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Excerpt from We Are Tiny Beneath the Light

By Heidi North

The Chickens  

 

It was never my idea  

to get the chickens 

 

I almost blacked out 

in St Mark’s square in Venice 

 

when the pigeons flocked low  

and brushed my face 

 

you laughed and laughed 

and I almost decided not to marry you then 

 

but when you saw the fear was true  

you led me off to eat squid-ink pasta 

 

and drink light- filled  

glasses of Prosecco in that sinking city 

 

But once your idea of chickens took hold  

a good wife, I ran with it 

 

I found a home-made henhouse 

and arranged the trailer to carry it to our backyard 

 

On the rescue-chicken site 

I was seduced by two scrappy featherless birds 

 

I drove to Bunnings 

and talked supplies with the nice man 

 

while the toddler busted around the store  

and I hauled white chicken wire home 

 

scattered organic chicken food – 

with the toddler on my hip 

 

trying to dive into the chicken shit –  

because I felt sorry for those damn birds 

 

I endured the leaf-blowing nosey neighbour  

telling me he wanted chickens as a child 

 

but only got ducks 

After their first day I said 

 

You need to clip those chicken’s wings 

You said Those chickens have never seen natural light 

 

they won’t know how to fly 

and when they flew out of their flimsy cage  

 

into the unfenced yard 

Mr Leaf Blower laughing, saying Don’t be silly, girlie  

 

heart knocking I got closer than I dared 

to shunt those birds back inside their pen 

 

because the toddler was watching  

and I inherited this fear 

 

from my own mother 

A week after you told me you were leaving 

 

we came home to empty space  

where the henhouse once sat 

 

only the white chicken wire suspended  

around nothing, Chick-chick? the toddler said 

 

my ache of loss for the birds was a surprise  

Mr Leaf Blower went past 

 

Did you eat them? 

I looked him in the eye Yes 

 

I never asked you where the chickens went  

You never said 

 

They culled those pigeons in St Mark’s square  

murdered every last one 

 

 

Piha Beach, two years on 

 

Our feet punch bruises in the black sand 

and I am back in the burn of childhood summers  

 

the circle of sentinel gulls 

their grey wings tipped to catch the light  

 

warn me back 

but I go down to the white foam edge  

 

bluebottles boated with their pretty poison  

yield to the sharp edge of my stick  

 

I go down to the place 

where the wind kicks holes through my heart  

 

and there is a child down there 

too close to the ribbony horizon line  

 

holding his blue kite  

towards the updraft  

 

still smiling as it lurches 

against the wide white blaze of sky –  

 

and I smile and laugh and I take my daughter’s hand  

and together we run with him  

 

because how can I tell them 

all the brutal things are yet to come  

 

Burst  

 

The girls burst from the car 

bare feet fly  

 

feather-light  

over the tussock  

 

shoes kicked off  

they dive into the black sand 

 

squealing 

charging towards Lion Rock 

 

Clara determined to climb it 

Indie behind her, wind whisking 

 

my protests of danger away – 

no rails, jagged rocks – 

 

so I follow, running now 

behind them up the crumbly path  

 

finally hearing me  

they turn 

 

a whip-whipped tangle of hair 

their unruined faces caught with light 

 

and I can’t help but love them 

my brave fierce daughter  

 

and fearless step-daughter – 

a child once afraid of the wind – 

 

I want to yell Come back, turn around 

but they’re looking at me 

 

like they still believe in my bravery 

Wait for me I say instead 

 

Wait for me 

and they will, this time  

 

 

+ 

 

 

From the top we survey our domain 

the sand, the sea, those hills – 

 

for an instant each soft blade  

of tussock is picked out in brilliant sunshine  

 

the world sharpened by tiny shadows  

 

 

The poems are from We are tiny beneath the light, The Cuba Press, published with permission from the publisher.  

About Heidi North

Heid North’s second poetry collection, We are tiny beneath the light was published in November 2019. Heidi is a graduate of the Master of Creative Writing Programme, University of Auckland, and has won awards for both her poems and short stories, including an international Irish poetry prize and has been published in anthologies and magazines here and overseas. Heidi was the NZ fellow on the Shanghai International Writers Programme in 2016. Her first collection was Possibility of flight. She lives in Auckland with her family.