Our Nan Lets Us Smoke Inside

but only when we drink wine and play cards
on the kitchen table. I feel glamorous
when I drop my ash into the pāua shell in the middle.

Our nan wears black leather pumps
and dries wishbones from chicken carcasses
in an empty margarine container on top of the fridge.

She’s not my real nan
but I’ve always wished she was.
I wished I was born with her

blood in my veins, her dark
Waikato DNA, high cheekbones
and heavy wet eyes just like my sister.

Our nan met her late husband
in the late sixties. She was dressed
in a little mod dress, her black hair flipped.

He was a cowboy with mutton chops and
tan-lined legs and short cream shorts, who rode off
to work every morning with a commercial digger for a horse but—

he’d pick us up in his station wagon on Sundays.
Johnny Cash and his metronome voice
making us fall asleep against the dusty windows so we would stop

for a Filet-O-Fish and a strawberry milkshake
for lunch and dinner. But he always picked
my sister up more.

At his funeral,
us girls carried the mismatched flowers
behind our brothers in black sunglasses.

At the service,
we all got up and sang I hope you are dancing in the sky
but it was painful and flat and sounded like coughing.

During the burial,
nobody exhaled a word as my nan ashed out
a half-sucked cigarette in the fresh sour soil.

In the carpark,
we all smoked back tears with another cigarette pacifier
like babies numbed on a nicotine nipple.

“Our Nan Lets Us Smoke Inside” from Poūkahangatus by Tayi Tibble. Copyright © 2019 by Tayi Tibble. Published by Victoria University Press. Used with permission of the poet.