Image by Jan Kemp

The Long Road to Teatime

Anna Jackson


The Long Road to Teatime

Anna Jackson


The Long Road to Teatime

The Long Road to Teatime

1 The road to Karekare

In the middle of our journey
we found ourselves lost.
‘This is the jungle,’ said Johnny.
Rose asked if we had a map.
‘Not a road map,’ said Simon.
‘So what sort do you have?’
We looked for a life map.

In the middle of the journey
of my life, I sat on one side
of Elvira and Rose sat
on the other. I have known
Elvira for sixteen months
since she was born,
Rose for sixteen years.

At Karekare Rose and I
left the children to walk
the length of the beach.
‘What was it like?’ she asked.
It was like a dark wood.
We walked across sand
next to water, under sky.

We walked back to the car
across the dunes and through
a wood of cabbage trees.
Johnny said, ‘Be quiet
or the wild things will hear.’
There might have been a leopard.
There were dogs.

2 My friendship with Dante

Lost in the dark wood I want
to rekindle my affair with the sun.
I look about for my stiletto-heeled
black leather boots to put on.

It is too dark to see.

Three beasts stand between the sun and me.
Simon, Johnny and Elvira stand at the top of the hill
and howl at me. ‘We are baby panthers.’
Elvira howls at the sight
of my wool work coat.
I can’t get past.

But out of the obscurity emerges the figure of a man,
weak, as if his lungs have been still too long.
It is Dante, of course.
Dante! Can’t you take me to the sun?

But Dante has to take me first along the path
he once was led along by Virgil.
‘Another poet will take you to the sun.
Frank O’Hara knows the sun well
and knows the way to Paradise.
But I can show you the way to hell.’

And so to escape the three beasts
I take Dante by the hand.
When he moves on, I move on close
behind.

3 Into darkness

Dante’s cantos are ‘missiles for capturing
the future’. But they lead me
into the dark.

But I am not Ciardi! Mandelbaum!
Barely published! My friendship
with Mayakovsky is my sole
claim to fame.
Can I translate the Inferno, knowing
no Italian?

‘Oh, come on. I am doing this for Frank
and Emily Dickinson and all the other
poets of the sun. They recognise you
and even I picked you in the dark.
Why delay?’

And just as flowers rise again
from their night postures
when the sun drives into their stems,
I too stand tall.

Where Dante goes I will follow after.
I start on the road to hell.

4 I meet up with the spineless

Now what comes next is not all good to tell
and I’m sorry to put you through it
but for the sake of those who will call this present
the olden days I’ll let those present resent
me and write on.

Dante smiles as he leads me through the gates,
and as I read the fearful words carved there
he slides an arm familiarly around my shoulders
like a heavy ray of sunshine.

And here are those who were too cool to speak.
So this is where you ended up
when I vomited you out of my mouth!
I recognise you but I will name no names. Yet.
I am tired at the thought of you.

To hear and read the rest of this poem, see "The Long Road to Teatime: Part 2" on Anna Jackson's Poetry Archive page.


‘The Long Road to Teatime’, from The Long Road to Teatime (Auckland University Press, 2000), © Anna Jackson 2000, used by permission of the author. Recording from the Aotearoa New Zealand Poetry Sound Archive 2004.

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