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BooksDecember 22, 2023

The Friday Poem: ‘To My Grandson, born in 2022’ by Lynn Jenner

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

A new poem by Lynn Jenner.

To My Grandson, born in 2022

Please think of this letter as a genuine record
with biases caused by gender, ethnicity and class

This summer, just after your first birthday, it is suddenly clear that we are someway into an apocalypse. Even people who usually talk only about sport say the climate has turned on us and the coming famines will lead to revolutions and chaos. Millions of people, they say, will come to countries like ours to get away from the floods and the fires and the rising seas but now those things have started to happen here too

The plain truth is that you will not have the same life that we have had, and we are partly the cause of that. We still buy plastic containers and impossibly cheap clothes exactly because they are so cheap. The signs of the apocalypse were right there in front of us, but we looked inwards and wondered if we were happy enough. Even when someone held our head between their hands and forced us to look, our eyes slid away to the side. We lived our life, we hummed our songs, danced around the kitchen in the evenings after work and looked forward to our overseas holidays

We have seen great sweeps of consciousness and fashion. The circles of orange and brown that made up the décor of our childhood have been exciting, and then embarrassing, and now there are knock-off versions of our mothers’ sofas in department stores

The nineteen fifties in New Zealand did not look stylish to us. They looked like fear and shame. An unmarried mother must be a slut. An illegitimate baby must be given up for adoption. Boys and girls of seventeen must marry if the girl was pregnant, otherwise what would people say? Mothers cooked and cleaned and took the children to kindergarten. Men stopped at pubs on the way home from work and arrived home red-faced and tetchy

The nineteen fifties reeked of fat lamb roasts on Sundays. The nineteen fifties sounded like lawnmowers droning on a Sunday morning. The nineteen fifties squeezed your creamy breasts into points and held you there, facing the front

We were going to change all that. How, otherwise, would our lives be different from our parents? Guitar music, long hair, flared trousers and the oral contraceptive would transform everything dull and dutiful into swirls of red and yellow and purple. Each of us was epic and unique. Violence and war would be replaced by peace. Capitalism be replaced by love, and a generous spirit really would change the whole world. It would be that way because we wanted it so

Then we got jobs, which became careers. To our surprise, we soon had houses, mortgages, cars, children and even lawnmowers. We bought private medical insurance in case our children needed little operations. We chose who to protect and it was us

While we were busy working and raising your parents, a few decades went by in which everything that cared for people was sold or neglected. We voted against all this but that made no difference because all the politicians had the same ideas

Some people became wealthy just by owning a house. Others became poorer and sicker, but the wealthy people refused to pay taxes to keep hospitals running and they refused to stop buying Ford Rangers and boats

We wanted to pay more taxes so that people on benefits could live better but that was not what the country voted for. We did not have a boat, but we bought your parents Nike trainers because we could

We built more and bigger roads for the Toyota Land Cruisers towing boats and the lines of trucks taking pine logs to the ports. The land left behind was covered in slash. Knots of tree branches crashed down rivers during the big storms. Dairy farms overran the plains and the rivers died from nitrogen
run-off. The storms grew and there were more floods than there used to be. People climbed into the roof cavities of their houses and waited to be rescued. People died in the water. These things started to happen in posh suburbs. That’s when you were born

Please think of my letter as a blessing

There was never a simpler past. We were always people of the most ordinary sort and we wanted to be comfortable. In that way we became much like our parents and their parents. A few of us worked together to protect the earth and all the people but we never learned how to stop a few men taking everything. These are not simple things. Perhaps you will see them in your life

May it be so


The Friday Poem is edited by Chris Tse. Submissions are currently closed.

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