Tuesday Poem: “At the Workingmen’s Club Picnic” by Gail Collier
At the Workingmen’s Club Picnic
In a forest of legs,
I watch bulging sacks jump haphazardly
And eggs pirouette on spoons
Before I turn to look for you –
………….All the way around
And back again:
Looking down, shoes I do not recognise
Looking up, page after page of faces.
The world has slowed,
It is filled with other children’s fathers.
My mouth is sticky,
In my chest there is some other kind of race.
Ferris wheel buckets tumble
In a kaleidoscope of red, yellow and blue,
Children’s voices float
Back and forward on the air.
I turn and the long moment shatters,
Your hand wraps around mine;
Its puckered knuckles
And calluses, roughly reassuring.
Together, we stride back
To cars circling brightly coloured blankets,
Stripes crossed like swords.
Mum has emerged from the car
And sits on a folding chair,
Her red cardigan draped across her shoulders
While the sleeves just hang.
You reach into a cardboard box in the boot
And bring out a flask with two white cups
(Like a man with two hats)
And an egg
For me to peel.
The shards of brittle white shell
Edge beneath my nails
As I reach for the wobbly moon
With a shadow inside.
© Gail Collier
Reproduced here with permission.
About the Poem:
“As my father has aged and become ill, I found myself coping with a sense of loss but was unable to write about this due to its immediacy. I found I was able, instead, to access a childhood memory of a moment of loss – of being lost in a crowd and the sheer physical panic that overcomes a child as they lose sight of their parent.
I also found that the setting enabled me to recapture objects and experiences familiar to annual picnics in the sixties, but much less so now: cardboard boxes carrying picnic foods, hard-boiled eggs, three-legged races.
Because it is a very biographical poem, I also wanted to be true to the particular circumstances of my family. I tried to use my mother’s cardigan to symbolise the passivity of a parent suffering from mental illness, without commenting on it directly which would have been incongruous with a small child’s consciousness. The ambivalent tone created at the end of the poem, as the hopefulness of the white of the egg is tempered by the the dark yolk within, was also an attempt to project the precarious uncertainty which was always, therefore present.” — Gail Collier
About the Poet:
Gail Collier is an English teacher who squeezes her poetry writing between the demands of NCEA marking. She is raising the last of four children in the southern suburbs of Christchurch, where she grew up, and hoping for a hiatus before grandchildren appear. Gail is a member of the Canterbury Poets’ Collective and has been published in The Listener, The Press, Micropress, Manuka Musings, Takahe and the infinity we swim in (NZ Poetry Society, 2007).
To read the featured poem on the Tuesday Poem Hub—and link to other Tuesday Poets posting around NZ and the world—either click here or on the Quill icon in the sidebar.