sea-tree emblem

i pick an apple from the
orchard at Seacliff. it is
small & too green. imagine
it growing                 under
my own bent            thumb as
i wander the lawns. afoot grass
less dewy than in pictures. high
summer & it’s yellow-grey
like kōwhai              losing leaves.
a sea-tree emblem. kōwhai:
this country’s only deciduous
native. for a sea-people
who                haven’t
woken up to the fact
they are a sea-people yet.     *
there is no view
from ground level. how
cruel. while nurses skirt
fantasy-castle turreting
look down for miles. how
cruel. there is no hospital
here now. just a bound green
lawn lushing at remains of
the old world. its spikes
& corridors & spinning
id blurs sight in lo-pixel repro-
ductions; smeared emuls
-ion. dense forest spirals
toward some unknown limit
& orchard pocked with
remnants. i take the apple
home. it sits on a shelf un
-touched, sea-tree emblem,
slowly recoiling until
collapse           devoured
from within. a balloon
withered of air
             shrinking from
             the round unripe

( )
i wrote a poem when i was
young. while lost to the drag
of years            i recall
a kowhai flower falling from
the tree into a river. the poem mourn
-ed that separation. as a head
rolling from a phantom body
continues to talk. an endless
swinging        door. its
reminiscence makes me sick, the
years flense like
spinning peel from an
old man’s hand–
fruit unpicking
in coils close to
my face as though
it’s catching

i’m trying to rewrite the poem.
this cold body a         pale imitation
relief ghost-text         lemon juice on
parchment held up to the light;
animals scour             the blank sky
for circling hawks      knowing what’s
the sedate face of discomfit
un      homely

                                  what in Eden

i place the apple on my head     &
             follow straight instructions       arms
             outstretched to show (with
             my mind                        that)                 i am not the worm.
                                                                               i am toppled by the world    *
                                                                               a sky-flood of
                                                                               yellow petals
                                                                               under the tongue of God



a sea-tree emblem
for a sea-people…
[who] haven’t
woken up to the fact
they are a sea-people yet.
Keri Hulme, The Bone People, 1985, pp.125–6; in David Punter, Postcolonial Imaginings: Fictions of a New World Order (Scotland: Edinburgh University Press, 2000), p.89.

The ‘sea-tree emblem’ in The Bone People is the kōwhai tree—the only deciduous tree native to Aotearoa New Zealand—which lets its seeds fall into rivers and the ocean, to then be carried to other parts of the country.

i am toppled by the world

Janet Frame, ‘I Take Into My Arms More Than I Can Bear To Hold’, in The Goose Bath, (Aotearoa New Zealand: Random House, 2006).

Much has been written about Frame’s time as a patient at Seacliff Asylum.



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Frances Libeau

Frances Libeau is a queer Pākehā writer and sound artist living in Aotearoa. Their words appear in Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2021 (for which they placed second in poetry), Oscen, Pantograph Punch and more. Libeau’s sonic compositions feature in interdisciplinary collaborations with artists worldwide. Their first book will be published in 2022.

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