Janet Frame would have turned 80 on August 28. In honour of the occasion, the Listener is proud to publish three poems by the great New Zealand writer. None has been published before. Their publication now – the first new work to be published since Frame’s death earlier this year – has been made possible by the kind permission of the Janet Frame Literary Trust, which was set up in 1999 to provide financial support to New Zealand writers.
Speaking for the trust, Pamela Gordon – Janet’s niece – says the literary executors are striving to “heed the wishes of the angel at our table” in making available poems from the “treasure trove of unpublished poetry that Janet had entrusted to me before her death, asking me to make sure that it would be published posthumously”.
A first volume of new poems is planned for publication next year.
At the end
I have to move my sight up or down.
The path stops here.
Up is heaven, down is ocean
or, more simply, sky and sea rivalling
in welcome, crying Fly (or Drown) in me.
I have always found it hard to resist an invitation
especially when I have come to a dead end
The trees that grow along cliff-faces,
having suffered much from weather, put out thorns
taste of salt
ignore leaf-perm and polish:
hags under matted white hair
parcels of salt with the string tangled;
thumping the earth with their rebellious root-foot
trying to knock up
out of her deep sleep.
I suppose, here, at the end, if I put out a path upon the air
I could walk on it, continue my life;
a plastic carpet, tight-rope style
but I’ve nothing beyond the end to hitch it to,
I can’t see into the mist around the ocean;
I shall have to change to a bird or a fish.
I can’t camp here at the end.
I wouldn’t survive
unless returning to a mythical time
I became a tree
toothless with my eyes full of salt spray;
rooted, protesting on the edge of this cliff
– Let me stay!
The Happy Prince
In the children’s record of the Happy Prince,
before each gold flake is peeled from the Prince’s body,
the voice orders, Turn the Page, Turn the Page,
supposing that children do not know when to turn,
and may live at one line for many years,
sliding and bouncing boisterously along the words,
breaking the closed letters for a warm place to sleep.
Turn the Page, Turn the Page.
By the time the Happy Prince has lost his eyes,
and his melted heart is given to the poor,
and his body taken from the market-place and burned,
there is no need to order, Turn the Page,
for the children have grown up, and know when to turn,
and knowing when, will never again know where.
Eater of Crayfish
Commonplace, divine, bald, at home,
licking day-long breath from the walls of his air-cell
he will eat the crayfish green-garnished in its blush of dying,
burned, like love, in and beyond the salt element.
He will taste the embarrassment of dying,
tear off the livid armour hiding the bloodless flesh,
destroy the cable laid along the sea-bed
communicating bloom of excrement.
From the time he is born he will need to eat this crayfish,
his left hand love, his right hand hate, he will take
larger and larger meals of nightmare till his life accumulates
eyes, eyes, that walk on twigs under the sea.