At Moa Point that afternoon
two biologists were searching rockpools
for specimens. It was low tide.
I watched. They rolled away a stone,
fossicked in wet weed, described things
rather self-consciously to each other.
Then one of them put into my hands
a cold heavy jelly: my first sea-slug.
I peered gratefully down at it,
turned it over – did nothing, surely?
for them to laugh at. ‘See that?’
said the one with freckles (they were both quite young)
‘it doesn’t seem to worry her.’
‘Oh, well,’ said the other ‘these local kids…’
I kept my eyes down for a moment
in solemn, scientific study;
then said in my recently-acquired
almost local accent ‘Thank you.’
And firmly but gently (a vet with a kitten)
handed it back
– Fleur Adcock
Fleur Adcock is one of my favourite poets of the 20th century. Many of her poems explore themes of identity and relationships with a wry and sometimes dark humour. Her writing is both carefully observant and sensuous.
She was born in New Zealand in 1934. Her family moved to England in 1939, then back to New Zealand after the Second World War. She has lived permanantly in the UK since 1963. The experience of an immigrant is sometimes difficult, no longer being part of their native culture but not quite belonging in their new country. Adcock went through this three times at different stages of her life and has written a lot on the experience. As in this poem, she often uses changing accents to represent the changing sense of belonging.
The interest for this blog in “Moa Point” is in the characters of the biologists. The enthusiastic and slightly self-conscious scientists and their bemused and slightly awe-struck observer will be familiar to anyone who has met scientists outside of carefully prepared public presentations of their work.