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Tales of Gotham City
By Ian Wedde
Auckland University PressCopyright © 1984 Ian Wedde
All rights reserved.
LONELY & AFRAID UP HERE
How cool her skin was then and now
six years later it's her daughter who's laughing
playing peep under the table.
The way time played peep with me.
If I wanted to cry I would have to remember the cue.
If I want to laugh I can always find a reason.
This sadness is because it took so long.
One day I looked round the corner
and all the familiar faces
weren't on the side either
& they weren't hiding. Boredom
had claimed them for some other game.
Why don't we trust each other?
A little tenderness and less velocity.
It's so lovely to see her again:
Why did it take so long.
(That's the first line of the song.)
Hunting whales among
Te Whanau-a-Apanui, didn't
take long to waste them. The whales
I mean, people here are doing okay.
They're out of work but it's me that feels it,
photographing the old boatshed
from sixteen different angles
thinking how serious it all has to be
and waiting for someone to shout
e porangi te pakeha! It's a shed!
Never felt so lonely in my life,
acetylene flared in the great yard of the Lord
whose fleet will heave cold barbs
when I surface for my last breath.
I wouldn't believe that anywhere but here.
Take it or leave it but if you want some
you got to do your share.
You got to haul back on your springy tawa sweep.
Nothing sentimental about old Paul Delamere (92)
Ringatu Bishop of Omaio,
going through it so he could say
it was fine! and it also beat
washing cows' tits
which is what came later.
Along with not enough work. And not enough
land and too many gone away to fight
who didn't come back
to read their names writ in gold
on the walls of Gallipoli Hall.
After that they shut it all down.
No more ploughs left harnessed in the maize paddock
& men running for the beach
or riding five to a horse
while the horns brayed and the flags went up
at Whitianga, Omaio, Te Kaha & Maungaroa
& the whale who'd scraped her barnacles off on 'Whale Island'
turned with her calf from the quiet boats
putting out at Whakatane
& swam towards the lucky one off Te Kaha.
One day she looked around with her eyes
that point 'the wrong way'
and she was all alone.
Some game had claimed the others.
Funny how it all slips
into quotation marks you could almost hear
gulling away with carrion into the sky.
It would be easy to say
'infinite sky' if it weren't untrue.
Dig it. How could you believe anything else.
This feeling is not new or sentimental.
(Second line of the song.)
I want to say, nothing was wasted!
Oh there are perils yet but what of them.
If you think 'live in the present' sounds fraudulent
try 'live in the past'. Forget it, it's
not advice it's something else.
The sun has burned through, that means
fall silent & go out before I start talking to her
a hundred kilometres back
and to the others I love
who are even further away.
I suppose the bishop loved
the whales he lanced
as they began to sound and the water
spread out their convenient paunches.
I might settle for tenderness.
Several butterflies are planning to mate in
the heavy air. Soon it will rain again.
Keep it simple. A long clear focus.
So many miles from home & I love it
and hate it. 'My mind'
sinking into mesopelagic
while my heart comes up for breath
expecting a harpoon.
Is there a place for nature poetry?
This isn't it. Last night
trout kissed the still river
until ripples filled the stream.
Westward Hikurangi burned
at the back of the Kereu valley
and I found my mark at the dark edge of the bush
and went back to the hut
and heard your voice in the small room.
You were far away but I sat up half the night
afraid of breaking contact.
Let's face it, I'm a sucker.
Love has always meant more to me than time.
Now they have an arrangement, the hours
are backloading on love's contract.
If I don't see you again soon I'll go crazy.
Loneliness, what's that. Drink & dope
slow the senses, 'loneliness'
doesn't. It's my newest habit.
Had another job to do but I didn't:
I came back up here
along the empty riverbed.
My heart whizzed into the bush like a quail.
I set the door open to the rain.
Sat breathless with the ease of this ascent
to vantage: my life
clear as wire on the sloping fence, water
gondolas sliding between batons.
Love it or hate it, it's mine.
Some days chicken salad.
Some days chicken shit.
And I want to say: If I can't write what moves me
I might as well be dead. Or might as well
stay up here forever.
Or until someone's hand
gets forced, presumably mine.
And that's okay: only I wonder
how going back will affect the view.
Will I still be lonely when I'm loved again.
(Last line of the song.)
FROM ONE CENTRE
Where I went for watercress stank of cattle
but I wanted it (metaphor)
An insect leg drops on the page.
Thought it was a little twig but it had joints.
A week ago I threw Kên and Tui:
strong lines of change.
Oh these affairs of the heart!
If only we could turn to bite the place.
MAHIA APRIL 1978
The amazing stars! they
still burned through the pines.
The sea rushed in
with its stellar sound.
I thought, This is it.
The whole firmament was whirling like a kaleidoscope.
I nearly broke my neck looking at it.
I was getting good at being lonely.
I had the the 'whole' experience to myself.
The Age of Aquarius was short. The two hundred
Vietnamese orphans snuffed in that plane crash
in, when was it? that
was it. Howard Hughes & the CIA,
a poor choice for godparents.
Bad PR for an age.
Let's not try to talk anybody into anything.
In 1978 I consider the air I breathe
and I refuse to thank anyone for it.
I pick tuatua and pipi along Mahia Beach.
A la Frank Sargeson I scatter bread
persuading them to come clean.
There is plenty of space for my lonely joy.
I walked all of eight miles & met nobody.
Swimming naked in a channel the tide
was filling, thought
it would be sweet to fuck like dolphins.
Mokotahi Headland stood up there like a burning mirror.
Now I sit in my cabin and listen
to the sea beyond the pines. Near me
the shellfish are sucking at my bread on their water.
And I miss you so badly.
And I feel so far from my borders.
Will you barter with me for my solitude.
I used to think, poetry
was what you did when people stopped listening.
Now I guess it's what you do when there's nobody.
Message in bottle: Send help!
They arrive and collect the bones.
All around the evidence of an ordered life.
Immortality is a longterm currency.
The poor bastard could have done with a trip to town,
something of ready exchange.
Pausing to read bird encounters in the sand:
two landing tracks, some circles and chalky turds,
two flightpaths off. And we construct
whole epistemologies with these
vicious toughs. Even allowing for 'Percival Gull Six'
Jonathan Livingston Seagull gulped worms and shit.
Oh certainly he could fly.
Don't look up to things because
they're beautiful. Some very famous actresses
have been known to kick & fire.
I watch a family come down
to collect pipi. One man
with a walk-on part
is overcome by greed
and takes too many.
A seagull chooses one, flies up
& smashes it.
I watch the waves run and fall,
and the sky
rising through mauve to blue ... What kind of
predator am I
lying back here on a dune thinking about Goethe.
I should go & talk to someone who knows.
But look at these hundreds of curious
the fibrous skeletons of horseturds,
maybe things a whale coughs.
And always the sensation of there being something important
but no one to say it to, worse still
nothing is clear
finally. Description is only
an endless means. And sometimes
you want to say stop.
Action could hurry the moment to you.
This loneliness that runs falling over itself
coast after coast.
This endless hunt for meanings,
finally a kind of curious greed.
poem beginning with a line by a 5 year old
The turtle trampled on the
small worm so stop
writing off last week
against those accidents you haven't had
yet. When the fire gets hot
the green goes up with the dry.
Snatch your dream back from that cute altar
where the congregation is burning its toys.
Danger has sometimes been known to vanish
overwhelmed by such trivia.
So you want to be some kind of punk
while that blazing athlete (your heart)
is 'in love'
decadence (as in
'sensibility') — now you'll protest
and I'll have to point out your threadbare & dusty sleeves
trailed across so many
& your sentimental taste in music.
'nothing is wasted'
In my heacrt
the Contract goes out
disguised as a family bistro.
That man who refused protection
spinning before he drops, guilty
dog chewing bread, small boy
alone with television, her
stoop. In my heart
these dirty images pile up.
A bitter taste each time beauty reaches for me.
Hate it when it gets this
personal, how can you listen,
such wasted emotion.
I dedicate this minor rage
to those who are angry not just
disappointed, who are
principled not just angry.
Get with that set. Could be
mum dad and the kids, why not.
Not that sad man who thinks
fame's greased with power & keeps forever.
Best to pass when you're dealt those courses, & remember
'full of shit' could read
'alive with an appetite'.
Excerpted from Tales of Gotham City by Ian Wedde. Copyright © 1984 Ian Wedde. Excerpted by permission of Auckland University Press.
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