National Poetry Day Series

The gifted nephologist goes to school

It’s all a matter of perspective: how altocumulus cloudlets above Awhitu promise a nest of fernbirds; stratus gliding across the surface of Foveaux Strait suggest muttonbirds migrating; and stratocumulus flurrying snow over Okarito might be kotuku in flight.

These are the things I think I see when my son reads to me, a dictionary open like the face of a planet. Pareidolia he reads, p-a-r-e-i-d-o-l-i-a. It means….

It means a teacher’s search for definition. He won’t listen she says. He answers back she says. He stares out of the window, watches clouds. It means seeing synchronicities that may or may not exist in the things that shape his curiosity: a tornado birthed in Botany Downs; Jesus’ face appearing upon a tortilla; the Man in the Moon; the Monkey Tree phenomenon.

Do improbability, angle and atmosphere coalesce in my son as if they are rising thermals fomenting cumuli? Does his mind imagine cloud in the same way it invents language? Iage amage feedage peckage he says scattering seed at chooks, then points to nimbostratus. Like birds wearing police hats he says. Like Christmas trees walking; or wisps of cirrus, like a ladybird eating cheese he says. Like a cloud-mother holding her son’s hand.

I wonder what cloud-mother thinks when cloud-son says no one wants to play with me. Does her cloudy heart dissolve too? Does she spill drizzle as she considers genetics and remembers how, as a lonely girl, she watched while other children played?

I wonder what cloud-mother thinks when cloud-son draws a map of the world and cloud-teacher glimpses the fluffy terrains of Aotearoa, Australia, China, Russia and the Arctic, then says i see mummy helped you with this. Does cloud-son cry torrentially too? Does he grow, like cumulonimbus, into a storm threatening to break?

Here are other synchronicities: each cloud is an outcast child befriended by a label – ‘gifted’, ‘difficult’, ‘troubled’, ‘trouble’; each cloud exists at the edge of its emotions and obedience; each cloud knows all there is to know about Paleontology, Egyptology, Astronomy and Nephology.

It’s all a matter of perspective: how school isn’t like Awhitu, Foveaux Strait, Okarito or places where clouds are spoken of like propellers, like woodpeckers, like whales, like great barrier island, like little barrier island; how school isn’t land upon which people like my son can gather to stare at heavens illustrated by clouds

and see more than air and water


(c) Siobhan Harvey PO Box 125 135, St Heliers Post Office Auckland 1740


AUTHOR COMMENTARY: This poem originated out of numerous experiences which occurred during my son’s first year at school. All we knew back then was that my son was gifted — he continues to be exceedingly intelligent and curious of the unusual in the world, but his social skills towards his peers are quite limited. As he — and I — travelled through that first year of his schooling, I came to realise that the structured environment and focus of conventional schooling can fail to meet gifted and/or difference children, and such children can easily become tagged as “problematic”. One of my son’s very acute fascinations when he started school was clouds, interpreting their shapes and personalities and so forth. Allowing this insight and fascination to frame the structure and content of the poem became my keys to completing it.

Siobhan Harvey’s works include the poetry collection Lost Relatives and book of literary criticism, Words Chosen Carefully: New Zealand Writers in Discussion. She’s Poetry Editor of Takahe, Coordinator of National Poetry Day and a Mentor for the New Zealand Society of Authors. Her recent awards include Runner-Up in the 2011 Landfall Essay Competition and 2011 Kathleen Grattan Sequence of Poems Award, and a nomination for the 2011 Pushcart Prize (US). She’s been a guest writer at 2011 Ubud Writers Festival in Indonesia, 2011 Auckland Writers and Readers Festival, 2010 Going West Literary Festival and 2000 Manchester Literary Festival. Siobhan’s ‘Poet’s Page’, including selected texts and recordings from Lost Relatives, has just been launched on The Poetry Archive (U.K.), directed by Andrew Motion.