Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Balsa wood & dope for model airplanes

Kate - my jeweler friend and the artist with whom I've been collaborating these past months - has been down in Dunedin for eight days high-activity in the studio. We've put the finishing touches on various jewelry and installation pieces and completed a series of double-signature drawings (2D composites to which we've contributed in equal measure).

Our exhibition - titled Alchemy - explores transformative processes and promotes the idea that meaningful collaborative endeavour has little to do with ownership of ideas and ideally contains elements of gifting. It opens at Gallery 33 in Wanaka on Friday 20 November. (I'll post more about it, including links to our respective websites, closer to the time.) 

While she was here, Kate commented on a small framed photograph on the bookcase in my hallway. It's a portrait of my late brother, Alan. The photograph was taken when he was a young man of twenty. Incredible to think that was thirty years ago. His abiding absence over the years has been a presence, too, in the way that those we have loved and lost are; sometimes it's palpable, welcome, companionable; sometimes we meet each other with wrestle, incredulity and outrage. Then, too, there are surprising moments of rich dialogue, sudden illumination, helpful instruction. However we look at it, are not all of our relationships ongoing? 

Alan was a boy with a slender frame and tender shell; a boy who loved insects, snakes and the Milky Way, who shared his Easter eggs with his cat and his corgi, who understood flight and bees and had the patience and know-how required to splint an injured bird's wing or to build a fleet (I can't call it a 'squadron'; it's so not a word he'd have used) of balsa wood airplanes.  

Kate's questions about him, together with the fact I've been experimenting with balsa wood as a ground for miniature oil paintings (the smallest are 25 x 39MM), prompted me to dig through the folder of poems I've written to him over the years. 

Here's one of them, lovingly posted -  


I came across your tent bag this evening, in the attic.
We were clearing space so we could see more clearly, 
sort what we’d need for the long run. 

It was empty - your bag. I unzipped the pockets, 
slid my hands slowly into bone-brittle plastic, past old cold
then wet - it felt wet and dripping suddenly with mulberry juice 
and dope for model airplanes.

It's twenty-five years since you were felled
on that brutal Transkei road. Twenty-five years since 
I, away in London at the time, smelled it happen.   

I carry the scent of crushed lemon verbena 
on my fingers still slip into our perfumery 
in the back garden. Often I climb our apricot tree, 
watch flying ants drop their wings 
onto steaming tarmac only to spin round 
and round in dizzy circles, 
nowhere to go but into night.

I’ve tried but cannot see you 
as a middle-aged man. From where I stand, 
you're perfectly at ease sitting cross-legged 
on the rough cement steps of childhood, 
there in the dust-dry courtyard where we tasted 
the nutty bitterness of deep-fried mopani worms, 
sucked honey from the comb, laughed 
from our bellies,  drank summer in 
through open pores.

And I was such a sucker for punishment!
Your freckle-faced little sister sitting in your shadow 
for hours and hours, content just to be 
able to tickle your long warm back 
and blow cool air onto your sunburned shoulders.


  1. How moving that is Claire! You know I was just thinking over the past day or so how final death is in its own bitter way - and yet, we have memory to play with and to somehow re-create and summon our loved ones close again - as you have here. It's a beautiful, beautiful poem.

  2. Remembering is important, isn't it... and a way of honouring those with whom we have walked a part of the way. Love to you, Kay. Thanks for your comments.

  3. "However we look at it, are not all of our relationships ongoing?"

    Yes yes yes! I've not quite thought of those I've lost in this way, but it's so true. Thank-you for this realization.

    A very tender and loving post.

  4. Hi T. Clear

    Lovely to find you've been here, thanks.

    I wonder what the 'T' in 'T. Clear' stands for? I certainly writing appreciate the clarity and Transparency that threads its way through all your writing.

    Happy Thanksgiving...