Anne Estelle Rice, Portrait of Katherine Mansfield, 1918
Te Papa Museum, Wellington
A flare of red and there you are in your bright dress the colour of pōhutukawa flowers.
Huge blooms burst out of the frame into the air that separates us, their petals like gasps of light.
Your eyes blaze towards a point in the distance, past everything in the room around you,
past me standing here in the half-moon circle of your ruby luminescence,
as if you have just seen straight down into the core of the dark pink light,
pulling the colour apart, splitting it open.
a stinging fever
dream scorching up
along the nerves
skin simmers in the hot
drench of rain inside
the lightning-struck air
wind tearing teeth
bones cracking under
a New Zealand sky
and she is the wave
rising to meet it
In the garden beneath the pear tree,
her brother hands her a yellow pear and she bites into it.
It tastes like jam sandwiches and sunshine on her mother's hair.
It tastes like the warmth of his hand in hers,
like the light that falls in dream places,
where everything is silver and he is alive again.
Later she plants a pear tree in one of her stories,
makes it glow in the window, makes it touch the moon.
These three poems are from a longer sequence of biographical poems about Katherine Mansfield, her work, and her presence in my life. The sequence is titled ‘Sunflowers’ and forms part of a series of poetic biographies of five New Zealand women: early pioneer Betty Guard, cosmologist Beatrice Tinsley, dancer Phyllis Porter, writer Katherine Mansfield and an unnamed school ghost. NINA POWLES