Megan Archer, We Just Drifted On By, collage, 2016. Photo / Copyright Megan Archer, courtesy of {Suite} Gallery

Over The Moon: What Hera Lindsay Bird Does In The Dark

The award-winning poet makes witty, confronting work that turns florid verse on its head. Here, she writes about her complex relationship with the wee hours

It’s not that I dislike night. The sun has to go around the Earth. I understand that perfectly. Far be it from me to complain about the rotational necessities of the solar system. I just prefer to be inside when it happens.

To be honest, I’m not even that crazy about the moon, which is probably grounds for instant disqualification as a poet.

I’m glad the astronauts enjoy their lives eating freeze-dried potato, peeing into funnels and expanding the frontiers of human knowledge, but you couldn’t pay me to go to space. After all, space is just night without day to take the edge off.

Given the right circumstances, I could absolutely learn to love the night. Especially if there wasn’t such an oppressive emphasis on leaving the house and having a good time during it. Say, if I lived in Appalachia, had a porch and was going through a messy divorce. Or I was an ancient monk on a long horse trek.

Walking around drunk at night looking at trees is one of the best feelings in the world, and I would do it all the time if it weren’t for the unfortunate reality that being a woman alone after dark lends an unfortunately forensic-files tone to what might otherwise be a pleasant evening.

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I used to go out in my 20s. I forced myself to, like an overbearing father signing his hydrophobic son up for kayaking lessons. I don’t know why. I guess I thought it was character-building. I don’t know whether I built any character, although I did build calf muscle stamina, watching terrible psychedelic folk bands round their third encore.

But it’s one of the great joys of my 30s that I’ve allowed myself to abandon the practice entirely. These days ‘‘a night on the town’’ conjures all the anticipatory dread of a compulsory office team-building paintball tournament.

The fact that my birthday falls on New Year’s Eve, the night out to end all nights out, is completely wasted on me. It would be a great birthday for someone who enjoyed having an emotional breakdown on a different balcony every year.

I hate New Year’s Eve so much that I love having my birthday on it, because it gives me permission to pull rank and bypass the whole hideous situation. Never having to go away on a beach weekend to take MDMA and play Monopoly with friends of friends is the best present I could hope for. But every now and again I forget what it’s like and try again.

Last year my boyfriend and I were passing through Amsterdam. You can’t be in Amsterdam on New Year’s Eve and not leave the house at night. It probably convenes some international bylaw. Especially if you’re high on mushrooms and staying in one of those Dutch cube hotels that have all the hygienic intensity of a futuristic public toilet. We surrendered to posterity and walked down to the harbour before midnight.

The walk was made more exciting by a local tradition whereby people buy hundreds of dollars’ worth of fireworks, tape them all inside a cardboard box, light the box on fire and throw it out a moving car window into a busy traffic intersection. It felt like civil war at Disneyland.

Despite having to stop every few minutes and wait for the explosions to pass, we made it to the wharf in time. I could feel myself slowly starting to lose consciousness as everyone around me counted down from 10. For a moment, it was like living in a world of anaesthetists. The clock struck midnight, the ships all let off their foghorns at once, and I keeled over.

The sound and light was too much, like that forbidden episode of Pokemon they had to take off air for giving too many Japanese children seizures. My boyfriend scraped me off the pavement, and we walked home to watch Jim Carrey movies, the lunar elastic of his face like a prosthetic moon.

The very last time I stayed out all night was a birthday party that turned into an emergency room visit, after a friend sustained an unexpected head injury. I don’t mind admitting I enjoyed the hospital part of the evening more than the party in question.

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There’s something beautiful about hospitals at night, the humming machines, the questionable art, the capable yet severe women with clipboards. It’s one of those liminal spaces that radiate with second-hand memory, like a photograph of a Pizza Hut you never went to.

Night, as a concept, is wasted on adults. The forbidden, the arcane, the mysterious are all rendered inert by the obligation to enjoy oneself. When I think back on the best nights of my life, they were always as a child, in one of those ordinarily night-less spaces, like a school gymnasium or backstage at a local pantomime, everyone dressed as lizards, whipped into a nocturnal frenzy by the smell of talcum powder.

Night as a child, in a cafe, falling asleep on a table, listening to the ins and outs of one of your parents’ friend’s divorce. Night on the old train from Auckland to Wellington, cutting paper dolls by moonlight. Night with all the mystery and ritual still intact.

Recently my boyfriend and I adopted a cat. The cat lives inside, and we walk him on a lead. The cat’s abject horror at traffic, the sun, children, dogs and, for some reason, real estate billboards, make taking him outside during the day untenable. So we’ve started walking him by moonlight.

In the dark, he comes alive, camouflaged by shadow, the smell of mice on the wind. In these moments, I can feel the night becoming real again. We love our cat. We hold him up to show him the moon.

Originally published in Viva Magazine – Volume Four

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