new zealand electronic poetry centre

Janet Charman

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the foyer of
the Manchester
now demolished
led in high gloom
to a heavy doored theatre
where the scrutineers
attended every Saturday
to watch the Lotto draw
but no news staff
entered there
they strode direct
to the lift
or for fitness
tramped the stair
to the first floor
where all drama was addressed
in the cold light of fact
or infotainment
on my way to work
i paid
eighty-five dollars
in the Salvation Army shop
across the road
for an ex-Tourist Hotel
Corporation dressing table
you could tell it came from them
by the chalking
on the ply back
i carried it
carcass first
and in three more trips for the drawers-
across the barn-dance crossing
assembled my little bit
of the asset strip
in a shadowed
foyer corner
to await
the finish of my shift
and phoned to get my mate
to hitch the trailer up
to haul it home
intending it become the kitchen bench
but at knock off
had to wrest it
from an editor
who deemed it
and would have helped it walk
one Sunday someone   
no-one famous
went for a run and left their briefcase
against the building’s open door
which swung to
so the next one in
thought they’d found a leather bag
planted in the foyer
and raised
the alarm
then a tall
plainly fit
middle aged intelligence officer
came from the naval base
and linked a chain to the case
wrapped the other end around the bull bars on his jeep
and reversing
jerked the thing
out of the building into the street
which they’d closed to traffic
and blew it up with a smoke crack
demolishing the absent owner’s sandwiches
this precaution taken
because of the Trades Hall bombing
-unsolved at time of writing-
in which the caretaker perished
and all of us  
the staff
were stood in pale sunshine watching
when the runner returned
and inquired what was happening
that night they put it on the news
as an item
there is a public duty to inform
-it was a light bulletin
but the briefcase owner’s name was not revealed
and i’ve forgotten it
but not how he looked
another day unusual bleeding started
and i rang the chief receptionist
at her after hours number
and told her
i was night switching the phones
took a taxi home
to lie perfectly still in bed
to no avail
and whoever heard
next week-end no-one said a word
for which
i still thank them
apart from one woman
quite high up  
and good at her job
who came and found me at the switchboard
and said
you could have told
i would have understood
but later
when i was
i used to put the phones on night switch
and go and vomit often
-a good sign my doctor said-
in the convenient bathroom off the stair well
i was shocked out of it one shift
when i went in there and found a grey heron
oblivious to its reflection
at attention on the vanity
it had the pebbly stare of Walt Whitman
on the cover
of my pulp copy of
Leaves of Grass
the volunteer for Bird Rescue   
who worked in tapes
had brought the creature in
as it was in a critically debilitated condition
and her husband had dug in his toes
over the hourly feedings of
chopped fish
down its gullet
at that time a lawyer i knew
worked for Inland Revenue
and told me she had recommended Bird Rescue
be denied charitable status
because biblically speaking
-which was the legal precedent-
only species with souls
can enjoy tax concessions
those Bird Rescue women often find they have to give up everything
another operator
had the shift that
with mine
most times
i’d come in
from the dark corridor
to the light
and find her holding court
one day i thought
what you have got
that i haven’t
is a narrow waist   
you aren’t as cute
as the new face
on The Business Report
but then
she didn’t have to be
because she
was not on camera
now it happened
that one evening
Robert Creeley
gave a reading
of his writing
and the new face
of The Business Report
was spotted
by The Herald
in the crush
and tipped their readers off
poetry for Lorne Street
Café Alba’s
liquid lawyers
broker rush
but late last night
when it was
to sleep
i switched on
and there she was
the new face
reading news
in daylight
on the other side
of the world
looking not
a whit older
-unlike me
both of us
are in
the next millennium
less happily
i also recalled
the time she introduced her crew
-who just for once
were crowded round my desk-
to a stoutly cut suit
we assumed
was her boyfriend
and i
close by
was not included
in the introduction
she didn’t
i was a mechanical adjunct
to the switchboard
and how silly
to feel this slight
as she speaks
to me by satellite
next thing
wear was coming into fashion
so one journalist sewed leather patches
on her jacket
then someone laughed
and pointed out
she’d placed them far too far above the elbow
not to the point at all
and the elbowed one thought
get these suede cuts off
hacking jacket not
my own skin
under this
is burning
and never wore
that garment
in the office
but the argument
i had with her
which made her ever after
disdain me
-i thought-
was to say
a tortured woman
is porn
and that
they never show
but to expose
a tortured man
reveals a crime
perhaps i was wrong
i don’t want to know
The Springbok Tour
because i had to get to work
in time to do the phones
i could leave all the action
any arrestable offence
was asked of me
which was a huge relief
the crews of course
out there
till deadline
and returned
ill at ease
to cut their items
all parties
sitting down
after the day’s fracas
to see
if it came across
my father
who found rugby a bore
got himself a ticket to the Eden Park match
just to prove a point
and my mate would drop me off
at the protest
before he too went to watch
oh yes
we prided ourselves on our tolerance those times
and i thought the officer
who called the Hamilton game off  
knew how weakly angry
we had all become
how objectively tired we were of it
going on and on
those were the days of double time
and working weekends
at the newsroom
paid extremely well
i could sit there making poems
during any lull
or niggling at the sports editor
to unveil
the meaning
and one night
all the power went out
i felt my worry swelling in the dark
until the producer came through
to ask if i was alright
and assured me
it wasn’t a political
only some trucker
in agony on State Highway One
from sticking it to a power substation
the lights came on again
i ate the sticky centered scones
hot jammed for morning tea
and ogled the occasional politician
the biggest of them
eschewing the couch
demanded to be interviewed
in a straight back chair
because sofas make you look like a pudding
and that’s my
on camera tip
for everyone
after that woman
was cautioned
not to use Kia Ora
at Telecom
i was careful to say it too
but people from Te Karere
were always
embarrassing me
wanting to hear
ke te pehea
that was more than i could do
-i wore a pink triangle to work during The Homosexual Law Reform Bill-
but it was on my jacket
which hung over the back of my chair
news is non partisan-
so if you called in
you probably didn’t see it
then the screens came
to the news room
and the typewriter
was extinguished
when i asked the North American
if you could play a video clip
and compile the script
in the same window
he was pissed off
because that hadn’t been invented yet
he was the magician
who let us all into the system
while we learned
yet sooner than you can say
a day came
when i’d click on a file i’d been used to read in-
embargoed stories
internal memos
dead e-mails-
and find the wall had gone up
in the news room
in the spring
the installer
a particularly
Kiwi woman
someone who’d begun
as the news receptionist-
and nothing she said
frightened him
he just
carried her off
in her brief skirts
and svelte pants
to a new life
as his wife
when i took over
after her shifts
i’d open the desk drawer
and find her curiously strong
the vial of Dior
she touched
to her wrists
and short lists
in those days
blue movies
were screened in a council property
on Queen
and i was vox popped in the street
by a Sunday paper photographer
who asked if
as a rate payer
i thought this lease should be renewed
i said
get out of it
those good old boys
who want to watch meat flicks
should hop the Farmers free bus
to the clubs
up on
when i got to work
i admitted shamefaced
how i’d hurriedly retracted
this opinion
not for publication
when i realised
the cinema proprietor
fighting for his lease
-now deceased so i can say this-
was my neighbour over the way
and i didn’t want him glowering at me
every night
as i collected
the milk
from my letterbox
but the couple or three
editors and crew
who heard me mention it
weren’t in agreement
thought it rank censorship
not to renew the lease
they liked to visit
the skin flicks
and parlours
some in every work place i guess
live and let live
liked to talk about the new girl
among themselves
and after a hard day
drift in for a laplook
paying for it
as i’d crack open the spine
of a novel
and inhale the type
one young man who
employed prostitutes
-well that’s what it was-
also advised me
against bidding at antique auctions
on anything upholstered
if it’s a Louis Quartorze Chaise
it’s still a second hand couch
he said
textiles depreciate
they can never be a reliable investment
week after week
some kid would ring
and bleat expletives at us
till i said
you must be
so unhappy son
if you’re alone ring Lifeline
at this number da da da
they’ll listen
till the cows come home
to everything
he never called again
well when they built the new news room
they didn’t
a weekend
on double time
to field their calls
and so
with a new
squalling in my arms
i was let go
for years after
i’d wake
into the darkness of a dream
of working late
and be in
a glass walled building
by the harbour
the blackest night
wrapped round
city glitter
the switch-board
burning up with calls
i’d lost
the knack
to answer
the news
keep watching you watch it
Janet Charman

Last updated 4 October, 2006