Return to Poetry

‘Clean as a whistle,’ I say. ‘That’s what I want.’

This poem was in the NCEA Level 1 paper in 2012. A friend said to me, ‘It must be one of the most read and most hated poems in the country!’ The poem is entirely and literally true.


Our son is cleaning the kitchen floor.
He has a T shirt printed with white words.
Words are not his forte
To have them delivered free on a shirt is a gift.
He is sloshing soapy water out of a bucket.
Cleaning floors is not his forte either
but necessity is the mother of many things
 including money
He sloshes fast. There are piles of dirt
in corners, along skirting boards and edges
but they are in no danger.
He’s only there for the big picture.
Detail is not his forte either
– well, yes it is. Somewhere, under the words across his shirt
there’s a detailed careful adult biding its time.
He trails long lines of suds
on either side of the mop. ‘They look quite nice’
he says. ‘I think I’ll leave them.’
Outside, a black Mitsubishi Gallant with a shiny spoiler
is revving up. It’s as clear as a text message.
Bro I’m sick of waiting.
Our son lays the mop like a vaulting pole
across the bucket, then adjusts it
so it doesn’t tip. It’s a fine balance.
He rubs out the soapy lines with his bare feet.
‘There you go’ he says, and he grins.
‘Clean as a whistle. Almost.’



swings + roundabouts, Godwit, 2008