Tuesday Poem: ‘Morning with my grandmother’ by Ingrid Horrocks

Morning with my grandmother


She sat at the foldout table
on the back deck
lipstick on
playing Patience
with whisky on ice.

Late morning she walked
down the grassy lakefront
with prickles, and, at a distance,
lit a sly cigarette.

She hardly used the car
or went far from the house,

but I’d heard
that my grandmother learnt to drive
from an American Marine:

Twenty-one, married,
she danced all night, then
borrowed a car to get her sailor
back to port, letting him guide her hands.
Together they turned and swung.

Later she drove alone,
pressing the accelerator with
wonder, careering magnificently
along the harbour’s edge
under the stars.

Early 1980s

The Official Version

Once, one of the Marines
your Gran knew
during the War
visited Auckland.

There was a fat woman
in the lift whom
your grandfather joked
he’d introduce in her place.

she rode the lift to meet him,
part of a phalanx –
husband, son, and grandson
at the points.

She straightened her slacks,
touched her newly-set hair,
stroked her husband’s arm
and took his hand.

Together, all four stepped
into the lobby to meet
her old driving instructor,
her Marine.

At first
she saw only a stranger –
thick-necked, thin-haired, in a dark suit
that spoke success while he talked
too loudly for the room.

But then, the way his blue eyes drove
over her searching for the girl
she’d been. Even now, she saw
how easy desertion would be.

And maybe
in that instand my grandfather
moved forward to shake
the hand of the man who had
known his wife in the war.

He didn’t thank the visitor
for the silk stockings.
Once he wouldn’t
have thanked this man for anything,

except, perhaps, in exchange
for the intrigue in his wife’s eyes
when he arrived home with photos
– in uniform, a girl on each arm in Trieste.

And just possibly
as the American reached out,
ruffled the grandson’s black hair,
and said, ‘Here’s a little Marine,’
my grandfather was hit

with doubt.
The boy
retreating into his father’s laugh
could have been anyone’s

till he reached up to take
my grandfather’s dry hand,
as if to say, I am
here, ours, us, yours, hers.

for just long enough she too turned
from the man who had taught her to drive,
from the husband who left and returned,
to the waiting boy
who would one day be twenty-one.

“Morning with my grandmother” is from Ingrid Horrocks’ book, Mapping the Distance (VUP). I wanted to share the poem because, for me, it captures the complexity of wartime relationships. The poet’s story remindes me of stories that I heard about my own grandparents. I especially enjoy the way the poem jumps through time, and the idea that the grandson will “one day be twenty-one,” which makes me think about the universal experience of young love.

Ingrid Horrocks has has also written a chapbook of poems, Natsukaashi (1998) and Travelling With Augusta (2003), which brings together research and personal writing. She has a PhD from Princeton University, and lives in Wellington where she writes and teaches at Massey University.

For other Tuesday Poems check out the hub.

2 thoughts on “Tuesday Poem: ‘Morning with my grandmother’ by Ingrid Horrocks

  1. Actually if Andrew hadn’t written that comment it would have been mine.
    But I will add that it’s so beautifully written, not verbose but managing to contain a wealth of wisdom and truth about growing old and commitment.
    Thanks for posting this Sarah.:-)

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