Five Anzac Liturgies (2000)
A folded land
a touch of the cretaceous
Coal in the cuttings
greensand in the gorge
and limestone overhangs
with painted faces
swamps in flat places
with bones of birds
‘no unarmed man could stand against’
Here and there
a touch of the torlesse
to remind us of the rock
which is our base
our range against us
in the west
Five towns shelter here
with people in them
five towns to pin it to the base —
this green grass
to the grey earth
the people to the rock
There is smoke all around and the sugar smell
of rum with instant coffee wreathed with a
poor light that never was meant to illuminate
but is only fit for meetings in a crowded room
that at this hour’s mysterious before the dawn
as if some trick is to be done, a miracle perhaps
of minor force or revelation at the rising sun
to show the power of light on small affairs,
a call on a spiritual instrument that will make
all things clear;
but then we see on closer sight that this is
too peopled a place for the marvellous, the
obscurity is a disguise, that this life is a
private thing to be veiled and mystiqued by
social obfuscation, rite, and by rhythm of
season, anniversary station and passage, that
the mystery here is what we’ll see and where
we’ll be when the sun comes up.
The President stands at the door to greet each
comer at the first, but soon is distracted,
washed off by the flood and the press to other
last things until the Minister comes, with the
Officer For the Day, a retired Brigadier from
the city who has friends here and will give
the Address then stay to lunch.
They put on their black blazers and drift out.
The silence after exiting falls like a lid.
The parade is about to fall in.
Sophie’s over there; she’s cleaning up,
putting things away as they are meant.
It’s offensive to the ordered plan if dirty
cups are left about till later, if butts and
stains and unattended smells are there
to smear the minutes read at the next
meeting; damp places on the seats and
tables, puddles in the loo show a discon-
tinuance of culture that is worrying to
her and has a tectonic aspect, a
basic shift of the social ground that
inclines her to think with the prophets.
She’s from Chile or Peru – wherever Lima is – and she’s new back – her children left behind – her mother Jill was from these parts – she played the violin and was good at it – until she met another one – from China and a prodigy – she went to town to hear – met him and conceived – gave birth to Sophie – but then died.
Little half-breed Sophie lived – and was adopted by an Aunt – who had no child and wanted one – not family they said of her – but stray – well rescued by their kindness – not blood connection.
She was a clever girl – went on to study – met a man from Lima – and she went there as his wife – had his children – brought them up – and now she’s back to stay – her children grown and husband dead – speaks Spanish – Portuguese – does business skills and office work – computing – keeps accounts – and lives alone in the family home not knowing where she is – but sure that her work is done – as much as any woman’s – at this time.
That’s the way with an emigre – she’s a tree – brought down from higher slopes by slip – still living but rooted in an undecided world – her children on the internet – for them she has an orchid love – florid and evolved beyond her understanding – she’s home she says – but vague – she isn’t native anywhere – in Hawarden nor in Lima.
Many a day has fog in it – when she can’t see the edge of her world – so she works hard – at the centre of things – hoping that a home will come – and she will fit at last – with her children on the internet – who speak to her in Spanish – and in Portuguese – and are Chilean – or is it Peru – and her love is a pain in her chest
that never goes away – can never be expressed – though she smothers it with busyness – and sleep.
On a wet day she thinks of her house – on a fine day she looks at the farm – at the warm plain – at the triangle hills – the air seems to float her – clear as a stream.
Is China much like this – she asks – is it fine in Peru – and thinks of the kids – their contributing pasts – they must feel normal now –
They shall not grow old – as we who are left grow old – she says – but differently – quite differently.
On us all:
That the warm overlays the cold.
The earth is softened:
And the harshness made accessible.
All the points of compass:
Are become uncertain.
Those that sing:
Sound from nowhere.
And all the dry things in the hedges:
Moisten and unfold.
Who can tell what the day will be:
When the sky is hid from those who see.
Though the echoes:
Give an indication.
Give guidance to us all:
To find a pathway in confusion.
Save us from our blindness:
In this clouded land.
For a time and a season:
Before the cold.
Then, in the mercy:
Return the sun again.
That we may live assured:
With outlines and familiar forms.
Remember With Pride —
The time you were so late and I stood at the front door looking down
the drive hoping for the sound of you
The children were at television just to keep them quiet though it was
the cartoon that you didn’t like
And I kept thinking of what I would do if you didn’t turn up and how
I would manage and how I would manage with the kids and if there
was anyone else
Dinner was ready and it was raining that quiet autumn rain on dead
leaves with the smell of mushrooms
And still puddles and present comfort though you know the winter
waits behind it all with ice
I had lit the fire for you and got in the wood and the kindling for the
morning and fed the dogs too
Was it wasted then I thought for you have secrets as I have mine and
journeys to town are always mysterious
Perhaps there was a letter that told it all a bill that held the clue or
something on a cheque-book butt
And I thought of all the jobs that must be done the chimney cleaning
though that was only one
The burden of the life all the responsibilities the weight of them
depending on your coming up the drive at any minute now and the
absence of accident
You came — I could hear you on the cattle stop
The load fell off as if you were home on the dot
Polished as a man
who’s seen it all,
against the roundabout
and too stylish for graffiti
or the Hun.
The guards are round the corner
with black blazers
and the toys;
there are probably Galletlys
and some Gingers
to clean the tablets,
paint the chain
that keeps the mourners
It is an obelisk
cut from a black stone.
Four roads meet at it.
The names it bears
once drove these roads,
learned to use the telephone,
traded at the store,
and lived in these small homes
behind the leaves.
To The People of Hawarden Say:
You are the door to the Pyramid,
the key to time past.
You are the path to the Lake,
where the berries shine at this time
and the first snow falls on Longfellow.
Your hills are painted history.
Your small straight roads
and plotted paddocks
end where the river flows
and the great wind blows
on the forest rows
when the dust-storms fly.
Then all is quiet as eternity.
Wood wind and rain are all around.
The low sky presses on the first grey
light and moans in the tops of the cold
bare trees as if it’s at the end of its
strength, in this exhausted dawn.
The people too are tired below the
monument, dark in their mass before
the emerging solidity, at worship to
a god that grows in idol form, carved
from the night, a sphinx perhaps, or
golden calf, fish-form and Phoenician,
humanoid, delivered by an alien ship
or laid in residual dream. It’s cre-
puscular. You can hardly know your
neighbour until the day limps further
in, part paralysed by the southerly,
discouraged too by the remembrance
of years of days that turned to night
from fire and destruction, of terrors
from the root of hell that had best
not seen the sun.
They sing ‘Arise O rise to glory now’.
The Minister gives the blessing but
the cloud is so thick no prayers can
and the Trumpeter sounds the Last
The Minister comes forward in his robes.
You will have noticed how passionate
and perfect Gary was when he blew
the Post, and how prolonged:
Gary has visions when he blows – especially at funerals – I’ve had to save him many times – from trances – it’s the sound – that silver tone – it wounds him – to his psyche and his soul – divides the substance of his roots and reins – and he grows mystic.
He sees himself at a plateau edge – at his feet a valley falls – mountains of a domestic sort stand on the other side – range after range to infinity – there are houses on the valley floor – in trees – and a road – or a track but no traffic – out of sight a slight sea sounds – almost into melody – and soft clouds silence the sky.
Nothing moves – but he is moved – to tears at the loveliness – the vision never varies – he knows it never will – that it’s heaven that he sees – and as he stands he starts to smell it – a scent from life – warm and comforting and small – of fruitcake in the oven – he sees the kitchen where it cooks – sunny clean and picturesque – with cloths for every need – rag rugs on the floor – and shining glass – and square paned lights.
It happens every time – that this aroma rises – and then there comes the cook – into bright view – she’s sleek as his trump – he longs to give a touch a stroke a fondling fond – an air brush kiss –
he seems to float – his feet not on the ground – to hover just a touch above – his self to follow his last note – to blow like pollen on a wanton wind – out and over the heavenly hills – he goes cold – and pale – and then he glistens – an oil on the face – a fatness on the cheeks – so I bring him back – by touch or whisper – though he struggles to remain – it’s in his psyche – flesh for flesh.
Heaven has no escape from earth,
I say, as I awake him.
Not at all, he replies. It’s that
earth has no escape from heaven.
You have a glow of the soul, I say,
a disposition to glory.
Now, most of us have need for
food as we are in a weakened
state, so early. Our shoes are wet,
our feet are cold.
Some go home for comfort, content
they’ve done enough for civic pride
or duty to ease their minds and
please the gods and guardians of
rite, and must get on with life,
that is, they mean, the chores of
the day which have fallen behind,
and could put them out of sorts with
their routine, confuse the passage of
their time, mess up the intricacies.
Those who tend to social things,
like parties pub-dos gatherings,
go on to breakfast at the hall;
they might as well do, after all.
Hear us and
That so much has been missed.
That we cottoned on:
That so much has been done:
And so much damage been accomplished:
Before the time appointed to the task.
The land has eluded us:
While we took un-necessary rest.
Made day small:
And time eroded.
To the contingency of things:
According to the lenience.
Through our fingers:
Most grievously acknowledged.
That there be another:
And new time.
For the safety of the day.
So strength and brain and indolence be:
Into a new intention:
And be nothing more be missed.
O hear thou all and listen:
O thou hear thou all at rest.
Lest We Forget —
The night Shaun rang and said he wasn’t coming home again and
all our fears were certained once for all
Of loneliness and irreparable mistake
That we had turned him away by our own self-interest and not
made time to give him strength
The house creaked at the news the frost poked in the fire flicked
and faded as we watched
And all the jobs that were yet to be done demanded their
We dared not look nor ask the question aloud nor speak the pain
Of the waste of work the pointless years the labour nor mention
But he’s learned to stand on his own feet and that’s a good thing
We knew but didn’t say that it’s still our world in spite of our age
we might as well keep on
To that uncertain time which fate or accident might bring
When one or both must ask and then decide
When the slowness of senescence takes its toll and ends the life of
management and rule
There’ll be no generation nor new succession on the farm
They’ll cease to know us at the shop and on the road
But we’ll take the common way and manage at the end
To The People of Waikari Say:
You are the guard of the Pass,
the Crossing Keeper.
Arise in the night and watch.
Put your ear to the ground and listen
to those on road and rail.
Is it nothing to you,
all who pass by?
Hear their weeping for all you possess
and they have lost,
for green graces
and small rivers
and shade in the sun.
Have pity on them.
Their suns and daughters linger
and bow in anguish,
but you have peace.
Heal them in your spaces;
grant them quiet,
and resting places.
Breakfast is in the hills to the north,
just this side of the Waiau at Bill
Collins’ place on the verandah so it’s
lucky that it’s fine but we’re all
wrapped up in case of cold at this
early hour or the bus breaks down
which it might as the brakes smoke
a lot and the road is narrow where
it washes out in the rains and the
driver’s had a lot of early rum.
The low sun dazzles through
the poplar lanes,
and the bus raises whirls of yellow
We sing ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary’
which it seems to be, and ‘Show me
The Way to Go Home’, which we start
to want on all these corners and
roughness and shallow fords, but
here we are at Bill’s place, driving
down between the larches, noble at
the end of their time like Bill, who
has come on ahead and is waiting
for us, held up by his oldest son who
is nearly as old as he is, on the ver-
andah where they’ve put the chairs
and forms and trestles for the break-
fast food, and sausages and savs and toast
and pots and cups of tea. The house
is on a bit of a hill with higher ones
behind and we look towards the Lowry
Peaks. It’s very old and some of it is
cob. Wisteria holds the front porch up
with grey vines as thick as a leg but
the leaves are gone and the sun shines
through on chrysanthemums and daisies.
There’s a scent besides the sausages, a
sharp scent like early ice and fresh
sun, staunch at the start of another
day too new to be tired.
It’s always like this at this time of
the year — the best time we always
think when the world is still warm and
life is still strong at the end of the sun
and winter will come with its cold
pleasures and pain.
The man who takes the sausages round
is smoking and the ash falls on the food.
He’s a butcher and he does this in his
shop as well, so the damage is done
and we don’t mind the ash heaps on the
savs. Unlike the day we’re tired and worn
having seen so much of the fag-end of
the last, and the truth is we’re surprised
at our voracity.
This is good for old Bill – to play the host – and be noticed – to be living now is a grief to him – he mourns the past – when it was wilder and more difficult – horses tracks and carts – cold winters hot summers – intemperate inbetweens – the snow would lie on the tops all year – and the southerlies were something to be seen.
No railway then – he would take a horse and ride all day and never see another – there was bush – with birds in the gullies – the deer and the rabbits and the possums hadn’t come – you should have seen the flowers then – the mistletoe – the clematis – and manuka – when it flowered it was like fog in the dawn – and there were tussocks on the hills.
Bill was a bit of a botanist – he prospected wherever he went – there was a lot of scrub in those days – spicy stuff that scented in the heat – myrtles olearias pittosporums – and all the land looked lovely under sun.
He has a plant named after him – a mountain top ranunculus – he says there’s nothing left of it – it’s eaten out and trampled down – all the places where it grew are common places now.
No loveliness – and nothing left to love – he doesn’t like to walk out any more – pachystegias wahlenbergias interesting carmichaelias – he knew where they grew and flourished best – but now there’s a slip on one or a bulldozed track – a rubbish dump a shingle heap – a shed – top dressing strip – a new bed for the river – ski resort.
He misses these and many things – some he will not speak of – the smell of the wind – lost voices loved horses – patterns of frost – weather changes in the night – the sense of different compass points – all these are troubled for him now.
The world’s a thinner place he says – a name’s a living entity – each plant lost is a lessening of the land – a resignation to a lower mean – he’s best left with his books – he works a bit at memoir now and then – and battles for the past – that some small piece might last – of early worth and vegetation – in his mind.
There’s no-one here who wants to stop
this business and proceedings that will
save a small fortune in postage plans
and politics profound under a warm-
ing sun to shape the marketing of
sheep the wages of the farm adviser
reform of service industries and con-
tinuance of schools and churches, rep –
utations too, quietly under the warm-
ing sun, you wouldn’t think a thing
was said or done that would drop a
petal off a dahlia or stir one of these
fallen autumn leaves,
but it’s in quietness the strength is
found not in the fight, and all the
men and women too are anxious not
to rock the boat lest the bilge be
spilled and something hitherto kept
clean be stained.
There are so many things to do, so
many duties too, on this one day,
when so much here is washed up by
the past, picked clean, the good things
Give Comfort In
The keening wind:
Carries complaint on the plain.
The wind is in the cloud:
And wanders off.
And sorrow, sorrow like rain.
And other concerns in the soul and the mind:
Like the sacred city which draws us.
Show us the mirage:
That glitters like a house of ice.
When the night frost melts.
Promise us good company:
Peculiar to the person.
The hills hospitable:
For the life of us.
Warmth when the cold winds blow:
And crackle in the river willow.
With things to do for the day to pass:
The hour not left too long.
Let no day rule:
Time to have its time.
Thought move with the passage:
And other weather.
Until night drifts in:
On sleep and sighing.
In Loving Memory Of:
That glorious time when we got back from Europe when we
thought they had repainted the house
But it was just the sun and the plum tree in flower and the light in
the clear air
There was Bach on the radio
We cried with the relief of it and kissed the kitchen carpet to say
we’re back and this is ours it’s staying this way
To hell with all those dark and dirty places where Bach is not in
fashion any more and life is set in stone with no mobility
Here’s to the birds you said to flowers that grow to dew in the
To a sun that shines that doesn’t languish to rain that heals and
We went outside to look at it with more than fresh eyes
With new noses ears and finger tips and a tingling skin as well
Even our hair seemed to sense the properties of the breeze that
the grass was good company for miles to the mountains
With rocks and cliffs and snow on them
No cities on the other side but wild trees and wild winds born on
an endless sea
That we couldn’t hear but sent its air ahead to say we’re on an
island that won’t sink
Let’s go to bed you said Let’s make love until we swallow the sun
and numbness comes
Which we did then went to sleep and missed tea
Say To The People of Rotherham:
over your brown grasses
under hot summer sun
and the dust.
The braided river changes channels
weaving patterns on the plain
and the road has its flow.
You’ve seen weary times
at the end of the straight —
wealth and its loss.
You are the people of the river
and the leafless lemon-scented vine;
run the rock
as both have done
And, as the river is lost in its life,
be, as you see.
The crowd chatters and stumbles into
the hall, banging the forms which twist
and turn to annoy those who enter next
who seek a place to fit. The hall is dry
and sweet with the heat of summer
past; dust glints in the air where the
sun slips in through windows which them–
selves are dust and imprints of dried rain.
The chairs are warm to the touch. Bowls
of chrysanthemums michaelmas daisies
belladonnas stand on the stage like frothy
puddings there to match the glory of the
flags, to give a trans-temporal touch to the
day, as if those who have laid down their
lives now have in their eternities sea-
sonable scents, blue skies, flowers and
grass and all the colours suitable to vic-
tory. It looks as it has each year, and
everyone is happy that the proper things
are done, the ritual needs are being met;
now the days will keep their appointed
times, will bring those rains that are
appropriate and warmth when it is due,
for generative sowing and profitable birth.
We talk about the flowers.
The wreaths are varnished leaves and
They last for years.
The community flags will be carried in and
put upon the stage, by those disciplined
groups which more naturally march like
Masons R.S.A. Scouts the Volunteer Fire
Ambulance in uniform Rotary the District
Nurse and Police when he’s here, and any–
one with music, who’s marching now and
can be heard to silence us in the hall as
they come, with Ode to Joy arranged for
the band by the Music Teacher at the
District High, whose talents shine at this
time, as do others.
We stand as they enter to file into the
first front rows, self–conscious at their
public pomp and at the noise they’ve made;
then come the flags with diligence, and
we sit as someone from the Army rises
stern and militarily to tell us of those
virtues of the past which must be pre–
served in case they should ever be of use
like discipline and sacrifice and bravery
and honesty, which are in his manual in–
dexed, with piety, evidence of former times
which might just come again, and epidemic.
This is the season’s rite.
And there is Hilda Ainsworth – at the end of the row – in her yellow coat – and black hat – she was organist at the church – she learnt piano as a girl – Will met her in town and brought her home – a couple I’ve watched well all these years – five kids grown – she’s played at the church since she first came down – until someone said – a month ago – that she was slow.
Now she can’t play – the timing’s gone – the sense of it – she’s rough and jumbled vague – unease – just day and night – no deadlines now – no sense of before or behind – Will must turn and take her – she doesn’t know where – and lives by nothing but caprice – she who’s always valued time – a sympathy – a sense of Greenwich mean – she knew it was there – had a liking – was tired at the dark and bright at the dawn – had a strong heart and good pulse – an ear for machines – and nature – heard the birds – saw the grass begin – the hills to lose the snow – and she liked to be early – ready for the time – but never too soon.
Nature favours those who know – if it’s spring pop up and flower – if it’s cold don’t bud – Hilda’s always known the rhythm – but now she’s out – been thrown – tipped off – strained like a post from her footing – by that one thing – I remember each word – Hilda please don’t mind my saying – but you’re slow these days – don’t you think we should get someone younger.
The tides don’t flow for Hilda now – nor the seasons vary – her vision is approximate – she lurches as she walks – and is not sure of her ground – can’t focus – cannot write – the pen won’t form the word that’s in her mind – and sometimes she’s found naked out of doors.
She’s alien on this earth – grieve for her – keep her in your care – the congregation has no music now – in this small town – where gifts can’t much be spared – but sshh – they’re singing the hymn –
The band begins to play
and the people to sing:
“Manacles and Shackles Fall"
For good things gone, and bad:
That have taken good with them.
Give heed and act, delay not:
On the ground of great mercy.
On the point of recovery:
Lose not faith.
But stretch out your hand:
In the act of restructure.
To we who drop direction:
At the time of repose.
Where the mountains close:
Make the sun rise.
And once again the compass:
On the road to the East.
So we and all the community:
In the habitation of despondency.
Never the darkness:
Last more than the night.
And no long the longer:
Grey be in ascendance.
That the enveloping mists:
Give way to glory wise.
The legend of the legion:
Seize us in mystic might.
Ancient practices of strength:
And all the peoples of the town:
Rejoice in new effulgence.
In Memoriam Of:
Being lost on the long flat road between the forest and the Red
Where it’s right to the East and left to the West and I’ve got to
make the choice.
On a flat disc world that the hills enclose.
Sharp grey ones that scratch the sky that make the winds that dry
That blow the fire through the trees
And you’ve told me it’s done
Though I’ve brought in the wood and tended the farm and I’ve
butchered the meat
And I’ve always grown the veges dug the spuds
And minded the kids when I could so you could go shopping once
in a while or go to the group that Marion runs
There’s screaming on the shingle screes of ice and howling snow
there’ll be frost and avalanche
While I’m taken apart and re–assembled with bits from here and
there shaken out
Like these hills to the East can be put to the West and the forest
further North on this flat plane
As long as the big things aren’t moved and the landmarks stay the
But I can’t tell which is which
Which is a permanence and which is a monument to loss
To The People Of Culverden Say:
in the grey sky
and the golden arch
then look for more
as the sun moves in
with the wind
from these peaked horizons
that hold the day above you
The world’s a bowl
with a various lid
swept clean by seasons
You have the gift
that so much light
There’s remnant left.
Most have gone home,
but some stay on for lunch,
having work to do with their
neighbours yet, in this library of
the beautiful doors, by a fire lit
with logs from those waste places
where trees once grew, which
have left their trunks and
larger pieces behind on the hills
or in valleys, by sad streams that
wind as if they don’t know where
to go. The day greys in.
The small room warms to the
heart of it to hear the people
talk of past and present times
and things that concern them
now in nuances of need that
are not for the telephone or
post nor can be left to later.
They stand in cliques and claques
in the bays in the books, by
the fire by vestibule and read –
ing desk, and in the kitchen,
in the office, and by the coffee
by the bench.
There’s a book here – inscribed to Erica his wife – few have borrowed it – but John Brooks did – there’s his son there – by the door.
Few read Auden in 1937.
The man had just become a man – his son was born – but his girl had died – a daughter three years old – they thought the little girl has ‘flu – the doctor too.
At least you have a son they said – he couldn’t see the justice – make a balance – reason – sense a sequence to events – and sidled past the comfort that was given.
And built a hedge against the unexpectedness of life – turned the Bible – went to church – prayed for what was lost and found – but couldn’t gain the gift he sought – the end that triumphed at the start – the warmth of God.
He wandered off – to women for a time – but found he lost to them – and went back home.
There he found – in this book – a rhythm to his grief – a formulating of the dark – a means of holding two in one – invoiced in his mind – of rage and the love – together not at war – each with own room – and for a time was honest with himself – was made familiar.
But he grew weary with the word – it left him – he turned dumb – in panic made a silent world – with shelter so it couldn’t blow – fences so he needn’t fear – trees to block the view – he took insurances – kept facts – avoided worry – and unlikely effort.
He killed his wife with distance – love with grief – life with fear of all the things that are over there – that might move in – and no possible dream – however deep in sleep – could ever move him from the ground he knew.
He stayed anonymous to fate – for safety for his son – hoping to avoid the examiner – before the test was due – knowing nothing lest he know too much – he who forever sought fair weather – and did die in his time.
Now Laurie – with an anxious quaver – fussing like his anxious father – limps in like impotence.
In Affectionate Remembrance Of:
When you first walked into my world as if I were a wonder at the end
of a mountain track
A still and stable thing to see much visited
You walked with your head held back to claim a titled territory of
interest and surveillance
Your eyes were wide and everywhere
You walked as if you were at tennis
Your neck was like a new–born child a curving grace on the palm of a
And your laughter then was innocent of the weight that later years
accrete the dead leaves of the seasons
I always seemed too old against your green grass freshness
I loved the scent you brought me from the hills and open paddocks
and from first–time flowers
Your eyes to me were gentian blue your skin a jonquil cream your hair
of mountain cotula
Your carriage had the strength of a plant in soil of first choice
No sickness or disease no sign of accident
And you loved me
Whose only strength was ambience of ignorance and heart to struggle
to the conclusion
In the greatness forgive:
Leave us not in dereliction.
Far from the shining sound:
Of the grey-blue water.
Where the one is so like the other:
Of the many-braided stream.
Who is to tell:
How oft the banks are mended.
From one side’s end:
To the beginning.
And the source:
So like the recipient.
We who are lost:
Who wander without thought.
From the marble gorge:
To the white river mouth.
On stones of torlesse jasper and lime:
Let us be unbended.
And our sorrows mended:
O thou who art sublime.
Who seeks a dancing light:
Finds a flickering solace.
As faith is a steadier thing:
Like a diversion.
On to the paddocks:
Where they pour.
Out your wealth:
On to property.
where an Angel might rest,
on this seat
at the top of the cliff
that crumbles at my feet
by the seat,
from here to claim the world,
or make an offer.
There’s the town
in its coloured trees,
and the cemetery;
there’s the plinth
with the orb on top —
a sceptre for a grandiose occasion.
There’s plenty of space
on the monument yet
and plenty of room below.
A place in case
of the Trump,
to come back later,
with glowing countenance
They’re shutting shop.
It’s winding down and decently done.
The half–uniforms of guides and ambulance
and others mix and mill amongst the solid
folk, of farming men and women sensible
to the needs of dawn and morning and
the dignity and savour of this April day,
the occasion, the once a year in half a day
so practically kept in reverence about
the trestles topped with pans and bowls
of sausages and pork bones with some
of hot potatoes urns of coffee tea and
fruit juice for the kids beer for men for
later when the women go and those few
left those too select to be spared for a
mundane end who stay to talk of active
service real danger risk and a disciplined
life subject to the orders of a competence
at war, those skilled in termination stop
to talk on amongst the steams, the scents
of dampened books, before the warmth
of dying fire, the clang of cleaning pots,
as one by one the others go, the day falls
still, the ritual ends, at length the talking
too, and memories go back where they
belong, to sheds and kitchens linen cup–
boards beds back paddocks gates and
plaques. All the people stop. It’s cold.
To the People of Waiau Say:
Many have been born in your town
and some have died.
Some still go to church
and some to school.
The river runs
a solitary course
and the mountains shed their light
when the day dies.
Yours is a careful loveliness
arranged by a light
and a knowing hand
but your life
has its course —
each day the sky
is a little paler —
you must come to the dead
and love them.
When the trees come back
the good things
and your monuments
will go wild.
Like a farewell really these memories we have of disabilities and past
Which we would like to forget and sometimes do when happily
employed with things that make a day and pass the time
But they will grow old and flood back in when we least know it and
In times that we’ve disrupted or not thought well of when we’ve acted
They lie like insects in the soil to rise when the season summons up
But we live on and live with them
Much like neighbours we can’t choose whom we don’t know and who
move in while we’re away
To become part of our lives and live to do much as they please and we
That’s the past which lives in imprints that it’s made on us on
memories and bodily physique
The way we live and move things eat and greet and read or sit to
watch the news and love or mingle
Marry or grow single
Age in groups and shift about in cities
Whatever the mode the ruse we make unconscious or deliberate
mistake at coping with the consequence
The rituals are much the same the spell the incantation curse and
blessing on the crop
In shape and substance superstition science faith the well–congealed
philosophy imperial and indigenous
It’s much the same from the west or if it’s a southerly over the hill in
the heat of the year or short day time
All these long things are part of us and we live with them
It’s a sensible thing to live with the past to treaty with it socialise and
The unknown the unfamiliar worries in our ignorance and agitates if it
follows close behind
It trips and catches at the heel disguised as something monstrously
So we domesticate the threat
Make monuments and public halls make marches mourn rejoice and
eat commune and then go home
This truth’s not easily taken let it sidle where it can
Like some farmland in a suburb growing green and overlooked
Sooner or later someone will see it and take it to use for value
And that’s the best because the truth requires notice and hard work
and easily offends our way of life
We’re given to contentment gentle jogging quiet times
We’re not much good at waking up attending to survival stemming
flood or fighting fire
Keeping warm in changing weather dry or taking wood in
It’s better so we think to sit it out and let it pass or sleep until the cold
rain goes and winds stop blowing summer comes
And so do we lose tone lose strength lose acumen
The house springs leaks the draughts get in the car’s compression fails
and plumbing blocks
And quite without our noticing our lives decline to placid mediocrity
The bush creeps into the yard
The drain seeps into the lawn
Rot eats the piles the bath begins to tilt and mould to spread
And this whole edifice of construct sign and symbol teeters into a
ruined remain to fall before the storm
Out comfort is in pieces of nostalgic melody
But a little guilt anxiety a touch of shame a mortification of social
restraint an effort
Keeps things up and makes things grow makes impetus and art
Love and generation
And keeps these towns to something of their natural form their
strength and durability
Shape and cultivation grace and their economy
Whose people live a quiet stability on the past their parents made and
sowed and built and fenced
Tend it with a steady love and forward beauty
In a landscape live but sleeping strong but at the present restrained
Ready to rouse at the first attack and on the fore-foot leaning
With which a thoughtful life is lived in partnership and care and
As with a pet part-tamed from the feral
Loved but wary
The houses were put upon the land at somewhere considered
Then painted independently
Of anything that’s round about of hill and sky of river rocks and trees
of the sun
A fence is put about a drive a landscaped lawn a hedge for the wind
and sheds more interesting than the house
A broad front gate with the name of the estate
And a garden at the front for the friends
So anyone who comes can see at the once the whole economy of the
farm and household claim
By means of the vegetation grown the natives and exotics perennials
and bright red herbs like geums
Tussock plots and well-placed rocks and especially at this time of the
year the chrysanthemums
For an autumn glory and the pungency they give to the first faint frost
and the cold in the house
(A cultivation city folk find only in the books or CD stand)
To declare by code the family their worthiness of trust in life and debt
Their social significance their gifts and insufficiencies
Their terms of habitation and their pasts
Are scattered on the plain dark lozenges with coloured centres thin
amongst the harvest crops the grazing greens
A small attempt at pattern on the plan
A later imposition upon the mind that first thought of it
The houses are almost topography
The middens will soon be geology
And hedges are inhabitants we couldn’t do without though they do get
out of hand
The roads are lined with borage and garden escapes
I see roses where a house once stood and lupins by the creek
Eschscholzia on the rocks and apple trees
© Leicester Kyle, 2000