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All Ashleigh, all the time: The Friday Poem, by Ashleigh Young

New verse by a Wellington writer who has become the world’s most famous New Zealand author, Ashleigh Young.

 

Ghost Bear

 

On flying ant day, Elliot took me to the glowing sign

outside Kenneth Williams’ apartment. We stared at it

for the necessary long while. Kenneth Williams

said he hated everyone and everything, especially, but especially

Peter Pan. He died on April 15, 1988. The day before that

he wrote in his diary “Oh –

what’s the bloody point?”

 

*

 

In my town people would sometimes lie down

on the railway tracks, because that

was a good joke

 

*

 

One of Elliot’s friends had a terrible argument with his elderly father

who had to go into a home, and later said to Elliot: “It’s a necessary part

of the ritual, a bit like them Peruvian drug ordeals, where you go

 

into the forest and get attacked by a ghost bear

with a skull for a head that represents your inner child: horrible

but how can you be sure your love is strong

 

enough unless you’ve tested it against a ghost

bear with a skull head?”

 

*

Elliot paused to extract a flying ant from my ear

as a smiling panhandler visited us, holding his hat over his thighs

as if about to sing, when the ants were visited upon him

 

*

a boy in my class climbed up on an overhead bridge

and was electrocuted

but he lived, and a few months later

scored a try on the rugby field

and a boy standing beside me said “He’s just showing off

because he got electrocuted”

 

*

a family man once asked me “Do you think of me as your teacher

or as a friend” and with the skull head of a bear

leaned in to kiss me, as per the necessary

part of the ritual

 

*

When there are two frail old women together, there is always one

who is visibly stronger.

I have an old friend and I think about whether we will be old together

and which of us will be stronger, holding up the other

and which of us the wind will push over first

for a good joke

 

*

Two years after flying ant day Elliot stood on the basement steps

of his great grandmother’s house in Bramley Fall Woods

and there was no house left, only the steps, hidden under cold leaves

going up and up into the forest

 

Ashleigh Young, 2017