Melicythus Alpinus (Porcupine Shrub)
See her stiff windswept hair, her ability to hang on despite fire, despite drought. She finds the most delicious and secretive spots to sit – clinging to the edge of a clay-baked sheep track, or high on the saddle overlooking the harbour. Always nearby, the hulking rocks, wearing their celadon robes of lichen, weathered by the slow wisdom of season after season. She weaves up through them, crouches under them, covers them. Her silver fingernails cross and interlock over her lap and theirs – another gesture towards protection. If you glance in the way I used to – from a distance of mind – you will see nothing but a dull and constant wardrobe, something that is indistinct from the grassy hill that was long ago denuded of trees, and you will turn away, unstartled. But I have since learned to save myself, get lost in the finer arts of detail and curiosity; I have seen up close her magnificent proliferation of tiny loden leaflets held within her spines, sending messages to the sun. I have closed my own hand over her fingernails and felt their tough and sharpened tips, marvelled at her need for such defence.
In summer, she flowers cream thimbles, upside-down goblets as small and inventive as the nib of my pen. Come autumn, her fleshy berries are blue-splashed gifts for reptilian creatures, who repay her by dropping her name, whispering her into the arms of new silent protectors. And in turn, she gives shelter to other compatible beings, and so on. Perhaps she will outlast us, and from under her skirt, the totora and kahikatea trees – the old gods – will return.
Poem by Gail Ingram
Gail Ingram is author of Contents Under Pressure (Pūkeko Publications 2019). She has won international awards for poetry and short fiction and her work has been widely published and anthologised. She is an editor and teacher of creative writing in her hometown Christchurch, New Zealand.
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