New verse by Wellington poet Tayi Tibble.
Ode to Johnsonville’s Cindy Crawford
1. Once at a Jehovah’s Witness convention an old frightened man
pleaded, Adrienne? Is that you? His face was a screwed-up ball
of God-fearing agony and, accused, I blurted, No! I’m just her
daughter! I remember the relief in his features; it was the expression
of a man with his belief in religion restored, and it was absurd,
watching him apprehend himself for believing, for one godless
second, that the image of a child he knew once had appeared to
him like the burning bush or the final sign before Armageddon.
2. During a fight you offended me when you said, You look just like
your father when you roll your eyes, to which I replied, I don’t even
know what he looks like, which was a) excellent and well-timed and
b) punctuated by a triumphant slam of my bedroom door. Behind it
I spent the night looking in the mirror, trying to imagine you both
in the hope that what you saw in each other might be seen in me.
3. As soon as you stepped off the ferry, boys who also had tickets
for the green bus were trying to make passes and catcalling you
at the dairy. Got the nickname Johnsonville’s Cindy Crawford a)
because of the huge mole under your nose and b) because at 17 you
were going to be a proper model, but you became a proper mother
instead. That said, it does bring me a motherly joy to think about
which boy must have tried that line on you once. Was it at a party?
Did you laugh and take it lightly? Did you file it away, a funny
phrase to tell your daughter one day, when you needed to remind
her that you had a life before her and that life still has a legend?
4. You were an astronaut in cyberspace. Very Y2K. Always hooked up
and logged on. Had a see-through Mac and custom ringtones. Had
cool friends with beepers, flat tops and skateboards. They’d come
over and play PlayStation. I’d hang out with them, on your lap like
a teenager, playing Tomb Raider because even in unflattering PS1
pixels Lara Croft was so pretty with her long hair and big triangular
boobs. Flipping through a magazine you persuaded me that a
particular photo of Angelina Jolie was you. You were convincing. So
was the photo. I took it to school.
5. You looked like Aaliyah. Always had the exact same haircut. Cried
and played ‘I Miss You’ on repeat after her plane crashed in the
tropics. Said a eulogy in which you told a story about doing a
hula at school to one of her songs—I forget which one—because
the story only becomes memorable at the part where your purple
sarong starts slipping off your hips and at first you are mortified but
then you just improvise and start tying the strings of your sarong
back together, and via some unknown magic the specific feminine
placement of your hands has a hypnotic effect that ensnares the
audience, like a Venus flytrap. This must have been not long before
you became pregnant, although I am just paraphrasing here.
6. I had an awkward stint as a teenage witch. So sensitive and moon-
swayed. Listened to willowy electronic folk bands fronted by
depressed songstresses with bowl cuts, in an open rebellion against
hip-hop. Your favourite song had lines like Don’t hate me cos I’m
beautiful and Jealousy is the ugliest trait (don’t ever do it!) but I used
to do it. I used to sit in my room and scream as it played for the
2000th time, but I knew it wouldn’t take a long hard look in the
mirror to figure out why I never sang along in the kitchen while
7. The Ugly Duckling. The Hungry Caterpillar. Grew up reading
neither. Grew up reading Fashion Quarterly and the Bible. After
another metamorphosis you wanted to be ‘more involved’ and, as a
result of your commitment to your children’s education, schoolboys
would try to text you or add you on Facebook. The messages I
received were variations of What’s your mums number? Or, worse,
Who’s your daddy?
8. I got a man off the internet to buy me a pink velvet Juicy Couture
tracksuit for a lol but you didn’t realise it was a gay joke so you said
I looked glamorous but practical and I laughed because you sounded
so genuine and of course you were, because I was dressed just like
you when you would go out to the clubs and drop it like it was a
hot summer circa 2002.
9. Last night I texted Aniqueja, Annoying your sister and making your
mum laugh are on the same level in terms of intimacy and emotional
fulfilment. She replied, Oi, hard.
10. Growing up, all I ever wanted was to be told that I was beautiful just
like you, but I think I just wanted to be like you in any way. Now
when I do my makeup I draw your mole onto my face.
From Poūkahangatus, a new collection of verse by Tayi Tibble (Victoria University Press, $20), available at Unity Books.