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The Friday Poem: If Only by Emma Barnes

A new poem by Wellington poet Emma Barnes.

If Only

If only if only. I could have used my mouth to transmit some meaning. I could have left or come home or done some sort of in between combo of any of these. I could have been the bulldozer, the demolition team, the engineer who respectfully tells you your house is falling down. I could have been the termite expert. I could have diagnosed myself in every single discipline from cardiology to neurology. I could have looked into the back of my eyeballs to see the film playing upside down in there. I could have dug the grave myself. I just chose not to. In the grand tradition of ostriches I declined every avenue but continuation on the same trajectory. I checked out every library book and stacked them in the spare room. I ignored every email about the fines until they sent me a letter. But even then I only read it. I didn’t pick up a single call. Didn’t even listen to the voice messages. Might as well have spent five years in a hut in the Antarctic. I shut the curtains to my own eyes and stuffed things deep inside my heart. I turned to goo inside a cocoon. I fermented slowly in a jar in the fridge. I hibernated in a burrow deep underground. I just survived.


I just survived like a sea monkey, like a seed shat out by megafauna, like the mould in your bathroom. Clinging to it. Limpets. Every type of life. The unknown, uncoloured fluff in your umbilicus. Your eyelid mites. The spring bulbs you buried. The cock-a-roaches. The way that the varicella zoster virus lives on inside you to become shingles, years post chicken pox. I survived like the astronauts in the ISS, with many weird modifications to what you’d consider a normal life. That one ex you just fucking see everywhere, all the time, forever. Like the bacteria varieties that live in hot water or weird sediment or the Mariana Trench. The office plants that despite receiving no care, attention or light that just continue to cling to the realm of living. Your ninety-year-old grandfather who frankly just looks like wax paper stretched over skin. The oldest golden retriever in the world who is twenty years old and whose face is entirely white. Weeds. Like weeds. I survived like Old Man’s Beard and any invasive species. The koi that overtake streams. I swam. I was a list of actions repeated. Kept in after school I wrote lines and lines. It will not always be like this. It will not always be like


Submissions to the Friday Poem are welcome and will be open until the end of September. Please send your poems to chris@christse.co.nz.

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