Ashleigh Young



Elizabeth the albatross … banked several times above her rescuers, standing on a rocky outcrop at a wind-swept Makara Beach near Wellington yesterday, gathering altitude before disappearing into the distance.
— Dominion Post 17 March 2010

I was standing with my husband on the rocky outcrop
at Makara. Feathers and bandages were bound
back into an animal, and thrown into the sky.
Into the wind they formed the unmistakable V
of an albatross
called Elizabeth. She was a bright white flapping
until, like Truman, she broke a hole
in — what then revealed itself to be — a backdrop
painted like a sky and a sea.

My husband gave me advice for bad dreams.
Speak only the foreign language of your choice
in the hour before sleep.

When I woke up I was lying in the bed.
Nurses moiled around me like cats.
I heard skipping ropes turn outside the window.
I heard bins lifted from the footpath tenderly.
Men’s gloved hands holding handles.
I think it was Wednesday.

Eventually I went to a fair. I lost the dog again.
I couldn’t see my husband for the children and prams.
The air unbreathable with panpipes — my dear
the backing track made me want to attack someone
which was no one’s fault, but no one was getting
the joke. The sky all tarred and feathered
and the crowd unmoved, a levee
preventing me from washing into undesired
places. I stood in the crowd.
I stuck in the crowd’s throat.
I looked for petals on the wet, black bough.
The wind had shaken them down.

I was treadmilling on my own feet
orbiting all the world’s corner dairies.
On one corner buying a 50c mixture
then a doughnut scabbed with jam
then a hand grenade of chutney
made by that lady who also sells children’s fairy wings
that hang deadly on a rail in the road.


Afternoon with Matthew

Maybe we’re just not people people.
We’re not all that uncomfortable with silence.
Maybe we are too comfortable.
          We did hug, once,

and that same month, he replaced the glasses with contacts
and cut the hair. It had been
prolific hair, like Steven Pinker’s
or Wole Soyinka’s; it rose up
          as a nimbus. I still see it now, sense it there
                    phantom hair.

It was when he came back from India
          and met me at the buckets: he rushed at me
as if suddenly I were people and he were one of mine.
But when we met, we saw pretty soon
that we were not the same
as anyone else.

And recently he has felt as if his head
were a long way from his body: far above, his brain
goes stilting down Cuba Street, level with the apartments
where bodies are flickering, eels in the shallows
in the shadow of the bowing grass;
his eyes, way below, are filling with freak snow.

This afternoon we talk about pills like we once
talked about films: this one is action-packed, this one
makes the mornings ache, this one,
this one like a mute in a trombone

playing in a band at the stadium,
where this afternoon we step down from our seats
way up by the air ducts.
We walk onto the oval of electric grass
where a microphone
is waiting for us, frail microphone tree
tethered in the plastic dirt.



Ashleigh Young is a writer and editor who lives in Wellington. Her first book of poems, Magnificent Moon, is published in November 2012 by Victoria University Press. She blogs at