There should be a quartet at the wharf
playing Bach’s Air on a G String
and, on the river, a barge
lined with lilies, to ferry
the casket under kōwhai trees.
But we’re a low, migratory flock.
The departures board lists
flights to big cities —
Beijing, Paris, Jakarta, Dubai.
Just when we’ve built reserves
to avoid winter, we’re
stuck in line with carry-ons —
black dresses, black jackets, black ties
new boots, new pants, new shirts
stuffed in tight. No family photos
no bedtime reading. No wading
now on a beach in Tangier.
Soon enough, in a rented Toyota
we dive into the heartland, jet-lagged
feeding at a service centre
in the Bombay Hills.
To again follow the wagon
up a back-blocks valley
on this rough-cut track.
Whiff of clover, scent of fennel
hint of rosemary. To huddle
by gravestones and a hole
fresh-dug, sharp-edged. Rain.
There are stories and bloodlines
we’ve always known. Yet
even as this soil sticks in our bones
we negate it for trade and profit.
Sweating between dark pews
we sing of rolling thunder
of stars, a great unknown
accompanied by a small guitar.
After the tightened knot
of farewell hugs, after passport control,
security screening, one ritual awaits us.
After the perfumes and the tribal art
we slump at the departure gate
for the return flight.
That’s where you catch me every time
and make each flight a funeral flight.
Our country. I grieve for you.
curates our dreams
chisels us into who we are
calls us back to bury our dead.
Michael Mintrom is from Aotearoa New Zealand and lives in Australia. His poems have appeared in various literary journals in those two countries, such as Landfall, Meanjin, Meniscus, takahē, and Westerly. Other recent work can be found in The Drabble, The Ekphrastic Review, Literary Yard, The Metaworker, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, and Shot Glass Journal.