BooksAugust 23, 2019

The Friday Poem: Superman by Nick Ascroft


A new poem by Oamaru-born poet Nick Ascroft.




Halfway up the ascent zigzagging 

                    from Royal Terrace 

                               to upper Stuart Street carrying four too-heavy

               grocery bags I begin to understand 


that I will not make it. 

                    My huffing personage – 

                               from the fingers, white 

               with the strain, to a face 


the colour of rhubarb – will ooze 

                    into the pavement 

                               and roll 

               slowly down the hill 


on what once was my back. 

                    I am lugging 

                               groceries so as to cook for you. 

               It’s a pivotal meeting, cooking for you 


for the first time, you a gastronome, 

                    but me now a gastropod, glossy 

                               like a slug 

               and unable to lift four ridiculous bags 


with slug fingers 

                    any further up this mountain. 

                               I own no food processor 

               so have prearranged to meet you at a friend’s. 


Why did I not consider the logistics of the operation 

                    from gravity’s belvedere: 

                               ask to borrow the food processor, 

               and schlep that instead 


but downhill, perhaps sitting on it 

                    and riding it like a luge? 

                               Because my head is fat. 

               I take another step. 


I don’t have a cellphone. 

                    I cannot ring a taxi. 

                               You will arrive in minutes and I have to be 

               cooking. I take another step. Also 


my flat is a pigpen

                    with no table. 

                               Another. This is how marathon runners feel 

               when they give up. 


This is how I should have felt when I gave up 

                    on my master’s thesis after two years 

                               but felt only freedom. 

               If I just opened my hands 


and let the bags drop. 

                    If I just let my face crumple into a sneer 

                               and walk away, the flour, 

               the feta, the whole block of butter 


when a quarter of it would’ve sufficed 

                    spilling into the dark unnoticed, 

                               I could feel the same sweet dereliction 

               and liberty. Instead 


I trudge another chicken-step upwards. 

                    No one will thank me. 

                               No one will appreciate this when I recount it. 

               But I will know. 


For years this story will sting 

                    like lemon juice on a papercut 

                               in the memory. 

               I will try to chisel it into prose 


and find it unsatisfactory, lacking 

                    in the requisite suffering. 

                               I’ll distil that to a sonnet, which will seem too 

               clipped and grandiose. 


In the meantime the steps have stopped. 

                    I am only at Moana Pool. Why 

                               do my eyeballs ache? 

               I try running. The running lasts less time 


than can be considered definitional of the term. 

                    Centuries of half-seconds pass. 

                               I have no feeling in my hands but 

               here I am now on Stuart Street. 


The plastic has not cut through to the bone. 

                    Why did I bring Grapetise as well as wine? 

                               Choose one and be glad of it. 

               No more memories form. 


All energy is diverted to the legs. 

                    The mouth can hold no other expression 

                               but a stroke-victim grimace. 

               I shuffle around the back to the door. 


I try not to make a big thing 

                    out of the horror of the ascent, 

                               but later I marry you, and I know 

               it’s because I made this climb, 


that I pushed out the strides, that

                    I fought when my blood hissed 

                               that there was no fight left to fight with. 

               Everyone may say, So you carried some bags up a hill? 


But they are all the scum children of the sewers 

                    and I am the husband who 

                               made vol-au-vent, who 

               staggered up a sheerness of the will 


and surmounted it.

Friday 23 August is Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day. You can view the calendar of events here.

Poetry editor Ashleigh Young welcomes submissions at

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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