JESSICA LE BAS’s first collection of poetry, incognito (AUP) won the NZSA Jessie Mackay Best First Book Award for Poetry at the Montana NZ Book Awards in 2008. Her second collection Walking to Africa (Oct, 2009 AUP) looks at mental illness in adolescence through a mother’s eye. She lives in Nelson.

*   *   *

       What Was It?

       Was it
       something you ate
       some way of walking
       where the pressure between your legs
       became the pressure in her head
       the way perhaps she arrived fast
       and her beautiful little eyes
       watched, too much going on -

       Was it the way she lay on her belly
       the number of times you were at the computer
       how so quickly after the loss of her brother/sister
       she arrived in their empty room
       and the paper on the walls, still fresh
       with the pulse of another so soon gone -

       Was it the number of oranges eaten
       Was it that fish, those green vegetables, the water
       Was it the time in the afternoon you got a craving
       for fast foods, or television programmes
       with sad endings, or sex -

       Was it the day, the hour, the minute
       when you said it is now warm enough
       to grow the most perfect baby
       and you did, and when all is said
       and done, she is, but if only
       you could remember the recipe
       the exact formula, surely
       you could fix for her
       those little crumbling bits
       at the edge of her life.

       A Red Canvas

       On the psychiatrist’s wall
       a red canvas, a seal
       balancing a bear (yeah, right)
       on the tip of his nose

       It’s a big seal
       someone has cut him out with scissors
       and pasted him on the big red canvas

       The bear is big too
       he too has been cut out with scissors
       and pasted on to the big red canvas

       There are lots of little swallows
       some are sitting on the seal’s flappers
       some are perched on the bear’s paws
       they look like Z nails, from where you sit
       you have to go right up close to see
       that they are really swallows
       and even then you may be wrong

       The seal looks happy with himself
       holding up that big bear on his pointy nose
       the bear looks happy too
       that he is up there, really high and not falling

       The psychiatrist is in his chair
       he is looking for the answers
       to a particularly difficult question

       His eyes approach the red canvas
       he looks at the seal, and the bear too
       but not at the swallows
       the swallows are another matter entirely.

       Newly Discovered Sites on the Moon

       Fluoxetine is a dry river bed
       Moclobemide is a long dark valley
       Risperidone is the highest mountain she climbs
       Epilim is the rock shelf she falls on
                   overlooking a forest of Citalopram craters
       Quetiapine is the blue lagoon
                   in starless light
       Lamotrigine is a crater lake purged by the blistering flow
                   of Olanzapine
       Efexor is not the fox she thinks she heard
       Blinded, she did not see the Port of Lithium
       Dazed, Lorazepam passed by

       The moon is one of many, orbiting a strange and dangerous planet
       The moon is made of green cheese and poisonous gases
       The moon is a balloon


       Home Leave

       She comes home by plane
       She holds the clouds tight in her high altitude hands

       The days home get shorter, the nights longer
       She holds on

       You give her the small white worlds in your hand
       She swallows long and sleeps

       You hide the knives and the pills and the scissors
       and all the sharp edges of living
       in a cupboard –
                   You cannot hide fire and deep water

       She takes a sheet from her bed
       She turns it into a snake the shape of rope

                   This is Not Good, they say
       Home Leave is put on hold
       Home Leave lets go.

       Your Right Arm

       Today you drive home listening to the ordinary
       hum of your car’s motor cruising, the traffic banked up
       along the motorway, your right arm baking
       in the hot sleeve of sunlight streaming through your window

       And you imagine that she has gone to the mall, after all
       to meet her friends. They will have names like Emily
       and Kate. They will have clear skin and their hair straightened
       They will wear lip-gloss tropical mango and strawberry princess

       She will wear her favourite jeans and the pink skimpy top
       that you say shows too much flesh. A green diamond
       stud will jiggle in her belly button. They will go to Wendy’s
       and buy chocolate thickshakes and drink them slowly

       She will giggle with her friends, tight round a table
       outside McDonald’s, and text a boy who will be
       standing with other boys at the end of the atrium
       One day he will ask her to go out with him

       She will walk back home late with her iPod in her ears
       and ignore you at the door when you tell her
       she’s late, and that you have been worried sick about her
       She will tell you she doesn’t want dinner tonight anyway

       You will hear her door slam and the muffled music
       will rise inside her bedroom. A rhythmic sort-of-bass
       will flood the whole house, and you will recognise the sound
       of her feet falling on the carpet, and they will be dancing.