My poem ‘The Jersey’ was written some months after my father died. I thought I wouldn’t write about his death – it seemed something I couldn’t go near – but seeing a photograph of him in his old green jersey gave me a way in.
A long time ago a friend
offered to knit me a jersey.
Because she was a busy person
we agreed she’d do it
when she found time.
A year went by and I moved away
from Dunedin (this was one of the reasons
for the jersey — it was very cold
and I didn’t have enough
I did buy a lot of second-hand coats
that year, and made do
with my father’s old green fishing jersey
— one he’d been wearing the day he caught,
then lost, an enormous snapper
off the wharf at Golden Bay.
I was with him then
and remember the excitement
as we watched the fish
swirl up towards the surface
then the disbelief as the hook
came free and the great shape moved
away and down and down
until it became water
The jersey was a fine one
but rather large, as my father had been.
Fifteen years later the new jersey arrived
wrapped in brown paper and crammed into
our letterbox. It was a beautiful thing —
full of colour and texture. I am a tall person
but this jersey was made for someone much larger
than myself. Because of its size
and because I loved it but couldn’t wear it
I put it in a cupboard while I thought
about what to do.
Then my father died and the world became a stopped
After a time
I got back to doing the things
I’d done before.
Our son started swimming lessons.
In his class was a child named Lyric.
At the end of each lesson
she and my son floated
on their backs
while the instructor towed them
through the water.
There was a weird stillness about the children
when this happened.
It was as if someone had flicked
the sound off
carving a core of silence
into the pool’s
noise and tumble.
I got the jersey out and decided to take it apart.
Because a lot of the wool was mohair and had been knitted
two strands together, it took a very long time.
It was complicated and frustrating and sometimes
I had to take to it with the scissors.
But even then I was grateful.
Please don’t read too much into this.
I can imagine the temptation to see this jersey
as my life — here I was unravelling it (see,
already it’s in balls in a bag on the floor)
ready to fashion into something else —
but it wasn’t like that.
I don’t mean to implicate my friend in this either.
She in no way set out to make anything
that would have to shoulder the responsibility
of metaphor. It was a jersey she knitted
and I am the one who took it apart.
Every evening I knitted peggy squares,
which were the simplest things
I could think of. And I would wear my father’s
pyjamas — lovely striped cotton ones —
the kind of cotton that’s so soft it feels
like silk. My mother bought him these pyjamas
to wear in the hospice
but he never even slipped his arm
into a sleeve.
After he died we gave away most of his clothes.
Other men in the family fitted his shirts.
His suits we gave to an organisation that helped
immigrant families. Some things we kept —
a man with one foot two sizes smaller
than the other, no one could ever step
into his shoes.
What do you do with cufflinks
all the little gold and silver bits
clinking in the dish?
His old green fishing jersey was long
gone. I’d never found it after I moved
It returned in a dream though.
A dream that came, I think, because of my friend
Mary, who found four boys’ jerseys
in an op shop
She sent these jerseys to our youngest
son. Beautiful jerseys — striped and flecked
in colours you never see now
mostly because children
don’t wear wool much
We bemoaned this fact, Mary and I,
and that was when she recalled seeing the jerseys
and vowed to send them.
In the dream, my father’s jersey — very old
and full of holes — was folded
beautifully but belonged
to someone else.
I couldn’t bear to see it on their shelf.
Couldn’t bear to leave it.
I woke, of course, and it
It’s the closest I’ve come to dreaming
about my father.
When he was ill, I woke one night
when he called my name
but even as I snapped
into consciousness I realised
he was on the other side of town
and I’d manufactured
his need for me.
Mary told me that as her mother
lay dying, she made sculptures from sticks
on the lawn outside her window.
All day this daughter
moved about the lawn
placing twigs carefully
on or against each other.
I wish I could have done this.
I wish I could have made something
in the face of my father’s illness.
Instead, it became
a ragged hillside to be crossed,
furious with grief,
wondering at how unfaithful, how
ungrateful, his body seemed.
I wanted to climb back
inside the arms
of my first, strong, disintegrating
family. It made me fear
for my mother.
I didn’t want
to let her out
of my sight.
Through that winter
after my father died
I knitted, and the pile
of peggy squares grew.
I took some pleasure
in laying them out
on the floor
to see how the colours
might go together.
For my forty-first birthday
I was given a tea towel
by my friend who had knitted
This tea towel features a
Horse Map of the World.
The horses stand proudly.
There’s the Connemara Pony,
the French Coach, the Shetland
Pony, the Mongolian and Polo
Ponies, Prejvalsky’s Horse, the
Darley Arabian, the Clydesdale
and the Kentucky Saddle, the
Mustang and the Suffolk Punch.
It occurs to me that
out of my knitting
I could make a horse
blanket. Not for one of these
Horses of the World
but for a horse my father rode
at Cape Palliser
in a photograph we have of him
as a young man.
My blanket would keep this horse
warm. It would love
it. The thought of this blanket
would mean this horse
would take my father out
over the roughest tracks
and always bring him
Jenny Bornholdt has published ten books of poems, the most recent of which is Selected Poems.
Her poems have appeared on ceramics, on a house, on paintings, in the foyer of a building and in letterpress books alongside drawings and photographs. She has also written two children’s books.
This year (2018) Jenny and her husband, writer/artist Greg O’Brien, are living in the Henderson House in Alexandra, Central Otago. They are wearing a lot of wool.