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OLD IDENTITIES 1988
Danes, now, where they settled made it clear
they weren’t to be mistaken for Prussians –
people still talked like that, Prussians, not Germans
although Bohemians called their pub The German Hotel.
Pomeranians when they arrived turned out Poles
who wouldn’t be understood, and Austrians
were Dalmatians or Croats who didn’t want
to pass for K-u-K any more than Finns
known as Russian-Finns to be Russians.
This problem of identity, how it was built in
to slab-side shanties and turned grey all over,
how smoked from blunt chimneys and crackled
in burn offs. And in whares,
because by this time the first comers were proved
over and over longlost Israelites, Vikings, Scotsmen,
Egyptians or Mexicans. Then the Irish,
they were also debatable. But the Swiss,
did anyone see the Swiss? They weren’t simply visible.
They left a mark on a land, Helvetia Road.
They were, and seem not. They went out of fashion.
Try to imagine them, faithfully going about
exact duties possibly highminded
before they were overtaken,
                                             like neighbours
down the road, those ostriches
which were farmed and passed off into footnotes
along with our mothers’ severely corseted aunts,
their useful black costumes, their hobble skirts,
with those hats, whose names are faded.
                                                                           26. 10. 88
Editor's note
Old Identities 1988: first publication; the identity of early European settlers in New Zealand; K-u-K was the abbreviation for kaiserlich und königlich, which is German for Imperial and Royal; the phrase refers to the so-called ‘Dual Monarchy’ of Austria- Hungary: The Emperor of Austria was, in personal union, also the King of Hungary, and hence, as all government acts were performed in the name of ‘His Imperial and Royal Majesty’, most of the time abbreviated with ‘k. u. k.’; the first comers: Maori, there were many theories linking them with other races; the Swiss settlement and the ostrich farm were near Pukekohe, south of Auckland
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