Tuesday Poem: ‘Towards the Mountain’ by James Norcliffe

Towards the Mountain
for Pat Hammond

The paddocks wrapped in boxthorn
are so green they shine in late light.

You talk of how the lambs’ heads
swell into gargoyles during parturition,

so much so that a newborn’s head stuck
in delivery must sometimes be decapitated.

After a day or so the heads of survivors
shrink into cuteness and their bodies frisk.

We are on the swing bridge built to deliver
sheep from one side of the gorge to the other.

It sways back and forth with all the
grotesquery of these birthing stories,

and although the water below is as clear as
reality, you still mistake a stick for a trout.

You couldn’t do it the first time, you say.
You brought in a less ruthless neighbour

whose sweet whisperings somehow saved
the ewe, although her lamb did succumb

and was later slung on the heap of slinks.
It is winter. We look up to where the sheep

batten on the hills. Lambing’s not too far away,
and the slopes, you say, have never looked so green.

Lambent, I say. It means the light is playing there with
a soft radiance. Like lambs, you say, like lambs.

downloadJames Norcliffe has always been one of my favourite New Zealand poets, and he was the first to encourage me to publish my work. Norcliffe has written collections of poetry and short stories, several books for young adults, and worked widely as an editor. I reviewed his latest collection Shadow Play (Proverse 2012) for New Zealand Books Quarterly. “Towards the Mountain” is from that collection.

For other Tuesday Poems check out the hub.

4 thoughts on “Tuesday Poem: ‘Towards the Mountain’ by James Norcliffe

  1. I love the contrast in this poem between the green fields the prospect of lambing and the sometimes reality of when things go wrong. The image of the swing bridge as
    ‘It sways back and forth with all the
    grotesquery of these birthing stories,And then the return to the radiance of the light.’
    it’s a beautiful poem. Thanks for posting Sarah

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