Poem — Jan Kemp

Staunch

(i.m. Michael King 1945 – 2004 & Maria Jungowska 1949 – 2004)

 

I’d have wished you a gentler death
in keeping with generosity & deft, liquid speech,
yours of right, Michael, not this bizarre
fireballing out, though your friend said,
‘with your wit, you might have appreciated it’.

I’ll remember you both differently, Maria’s
dark silk falling either side of her face, her cool
mind, German I, ‘67, University of Auckland –
her olive voice, Polish; & at Opoutere, her quiet
serving of our tea & a torte chock-full
with pecans, amidst the talk, the laughter.

And you, in tandem again after 22 years, on one of
the musical backseats of the Words on Wheels 2002
mini-bus, touring the Waikato; your transporting
us all into the Ur-realms of the rainbow god with
flaming hair, Uenuku in Te Awamutu, dredged
from Lake Ngaroto, Uenuku who guided a canoe
reincarnated as Tuwhata, become a sign of learning;

or our chuckling all the way back from Raglan
with tales of Frank, Janet, Karl, Bub, Keith, Pat
with a confidant’s joy, cheek & reverence all at once;
or your charming the kids with story at your
sister’s King’s School when a national holiday
shut our tour down. Whose list stops?

You showed us ourselves. Helped us start to
differentiate our story. Stories.
Maori and Pakeha. Amassed infinite detail,
perspective. For years and years.

Five months ago you told John Campbell
(who said you’d got a beautiful sparkle
in your eyes) you’d met everyone, written
everything, been everywhere you wanted;
knew life was a great gift, it had to be lived well,
said you’d had a good crack at it; you’d
already had more than most, wished to see
grandchildren arrive, grow up; knew how
precious health is. Then took treatment
for ungentle cancer, survived it.

But who can staunch this?

You, in a dinghy happiest on a Coromandel inlet,
fishing. How we all wish you this tall order, now.

 

Jan Kemp

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