Nan’s face is not the broad landscape
I visited as a child, but a smaller, more brittle place.
Her cheeks have retreated,
are flecked with red, like a Braeburn.
I’m lucky because I have a big face
so I can wear big earrings.
She fetches an oil-blue glass casket
and sends the contents chattering onto the kitchen table.
Bright black beetles, silver lacework, thumbnail pearls,
tiny glimmering stars. She clips on her largest pair,
creamy pearls in diamante fronds. See?
She wants me to take anything I fancy,
is disappointed to find that, in the modern fashion,
my ears are pierced. Unprompted
she brings me photo albums: a slab
of beige with gold curlicues, turquoise
vinyl flip-tops, floral cardboard, paper packets
thick with relatives I don’t recognise.
Neat names and dates in spiky blue capitals.
She thumbs through pages, arrives at my parents’ wedding,
terrible inevitability. My mother, stylish
in aviator glasses, flicked hair, medieval sleeves.
Nan made the dress and I wonder if my mother
resented the slippery white gift
she couldn’t politely refuse, or was grateful
to save the expense. The sewing machine sits
at the end of my bed, little time traveller.
It has spilled silvery veils and capes,
puffed eighties gowns, emerald bridesmaid dresses.
Nan wants to know if I have considered doing more
than seeing my boyfriend. I’m not really interested
in that, I reply. If I’d said yes she would offer
to make the dress. I’d ask for an empire waistline,
gathered sleeves, long. It’s not been a bad life, really,
she says. Apart from losing Jim, and your mum taking you
and your brother, and the alopecia – this will be the fourth time
I’ve lost my hair, you know. Would you like to see my new wig?
Mum didn’t tell her she was taking us to England.
It happened at Christmas; Nan had just posted
our Christmas presents. Did you ever get them?
I don’t know. I can’t remember.
Later, the whole whanau comes round.
I meet cousin Josephine, little Roma, and baby Paaka.
We eat roast chicken and potato salad
from plates in our laps. Nan parades around the living room
in her new wig, a cluster of pencil-grey curls. We exclaim
from sofas and squashy armchairs, from behind glasses
of bitter red wine. I should have said yes.
Yes, we loved them. Thank you so much.
Rowena Knight grew up in New Zealand and currently splits her time between Bristol and London. Her poems have appeared in the Morning Star, Bare Fiction, Butcher’s Dog, Magma, and The Rialto. Her first pamphlet, All the Footprints I Left Were Red, was published with Valley Press in 2016. She tweets at @purple_feminist.