The Friday Poem: ‘Neilson Street’ by Michael Steven

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.

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