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Walk out to the ocean mark,
away from language. Hightide noon crouches
browbeaten, sliteyed. We do not recognise
the terms of our occupation,
what they imply. A background noise
wholly fails to overcome another
order, a dimension, of silence.
Breakers are not stopped from falling,
blustering or brawling rank on rank.
Slog inland, through the valley’s big mouth,
pulse of insects and the rocky creek.
You leave behind language, like dead shells
an incompetent syntax, a register
unresponsive. How shall I know
where I stand, until I say what I see?
Made deaf by excess of light,
a colonist’s house, last farm, road’s end,
tires any phrase, itself historical fact
leaning tonguetied towards an inarticulate
feeble macrocarpa. The tree tilts
towards the house. Nobody was at home.
Cattle dogs slept, a muddle of black,
white and tan, on the washhouse verandah.
The tractor did not speak.
Unsophisticated downfall,
soil faces along the beach, cut back
by aggressive weathering, show rubbish
layers of occupation. Up the coast
archaeologists are digging. Fragments
will not yet shape themselves
as discourse. A grassy headland
slides the remains of palisades down
the gradient which becomes a meadow,
all lupin, crossed by the creek’s meanders.
Storms have crabbed bushes, littered
with driftwood to the foot of a rise
on which fall bits of shacks,
a flaking stove, frame of an outhouse
passionately used to near extinction.
Yellow admirals, little blues and day
flying moths speculatively cloud
the stream’s precincts. Above an imitation
weir, where you abandon the bay flats,
the valley begins as glen or dale,
further darkly tightens and is a gorge
overhung by feral peaks and birds’
questioning crying,
which we no doubt misconstrue.
Cattle wander there. The creek lopes round
a flat stage with a fell steep behind;
opposite, cliff sheer to a stream bed of slabs.
Gross bulk of silence, bloodily oozing,
taxes unspoken queries. They bear upon
you, heavy as dialect, an alien grammar.
On that flat is a scar, six or eight feet deep,
not naturally straight. The spoil was
thrown mainly on the north side.
No conceivable function as defence,
incredibly long for a saw-pit,
not feasible as a cattle dip, wrong
location for building a canoe,
too wet for storage, without sign
that it was an oven . . . you tire
conjecture and query. Finally,
guess that it is anomaly,
a taro trench (some plants are in situ,
which may be misleading) of a kind
that Buck, for one, never saw in this country
but describes for islands beyond the Line.
That hardly helps. We do not follow
the terms of our occupation.
                                                             8. 3. 71
Editor's note
Hole in the Ground : first published in Stories About Wooden Keyboards (1985); setting is Northland; How shall I know/ where I stand, until I say what I see ?: a central part of KS’ aesthetic, parodies E.M. Forster’s ‘How do I know what I think until I see what I say?’; Yellow admirals, little blues : kinds of butterfly; taro : tropical plant with edible root; Buck ; Sir Peter Buck: Maori and Pacific anthropologist
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