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I fossick among very minor novelists
of our nineteenth century, ours, by God,
peculiarly by virtue of whatever was
held in common with other colonies.
Or, what held them.
                                 I have picked pockets
of several shrouds and more than one
fashion of shroud, for crummiest of crumbs,
driest fragments, dust of droppings, bone
flakes. A shard flint-sharp at the edges,
that was prematurely aspiring red muscle,
a heart. Pick, and pocket.
                                         Someone knew
an impulse to act, entertained a dream
of action – even of being redeemed
in his besetting journey through wilderness.
Recorded of it: unnatural nature, world’s
working of wonders, providences, legality
clashing with justice, office as offence,
that state of man a barbarity, the Savage
less noble than a reputation, the frontier
free guise of authority, freedom
present least of all in a divided will.
In the nature of things, small talent
which would not serve. In newspapers,
reports (so many more than one would have
expected) of suicides, until you remember
how commonly men were alone, how various
the ways are of being compelled
               whatever way, however freshly,
breeze takes or seas break along reefs
slapping weed vines where, like a moonbow
fleetingly salt in spray scattered over
such reefs, what is meant by being free is
guessed intolerably. The expense of it
also guessed.
The life your dream costs may not be your own.
Editor's note
Research Project: first published in Landfall 88 (December 1968), 384; also in Earthquake Weather and Selected Poems; KS edited new editions of two novels by the early New Zealand novelist William Satchell (1860-1942), The Land of the Lost(1902) and The Toll of the Bush (1905)
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