A Volkswagen Beetle being worked on in a garage, Hungary, Budapest, 1978.
A Volkswagen Beetle being worked on in a garage, Hungary, Budapest, 1978.

BooksApril 13, 2018

The Friday Poem: ‘Neilson Street’ by Michael Steven

A Volkswagen Beetle being worked on in a garage, Hungary, Budapest, 1978.
A Volkswagen Beetle being worked on in a garage, Hungary, Budapest, 1978.

New verse by West Auckland writer Michael Steven.


Neilson Street


Nearly always it is still dark when he threads

the chain of the roller door through his hands,

and as that steel door shudders and shrieks


as it rolls up, he will most certainly be wearing

his red waist-cut woollen Swanndri,

the one that smelled of cigarettes and the sea.


When the roller door made its final revolution

around the steel pole, clanging the day into place

and impressions from the cold iron chain links


were still laddered dents across his palms, my father,

most certainly, with the gentle light of dawn

suffusing the asphalt yard before us with a newness


would take a gold box of Benson and Hedges

and lighter from the pocket of his Swanndri.

My father, standing with his back to me, tamping


against the gold box the cigarette he will soon light.

Deep in reverie, what is it he was contemplating?

Was it the way the dew settling again on the windows


of his ute would glisten like broken particles of iridium?

Or was it the sad piles of spent cardboard tubes,

vinyl and fabrics wrapped around them


by mullet-headed upholsterers named Mark and Terry

who sported black jeans and flannel shirts?

The scraps used to cover couches and chairs and car interiors?


As he stood there, my father, with his back to me,

was he watching the breasts of a woman named Sandy

—the blonde my mother insists he had an affair with—


moving beneath her apron as she bent and lifted

a tray of bread at the lunch bar across the driveway

while I waited among the wrecks inside his workshop?


Is it too late to ask him if he was looking at the metal

halide streetlamps, craned in vigil like haloed icons

over the nights of Neilson Street? Did my father stare


past the wire lattice fence of the freight yards, into the stacks

of battered grey and green containers? Instead of an

impenetrable lexicon, did the names of mysterious ports


ring in his mind like fragments from ancient poems or koans?

When the sun rose above the corrugated iron factories,

and Kenworth trucks with trailers arrived at the freight yard,


and men wearing blue overalls who worked as upholsterers,

car wreckers, mechanics, panel beaters, spray-painters,

auto-electricians, scrap dealers, forklift operators,


lined up in Sandy’s lunch bar to buy pies and ham sandwiches,

cold cans of soft drink and cigarettes … did my father wonder,

standing behind him, if I was sharing the same reverie?


From Michael Stevens’ new collection Walking to Jutland Street (Otago University Press, $27.50), available from Unity Books.

The Spinoff Review of Books is proudly brought to you by Unity Books, recently named 2020 International Book Store of the Year, London Book Fair, and Creative New Zealand. Visit Unity Books Wellington or Unity Books Auckland online stores today. 

Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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