Oscar Upperton has been awarded the 2019 Creative New Zealand Louis Johnson New Writer’s Bursary. To celebrate National Poetry Day, Oscar has shared a poem with us.
Carmen By Oscar Upperton
She didn’t know how not to be so when she left she lingered. I don’t know her. I shouldn’t write about her. This is a guess but when she talked we went quiet.
I go quiet now. The room is full of elders being still. They watch me write and eat and grow older. Must be nice, they say. Do you know what we went through for you?
She rests in Sydney, which is not her home. They cry about it, the elders. I don’t know her. I shouldn’t cry. She would have loved one dress in particular.
I imagine her laid out in it, beautiful, red, the crying has gone on for years. She doesn’t know me. I want to cry for all of them. I can’t. I shouldn’t feel like this.
Oscar says, ‘Carmen is a poem about not writing about something because it’s not yours. I was at an event where Georgina Beyer spoke about Carmen Rupe, how she had died in Sydney and her friends couldn’t visit her, how she was buried there in foreign soil. That was what Georgina said. Georgina started crying, and then some of the other elders in the room started crying. And then I started crying, but I thought I probably shouldn’t (because I didn’t know Carmen, of course), so I tried to hide behind my glasses. I remember clearing my throat a lot and leaning on my hand to stop myself actually sobbing. It was so embarrassing, and it felt so rude. I don’t think anyone noticed. Well, I don’t know if anyone noticed. I thought a lot after that about the ownership of grief. Who gets to cry. Of course the poem is hypocritical, because it is itself a form of grieving. I cry when I read it.’
Oscar writes poetry and prose about trans experiences, queer experiences, alienation, New Zealand childhoods and science fiction. His first as yet untitled book, a collection of poems, will be published in 2020 by Victoria University Press. He has been published in Sport, Metro and The Spinoff‘s Friday Poem series. He also featured in the Best New Zealand Poems 2016.