Evacuation
Tapes

Letter to K. M.
for an old alky

Michael, or was it Malcolm
Aged thirty to forty years
Old and tired to death,
Bedded down on a bench
In Katherine Mansfield memorial park,
Could not be woken next morning.
It was, the radio told us
A very cold night,
As though that explained everything.

Michael or Malcolm
Was well known in certain circles —
Council employees, police, social workers
The city’s idle and disorderlies —
Having no visible or invisible means
Of any kind of support,
Frequenter of the soup kitchen
And night shelter, pleased
With an op shop throw-out,
A fresh cigarette butt
Still glowing in the gutter.

Only a tiny number
(Exactly how many —
One two three or nought?)
Followed him to a pauper’s grave
(You need wheels to trail a hearse)
In Karori cemetery.
(Remember the road to Chesney Wold
Katherine?)

Probably the most comfortable
Resting place Michael-Malcolm
Has had for a long time,
The radio added thoughtfully.
Referring to what —
That the coffin was lined,
That paupers get padding
Same as people who pay,
The supreme hand out
To end all hand outs?

I wonder what he dreamed about
Under the spreading pohutukawa tree
Before the cold takeover.
Endless childhood summers
Perhaps, or winter fires
And the warmth of someone
Who always cared.
Or was his dream world
A wasteland of want
Like his waking?

I wish you were still here
Katherine
To fill in the gaps in his life
And tell the world his story
In your wonderfully simple prose,
Or even request another plaque
For your very own garden:

"Michael Malcolm, pauper,
Died here one winter night
Quietly and alone
Without interruption."