New poetry by Piha poet Nikki-Lee Birdsey
This time of year
I try to think about what is better
than beauty. Rose-pink clouds
crowd the sky, crowd my page—
I think of your face.
I can’t fantasise like I did
when I was a child, whole worlds
snapping into place in an instant
against locked doors, screaming.
I imagine your face in 1813,
Napoleon burning backwards
through Russia, you would’ve
been in Poland, still, with your honest face,
and me? As a girl I’d picture myself
an Emily Brontë running through
a scratchy moor, my pale cheeks flushed,
my hands delicate and cold, clamped
But Emily Brontë wasn’t born yet,
and despite all of that century’s
novels I read, the suspicion was always
that there was nothing underneath;
that I would’ve been, at best, one of Hardy’s
doomed maids, my long black plait snaking down
a glimpse of milky back. It was the industrial
revolution, the rise of capitalism, after all,
and we are not the ones
born to generational wealth.
I imagine your face in 1913,
it is still honest and
inexplicably shadowed, with your
long dark hair and dark eyes.
Your great-grandmother hadn’t left Poland
for Ellis Island yet
Give me your tired, your poor . . .
Handsome, quiet, brave,
you would’ve been amongst
the first to die.
I would’ve been in England still,
but perhaps an army nurse by now,
because no matter in what age
I have lived, I have always
In 2013, we are losing
faith in science.
The air conditioner ticks
around a July window,
the box-elder bug shuffles
across the high ceiling
of a sun-filled apartment.
I wake up next to you,
we are young, still,
and it is the first
and last time
I am happy.
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