an Aotearoa poetry journal | ISSN 2744-3248

Poems by John Ewen

Reading John Allison in the Manners Street Pop-Up Library

John Ewen

Published on
page 20 of Tarot #2
(June 2021)

Outside, commuters in their scarves and gloves
stare into the distance, slowly turning grey.
Under these bright lights all is quiet
until the steady snoring starts behind me.
Across from me a man, fine Māori features
tieless in a suit, completes the Guardian Sudoku
returns with another, bends over it, his skull
gleaming through his thinning hair.
…I try to look out through that window.
In the frame myself the polished sheen
of a black mirror always looking back at me.
The snores have stopped; I will them to resume
—I want no Cheyne-Stokes breathing here
to complicate my day. I linger over each poem
seeking to arrive on John’s wavelength.
He holds me as the realisation looms
of his impending loss until I pull away
from a distressing page. His wife is dying.
In the window corner a young man
handsome as any Grecian god, sleeping bag
across his knees, talks to himself incessantly
laughs at some interior joke.
Suppose we live just a part of our lives, fulfilling
only some of its possibilities, what happens to the unlived
substance of those lives?…

Everywhere I look all heads are bent in supplication
to laptops and to cellphones, some to both.

Reading’s a key to unlock the future
this is a library where nobody
reads a book.

Nobody will realise their potential.


Quoted lines are from poems in John Allison’s collection ‘A Place to Return to’ (Cold Hub Press).

Saving String

John Ewen

Published on
page 22 of Tarot #2
(June 2021)

Our son’s a busker, he treads on air
above people’s heads in shopping malls
and county fairs in Canada and the USA
and sometimes in the world elsewhere.
Crowds love his deadpan whiteface miming.
teetering on his stilts, his timing like he’s
about to fall. A free spirit who’s seen more world
than any ten others you’d care to mention.
Used to hard beds or no bed, knows where to sleep
in railway yards and Greyhound stations. Well-spoken
articulate, gains a stay with the well-bred
or those who’d debate capitalism or the world’s state
for he’s well-read and no-one’s fool, just didn’t
didn’t see himself cut out for school
or working for a boss somewhere. For months
on end he’d disappear – once not a word
for over a year. He could have been dead
we didn’t know – or still alive, but anywhere.

The world moved on and so did he. Cards came
and birthdays calls. Perhaps there was a woman
in his life. In his own time he made it known
he’d gained a wife. A teacher in Connecticut
tall, three sons. Husband number one she said
was a high price, high rise New York lawyer
with only money in his sights. We flew to meet her.
She was nice. As if to show some common bond she dwelt
upon her Scots forebears: ‘We’re known for saving string, she said.
Their lives dovetailed. Weekdays she commuted
to a school to teach, studied for her M.A. while he learnt
the role of house father, stretched his reach
to cope with three male teens. Weekends he strode his stilts
earnt what he could in distant towns. Years went by.

One day she said it’s time to quit. It was money once again
this time his lack of it.

Our son’s a busker. He’s busking still. Crowds love
his deadpan white-face mime, that wistfulness
his empty look. We wish she’d kept a husband
and discarded string.