took one last gulp and did exactly as she was told, which was a real worry. She’d never done that before, though half an hour later she’d forgotten who she wasn’t, and gotten right back to herself. -Now tell me what you see. -Blue, she said. Everything’s turning blue. Should I have started breathing by now? It had worked. -You can’t be here, I said. They only take the train wrecks. When the M finds out they’ll send me away. -But I’m dark, she said. I’ve gone totally dark. It’s won me over. Her men had begun collecting on the far side of the bed. They wore blue-beards on their T’s, over purple Jagger jumpsuits, but she couldn’t see them anymore so I star-war’d them away with my sky-walker scarf. -Tripe, I said. You’re going home. Mitzy’s on her way. Mitz was her step-sister, the ugly one, and arrived in a Mirage around 8.30. She barreled through those front doors as if she’d only just heard the news, then drove it up the stairs to the front door, up here on the fourth floor, before busting right into the room. I could see she still blamed me for everything but never said a word, just bundled her into the car, then roared back down the hall. That’s Mitz for you. You wouldn’t think you could drive a Mirage around those hotel landing corners, but she made it look effortless. Then took the lift back down. Such a queer place this. No air to speak of
and everywhere you look has just been made up.