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Cabbage tree heads, they nod,
profoundly confirmed,
towards a church’s new white paint.
About midmorning an elementary
summer breeze arrives from the coast
too late to alter. The township has
already dedicated this day, to usage.
An old disorder yields, to wise men
who come from the south. Where was a stable,
they made the Tourist Inn; for shepherds,
a public convenience of concrete blocks,
the kind that’s called hollowstone.
Fused with, confused as, memories,
assumed a means of tree pollens
or a shifty heat off the church’s
dazzling corrugated roof,
inconstant air implicates farmlands
in a conspiracy of nation, utility,
populist myth. You must change
your life, Rilke’s archaic Apollo urged.
They have done so. They have put by.
Between a sea and an ocean
the farmlands lie low
without a hill to comfort them.
A peasant people won hard
from waste, teaching their weird flats
a novel language, an old belief.
Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius
they pray for, but at the bridge
to the dairy factory at midmorning
those echoes which coil remember
a coast not broken or so far displaced,
just accommodated. You breathe
a last of ozone, of kelp iodine.
Like the popping of kelp on a drift
fire, you hear pods closer.
Between the soil, the sand, swamp
and sea, is an understanding.
To change your life you must understand
how your life goes, and where.
Like so many huntsmen
they move intently.
They have an assignation
with a wildfowl, garishly feathered,
a fowl of unearthly voice.
You have not seen her like.
Dear object, lulled in myth,
you may yet be splendid
as the firebird, birdwoman,
the snowbird, woman of white
       though here the quarry, much
harried, burns away through heavy
scent down to the burning clay
under an overburden of flowers.
The wreaths are already wilting
and they are not yet out of town.
Today a myth dies a little more,
a little less than kind.
We are aliens.
And the kin: tanned, earnest
Slavic Polynesian faces,
all the men wearing dark
suits. Perhaps they are going
to a wedding beyond
the dairy factory.
Do not think so.
You must change your life.
As of now, you marry conflicting wishes.
You also will progress
towards the sunbaked slope,
being contracted. Hedged about
with hakea, you go. Bitterns nest
in a raupo swamp beside, harriers
stiffly tread its edge.
Archaic Apollo, your people,
they taught the vine to grow
wild along their roads. Clay
like talc, mica-sharp grits dust
the grapes’ tight premature testicular
clusters. If the fruits will seed,
who will pick them over? They go
earth-borne. Hard, to discover
when they ripen. Hard to know,
the end due of their season.
On the west course to Tasman’s sea
pine stumps, insignis, broken teeth.
Alien forests, made quick
to accommodate, sicken.
Go slowly, carefully, like those
who pick a path among stumps,
like the funeral cars in high
       headlamps teasing on low beam.
My wife’s dark glasses reflected
cars, lights, unreconciled twin suns.
They have put by
an earliest type washing-machine
several lawnmowers (hand and powered)
tables          deckchairs          beds
a 1911 Montgomery Ward mailorder catalogue
wirestrainers spanners crosscut saws
shark-repellents surfcasting rods
lifebuoys and a mae west (with whistle)
an almost complete household physician
they have put by in a colonial junkshop
ships’ riding lamps,
verdigrised brass
horseless carriage lanterns,
bullseyes, hurricanes with bent
wires and no glass, their wicks
shrivelled, smoke blanked.
Fires banked, they see perpetually
nothing. Illustrate nothing.
Shelve them beside
fossil eggs by whale vertebrae
windwashed, seablown, beyond
whiteness hardly temporised
by the mere dust which they breed
or dust which is imported from their road
tending eastward to the Pacific
past garage, past creek
where fishermen compare. Turbid
weed congregates in the gut.
Changing, their lives’ style.
Their river decayed,
but their soil learned new tricks
of speech, for winds of hay paddocks,
a dialect fitting herds,
a stress and accent of flocks and crops.
Why, if intensely assured
by confident highlights every
where present to trouble exposure,
should I sourly dawdle,
doodling mementoes, cryptically
                I go, thou goest, he/she/or it,
and one (impersonally) goes.
If we live,
we go. You go. They, a common gender, go.
I am a stranger. Too facile, to say
We are all strangers. The land is made
to our liking. Not far north
they are going, to offer.
To Hine, whose likeness still the swamp.
To Hine-nui, whose tumultuous hair the chattering
      idiot cabbage trees mimic,
Hine-nui-te-Po, She who is darkness,
at the heart speaking of the land,
along the wind’s edge, at the sea line.
You cannot put by. I write in her dust
on the bonnet of our station wagon
M A T E. That will do, for a time.
If we live, we stand in language.
You must change your words.
                                                         4. 2. - 9. 3. 70
Editor's note
An Ordinary Day Beyond Kaitaia : first published in Poetry New Zealand 1 (1971), 88; also in Earthquake Weather and Selected Poems (1979); Kaitaia : town in Northland; this is an area settled by Dalmatians who intermarried with Maori; Rilke : Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), German poet, whose poem ‘Archaic Torso of Apollo’ ends with the phrase: ‘You must change your life’; Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius : church dedicated to two ninth century brothers who were missionaries to the southern Slavs; Hine-nui-te-Po : Maori death goddess
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