A Poem in Takahē Magazine
Takahē 105 is out this week and I have a poem in it called Fungal Jazz. Read it here.
Takahē has been publishing New Zealand poetry, short stories, and reviews since 1989. They currently put out three editions per year. The August edition is free to read online—you can do so here.
More than anything else, the thing I remember most about university were the crumbling flats I lived in.
My first, worst flat was located on a bushy section of hill above the university. It was an old settler cottage. The landlord, a rather over-blokey man whom I only saw twice in two years, grew up in the house. There were still framed posters on the wall from World War II imploring us not to waste our cooking oil.
The front door had a gap of several centimetres underneath it—enough for the wind to blow directly into the kitchen. We had to plug it with towels. If it wasn’t for the cat who hung around (neither us nor the downstairs neighbour knew exactly who owned him) the rats would have had a straight run into the house.
The kitchen plumbing emptied directly into a drain outside the front door. It was a very small drain. If there was a storm, leaves from the trees would clog the drain and it would overflow with my morning porridge.
My room received zero sunlight and had a big problem with mould. The ceiling and the corners of the room were completely covered in it. If I cleaned them, they would go grey again within a week.
The house had no insulation and was very cold. In winter I used to sleep with all my clothes on: jeans, jacket, socks (I often wore several pairs, a habit I still have). I would climb into a sleeping bag with 3 or 4 blankets piled on top of and still feel cold. Thankfully it was all so heavy I couldn’t squirm around much and usually fell asleep quickly. Sometimes, when it was particularly cold, the salts and minerals would dribble out of the wall (efflorescence), and it would look a bit like my room was crying.
That was the worst flat I had. At the time it seemed pretty normal to me. It still seems normal. As the city rebuild continues to limp on from the Kaikoura earthquake, houses are still absolute shite, dodgy slumlords are still counting their pennies, and students with brightly coloured hair are still whinging about it in the newspapers.
But I can’t say those times were all terrible. Some of my most vivid—and therefore important—memories come from such flats. Daily dysfunctions bring strange pleasures.
I remember hearing my neighbour's snoring through the floor.
I remember randomly moving all of my stuff around my room so mould wouldn’t grow on it.
I remember knowing by instinct exactly when to leave for my morning Linear Algebra class. I would get to uni just as the buses went around the roundabout and blocked all the traffic, giving me enough time to dash across the road. This saved me having to walk down the hill, wait for the pedestrian crossing, then walk back up the hill.
I remember hanging out on my windowsill with the cat, who liked to sit beside me while I drank my coffee.
I remember putting my hands over the kettle as it boiled in the morning.
I remember eating the same three meals every single day: porridge with milk, two peanut butter sandwiches, pasta with a lot of onions, oil, salt, and the fattiest mince you could imagine. Somehow I made them taste good.
I remember cutting hakeke (wood ear mushrooms) off a clump of rotting tree stumps across the road and frying them up with garlic.
I remember putting on my gumboots on rainy days and stomping around in the reserve at the top of my street and feeling like I was in a forest as big as the world.
All of this I remember fondly and hope not to forget.