The Drummer

The Drummer

by Ian Wedde
The Drummer is Ian Wedde's eighth collection and it is plump with exquisite visual images, lost faith in language, revelations of intense beauty and literary allusions (from the Romantics to the New Zealand tradition). This is what the author writes about his collection: 'The word 'transport' seems to me to describe an event anywhere between a bus-trip and a


The Drummer is Ian Wedde's eighth collection and it is plump with exquisite visual images, lost faith in language, revelations of intense beauty and literary allusions (from the Romantics to the New Zealand tradition). This is what the author writes about his collection: 'The word 'transport' seems to me to describe an event anywhere between a bus-trip and a vision. The dogged example of Odysseus in one margin, the raptures of language in another. The bliss of movement, the transport of dreams. The word romance is uniting gravity and desire. It is the romance I wanted for poems and these are the few poems that got there.'

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Auckland University Press
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The Drummer

By Ian Wedde

Auckland University Press

Copyright © 1993 Ian Wedde
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-77558-179-6



    In this description lager sunlight's
    whirling. So much for atmosphere.
    And cigarette smoke drifts through the bar

    as though from some sacked city
    and the angry red-haired man, a supple liar
    in a Phrygian peasant cap

    heaves his heavy shoulders forward
    after his gouging words. He's good with words
    but his legs are too short. Maybe

    you've heard of him: he inherited enemies.
    After he's had a drink, he sucks the brown light
    down, and then he begins to rave:

    Half-way to town is a zone
    no one I know wants to be in
    but it's where most of us are.

    The last time states of nature
    featured was when
    you looked back over your shoulder then

    at the sunset vanishing-point,
    toetoe plumes burning on a high seacliff,
    the waves broadcasting gold froth, remember?

    And ahead no Veritable City
    where Justice and Music ignite
    equally terminal passions. What makes us

    so lucky? If anything in nature had been
    half as rotten as the state,
    its foolish signalling flame would have been

    bombed flat long before.
         Before what?
    That's the right question, friend.
    (Seems like it's another of those 'conversations'.)

    You, the listener, stop your mouth with ale,
    you watch the smoke spiral out upon the air,
    you watch the raver's angry teeth

    gnashing froth off his ginger whiskers.
    Beneath that dopey peasant cap his eyes
    have turned to stone. The cunning voice

    of angry reason advances into
    your silence. His huge shoulders
    sag under the burden of repetition:

    always half-way to town
    and then always going back home after.


    Maybe it helps, to think time tides out
    from this calm bay
    whose westering shores lie flat against the sky
    at dusk. From the promenade, later,

    anglers lay lines across magenta water
    where the moon floats like a motel light.
    Birds, dogs, younger children
    mumble of sleep. Whole generations

    have hopelessly fished here
    where from the promenade, so elegant
    within living memory, shrill ratchets
    reel off line.


    for my mother


    Starlight rains into your balcony
    Hotel Terminus of my dreams!
    Beyond your memorial arch
    the Royal Palms wave their shadows upon the park.
    Waves push light up the beach,
    the distant beacon flashes
    where the moontrail drowns in darkness.
    'All hung with bright beads'
    comes the ferryboat, a rumour of music.
    The young woman is dancing —
    her eyes are half shut.
    Into the net of her eyelashes
    swims the glitter of the approaching pier.


    Fishscale glitter of noon.
    Smoke of gorse-fires in auburn air.
    The lovers dip their mouths in spring water,
    they wait for night to quench their flames of vision.


    And now the children sleep
    in this bunkhouse of dreams
    while the owl calls to the shark
    out there where eyes are open
    in the dark air, in the dark water.


    Nostalgia falls like a broken balcony
    taking the sundowners with it —
    a party that drops with its merriment
    into the carpark.

    The wind assaulting
    high glass towers
    could be compared to time.
    Beautiful greens, serene blues,

    music, and 'the shadow of your smile'.
    Children go by on one wheel.
    Talk, eat, smile, listen.
    Flowers the wind tosses to scurvy sailors.

    Or: colours ravishing the shiftworker's eyes.
    Or: clink of icecubes under Capricorn —
    at any rate, 'You look beautiful
    tonight darling.'


    From one dawn to another dusk
    there's nothing much to say
    that someone hasn't said before
    — that's the human way.

    So gather round, you celebrants
    and harken to my lay.
    It will not tell you much that's new,
    just pass the time of day.

    Dear Treen, this is no cunning key
    hacked from native wood.
    I've merely tried to shape my verse
    as every poet should.

    The proof is always in the pud
    my Granny used to say
    as she beat our sticky fingers back
    and put the bowl away.

    And so I went down to the shed
    all in a corner green
    and drank some scotch to clear my head
    and see what might be seen.

    Yes, of whiskies I drank three or four
    and also had a smoke
    and soon the Muse came by and said
    'You're a decent sort of bloke —

    I'll tell you what: I'll make a deal:
    just get these verses right
    and set them down on bits of paper
    for Treen on Monday night.

    And don't go reaching for the high
    nor even for the low
    but make your pen prepare to move
    and I'll show it where to go.

    For you must learn to trust me, Ian,
    though oft I seem to stray —
    there's many another poet in need
    and each must have his day.

    Now put your paper on your knee
    and your pen into your hand
    and let us set these verses down
    that all may understand.'

    But as she spoke I chanced to glance
    through the broken window pane
    and there outside I did perceive
    how autumn came again

    and how the clouds went sailing by
    and all the trees did shake
    and how the rooster trod his hens
    some more chickens for to make

    and there up in the watery sky
    that yet was darkening blue
    I did espy the evening star
    that just came shining through

    and yonder above Mount Crawford Prison
    all lit up on the hill
    the big pale moon began to rise
    and it was shining still

    just as it shone when I was young,
    as young, Katrine, as you,
    and often did sit up very late at night
    a-hunting for the true.

    And now I saw how night came on,
    the chickens were asleep,
    the wind blew through the window pane
    and made my flesh to creep,

    and down on Evans Bay Parade
    the motorcars went by
    and overhead the late flight
    bound for Australie,

    and soon enough, above these sounds,
    from somewhere pretty near,
    the sound of music and of shouts
    came loudly to my ear.

    Treen, I thought it was your mother's voice
    but maybe I was wrong —
    in any case, it was a voice
    that was both loud and strong.

    It woke me from my reverie
    and I did gaze about:
    the Muse, she had shot through, I saw,
    and my time had run out.

    The night filled up my little shed,
    it cooled the corner green —
    except for Donizetti from next door
    the place was quite serene.

    I recalled the Muse's final words
    and the Muse's angry look:
    'By Jesus, boy, I came this far
    and I think it's pretty crook —

    you just stared through the broken window pane
    like any half-arsed hoon,
    your eyes were wet and your throat was dry
    and you just stared at the moon

    and even a fool could see you were struck
    with a sentimental notion
    as you watched the moon trail her sleeve
    across the dark blue ocean

    and listened to the wind that shook the trees
    and all that kind of stuff —
    well let me put you straight, my boy,
    I've had more than enough!'

    And with these words she straightway left,
    and my poem was still unwrit
    and come Monday night, with these doodlings here,
    what would Trina make of it?

    So here I sit, in the dark of night
    round about half-past ten
    and I doubt if scotch or another smoke
    will get me going again —

    and yet I think, and it may be true,
    though I cannot vouch for this:
    the time I spent in my dreamy daze,
    it did not go amiss —

    remembering when I was twenty-one
    which was a while ago,
    the time passed very pleasantly
    and also very slow

    and while the real professional Muse
    tapped her impatient toe,
    I thought I might've had the right idea then,
    quite a few years ago.

    And maybe there's a lesson here,
    although I'll not insist:
    there's many a job of tough dictation
    that might as well be missed.

    And now, to bring things to a close:
    Katrina is twenty-one —
    I wish her well, I kiss her hand.
    Now my poem is done.


    When the people emerge from the water
    who can tell if it's brine or tears
    that streams from them, purple sea
    or the bruises of their long immersion?

    They seem to weep for the dreams they had
    which now the light slices into buildings
    of blinding concrete along the Corniche.
    Is it music or news the dark windows utter?

    Day-long dazzle of the shallows
    and at night the moon trails her tipsy sleeves
    past the windows of raffish diners.
    The hectic brake-lights of lovers

    jam the streets. My place or your place.
    They lose the way again and again.
    At dawn the birds leave the trees in clouds,
    they petition the city for its crumbs.

    The diners are cheap and the food is bad
    but you'd sail a long way to find anything
    as convenient. Pretty soon, sailor boy,
    you'll lose your bearings on language.

    Language with no tongue
    to lash it to the teller.
    Stern-slither of dogfish guttings.
    Sinbad's sail swaying in the desert.

    Only those given words can say what they want.
    Out there the velvet lady runs her tongue
    over them. And she is queen of the night —
    her shadow flutters in the alleys.

    And young sailors, speechless, lean
    on the taffrail. They gaze at the queen's amber
    but see simple lamps their girls hang in sash windows.
    Thud of drums. Beach-fires. Salt wind in the ratlines.

    Takes more than one nice green kawakawa
    leaf, chewed, to freshen the mouth
    that's kissed the wooden lips of the figurehead
    above history's cut-water

    in the barbarous isles'
    virgin harbours. That hulk shunned by rats
    bursts into flames.
    And now the smoky lattice of spars

    casts upon the beach
    the shadow-grid of your enlightened city.
    And now I reach through them — I reach
    through the eyes of dreaming sailors,

    faces inches from the sweating bulkheads,
    blankets drenched in brine and sperm.
    Trailing blood across the moon's wake
    the ship bore out of Boka Bay.

    Trailing sharks, she sailed
    for Port Destruction. In Saint Van le Mar,
    Jamaica, Bligh's breadfruit trees grew tall.
    In Callao on the coast of Peru

    geraniums bloomed like sores
    against whitewashed walls.
    The dock tarts' parrots jabbering
    cut-rates in six tongues.

    The eroding heartland, inland cordillera
    flashing with snow — these the voyager forgets.
    His briny eyes
    flood with chimerical horizons.

    'I would tell you if I could — if I could
    remember, I would tell you.
    All around us the horizons
    are turning air into water

    and I can't remember
    where the silence ended and speech began,
    where vision ended and tears began.
    All our promises vanish into thin air.

    What I remember are the beaches of that city
    whose golden children dance
    on broken glass. I remember cold beer
    trickling between her breasts as she drank.

    But my paper money burned
    when she touched it. The ship
    clanked up to its bower, the glass towers
    of the city burned back there in the sunset glow.'

    Cool star foundering in the west.
    Coast the dusty colour of lions.
    The story navigates by vectors
    whose only connection is the story.

    The story is told in words
    whose only language is the story.
    All night the fo'c's'le lamp smokes above the words.
    All day the sun counts the hours of the story.

    Heave of dark water where something
    else turns — the castaway's tongue
    clappers like a mission bell.
    Unheard his end, and the story's.

    Raconteurs in smoky dives
    recall his phosphorescent arm
    waving in the ship's wake.
    Almost gaily. The ship sailed on.


    And then one day they were gone.
    Like tall ships. Leaving
    behind them echoes of an exotic serenade —
    raucous brass fanfaring from the poop.

    Then the fog closed. Where turquoise light
    struck through, the prevaricacious glitter
    of empty sea. Dense white cordite
    rolled down from the battery,

    the city's glass shivered. The broken
    hearts of the city, the new voids
    of its crowds, its solitary mourners —
    these too shivered, as though

    the doctor's wind at evening
    blew in from the wide ocean.
    Like a captive flamingo, evening
    folded its wings. The nights

    were no longer fabulous. If something like calm
    now entered the chandlers' households,
    perhaps a bargain had been struck.
    Perhaps this cap tossed upon the harbour

    betrayed the stowaway curled
    like a child in a lifeboat. Perhaps
    the child curled there would see
    the great stars also footloose in the firmament.


    I'd have had to be mad to imagine
    those codices could outlast her stare — she,
    the unblinking foe of adornment!
    Lavish at last in nothing
    but essentials, I know my place.
    Those starry flights of footnotes across paper!
    If you want to get lost,
    study my almanac:
    niceties of protocol where theories abut,
    courtier's swivel of haunch,
    the narcissistic force of intellectual habit,
    or the professorial trick of locking
    the grosser terms under a long jaw —
    all this she sweeps away with victorious eyelashes.
    Even the words must go!
    Acrid, sinuous and patient,
    I feel her descending upon me
    the light, grinding weight of her hips.
    Before her, they said I was wise;
    but afterwards, a fool. First I was old;
    now I behave 'like a child'.
    I am a plain burning-glass she polishes.
    Then, I studied stars; now, her.
    Where we meet, in smoky curls,
    a lazy pyre of secrets. Now
    the sun rises in the morning,
    the moon at night.
    Her tongue poked in my ear
    tells me where I am. It's like they say:
    nothing could be simpler.


    Somewhere behind all this, before a view
    of fountains, statues and grass,
    near a lake, far from you.

    Somewhere behind all this,
    stranded in language neither advancing
    nor falling back.

    Between desire and absence, in a mill of meaning,
    grinding between language and the
    words I want to speak.

    Moving towards you somewhere behind all this,
    moving back from this, moving
    behind this, to where the language of desire

    and the words I have for you
    are ground
    between desire and absence.

    Hesitant, provisional, urgent, moving myself
    into that grinding place,
    feeling myself grounded

    somewhere behind all this,
    becoming the words which
    have entered the place of you.

    Becoming absent in the place of you,
    the space you name, the space of your name,
    moving behind all this, the fountains,

    the statues and grass, the lake. Ground
    to be whispered by you,
    your desire, my absence. That place.


    On my left pleasure, on my right pain.
    Don't talk to me about Desire.
    I've climbed that flight of steps.
    I've ridden that transport.

    Just tell me:
    How to approach the flame-cheeked city?
    By way of its glass towers,
    those westering mirrors at dusk?

    Or like a privateer, through the sea's
    romantic breach, indifferent
    to the jargon of authenticity,
    'not your brother, not your friend,
         not someone you can understand'?

* * *

    We leave at dawn. All around us
    the real-estate of an impossible dream
    littered with the season's picnics.
    This clumsy tumbril, these groaning drays —
    these phrases must convey us
    to a frontier already made redundant
    by brochures. Mouth filled
    with grey, glacial water, Julius von Haast
    lies: not a man, and not a river
    but a sediment of words
    dredged against banks where the
    clearfell flinches, against
    mirror lakes whose reflections of tourists
    are immobilised by nostalgia.
    A grey skein of maps unravels to the interior.
    This perspective which improbably broadens
    with distance — this too, cataracted, misty and sublime,
    alluvial gold overhung by vivid moss — this too
    lays down its barrage of signage before us.

* * *

    Be glad the poet is not doing
    the lord's work. He's lying
    among the lush parklands
    of what we see and hear,
    considering creation not as handiwork
    but as perception. Like shining
    delta water her hair
    pours over the map of his humid and veiny hand.

* * *

    And now I see my shadow
    broadcast upon smoke. Deeper
    into the gulf the musical swell advances.
    A wind from clear stars
    stirs the lagoon.


    for the Heberley Family Reunion, Pipitea Marae, Easter 1990


    I remember the pohutukawas' summer crimson
    and the smell of two-stroke fuel
    and the sandflies above the Waikawa mudflats
    whose bites as a kid I found cruel.

    At night and with gunny-sack muffled oars
    when the sandflies were asleep
    with a hissing Tilley lamp we'd go fishing
    above the seagrass deep

    — a-netting for the garfish there
    where the nodding seahorses graze
    and the startled flounders all take fright
    stirring the muddy haze.

    And who cared about the hungry sandflies
    when a-codding we would go
    my blue-eyed old man Chick Wedde and me
    where the Whekenui tides do flow.


Excerpted from The Drummer by Ian Wedde. Copyright © 1993 Ian Wedde. Excerpted by permission of Auckland University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Ian Wedde, ONZM, is the author of fifteen collections of poetry, six novels, two collections of essays, a collection of short stories, a monograph on the artist Bill Culbert and several art catalogues, and has been co-editor of two poetry anthologies. His work has been widely anthologised, and has appeared in journals nationally and internationally. In 2010 he was awarded an ONZM in the Queen's Birthday Honours, and in 2011 was made New Zealand Poet Laureate.

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