Thursday, September 29, 2011

the promise






















look at that shadow
streaming back

the protective clasp
lightly held

i curved my body into you
while you, my brother,
stood apart

i am mid-murmur
something confidential
or seditious

about that enigma
behind the camera

dad

mum you turn your face to
better scrutinise 

the eye peering
through the glass
back at

what you had both created.

the fiction of
mum 
dad
and the kids

this was the perfect holiday


we swam naked
and forgot
for one forever-summer
the family that we were

the days weren’t even
many
yet they stretched into the future
a prism we all held

happiness was credible
an option
we four, for whatever reason,
refused

such strangers
to ourselves

time reduces
clarifies
and fades

this photo holds
it still

the promise
as it fell 

the shadow streams on
forever


hicks bay summer 1960.

the promise






















look at that shadow
streaming back

the protective clasp
lightly held

i curved my body into you
while you, my brother,
stood apart

i am mid-murmur
something confidential
or seditious

about that enigma
behind the camera

dad

mum you turn your face to
better scrutinise 

the eye peering
through the glass
back at

what you had both created.

the fiction of
mum 
dad
and the kids

this was the perfect holiday


we swam naked
and forgot
for one forever-summer
the family that we were

the days weren’t even
many
yet they stretched into the future
a prism we all held

happiness was credible
an option
we four, for whatever reason,
refused

such strangers
to ourselves

time reduces
clarifies
and fades

this photo holds
it still

the promise
as it fell 

the shadow streams on
forever


hicks bay summer 1960.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Resident alien....




I have come to the conclusion, as I drive and walk round Napier during the World Rugby Cup, this is what it must feel like to live in a country when it has been occupied



Cars, especially SUVs drive round with various pennants fluttering from the top of their car. Every newspaper you read is drenched in a single broadcast information.



Then there is the news. Rugby dominates the main part of the news bulletin and then, when it gets to sports, its endless dominion just goes on, and everything is reported in more fawning detail. 



Sport - rugby - at present occupies New Zealand with the placidity and
lack of self consciousness of an occupying foreign power.



Those of us who choose not to join in have a faintly restless feeling of being outsiders. We do not join in the happy throngs who welcome the occupying troops. We don’t cohabit. We watch the broadcasts simply because there is no alternative. But we don’t believe.

Even that sense of a triumphant tournament only delivers the sensation of someone walking down an empty backstreet while the Berlin Olympics happens several suburbs over and the entire sky echoes to the roar of crowds.

All this would not be so bad if this were only a fantasy, or the feelings of someone to whom rugby is an occasionally interesting game, which delivers young male meat at peak physical condition into the gladiatorial ring to be pulped, hammered, and if successful, to be fondled in full public view. (I realise it involves bravery, physical stamina and highly honed skill. But rugby players are also marketed with the efficiency of any consumer product. The pretty go to the front of the queue.)




Unfortunately the stakes are much higher than that.
Much much higher.

John Key, or as New Zealanders call him Jonkey-rhyming-with-donkey, is superbly cynical in his exploitation of New Zealanders’almost blind love of rugby.

 He has attached this fervour to his political machine. 

It is horrific to watch this country slide into a craven political obsequiousness for a mediocre politician who seems to have delivered - precisely nothing.

Or is it jonkey’s astute perception that NZers pummelled by earthquakes and hard times need a break?

But by exploiting New Zealanders love of rugby he has unwittingly accessed a potentially hysterial mood. (It was a form of hysteria which overtook NZ in the days after the relatively minor messup at the opening bread-and-circus spectacular in Auckland. This is the problem. These huge moods can lend themselves to mood swings.)

I like mardi gras, festivals and fetes...but this one has an unwitting air to it of a slaughter of the innocents.

The public seem gloriously unaware that the National Party will use its second re-election as a mandate to do all sorts of things the electorate would never agree to if it were in a more rational, accessing mood.

I never had any particular feeling about John Key before this.

Now I am beginning, like someone living in a country under foreign occupation, to have a deep suspicion of what he represents.  

At the moment we seem to be living through a blithe unconsciousness amounting to blindness and it is only a spoilsport like moi who feels...he lives in a country occupied by aliens...

But maybe the resident alien is me.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Blackface becomes respectable at last.




A pakeha finds the perfect resolution to issues of cultural displacement.




Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I was in Palmerston North for the night...



I was in Palmerston North for the night. It was getting towards dark and I was wandering round the main square. I was as familiar with this square from Edwardian postcards as I was with its reality. I knew it was formed in the shape of a Union Jack. It was littered with the usual municipal attempts to wrest meaning out of bathos. But in the middle was a war memorial. It looked unusually individual. I decided the next morning, when it was light, I would come back and have a closer look.




There were some teenagers sitting nearby smoking. They radiated a kind of glowing hostility. Is there any period in your life when you are more sardonic - more profoundly bored?



But the war memorial had a series of images which were New Zealand specific. I took some photos of them, knowing the bored teenagers could hardly believe my stupidity. They flicked their cigarettes onto the lawn and looked away in disgust.


It seemed to me someone had tried to create a sense of the great disaster which had overtaken everyone's lives
1914-1918. Leave-taking, distance, being wounded, coping with dying and death - and the sheer difficulty of surviving all these things. This memorial - now so ignored and unlooked at - seemed to go out of its way
to represent these feelings with a sense of individual humans - working men and women, people wearing real contemporary clothes.



Someone had scratched something onto the surface. This immediate response was more important than all those dead emotions, things which will never touch you when you are a surly thirteen or fourteen.



  Meanwhile the tramp of silent feet goes on into the dawn....

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Gorgeousness





In my role as graveyard haunter I came across these two gorgeous images. One is caste iron and a kind of
beautiful dome. It was made in Glasgow, one of those miracles of the industrial age and brought out to Whanganui.



The other image pleases me as I like to think it is 'inspiration'. A dove lands and from its beak unfurls
what you always dreamt you'd write. 

If only one could read the writing...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Telling the beads....

Yesterday a friend was in Napier so I took him round some Colenso sites. This includes Waitangi, 9.2 kilometres out of Napier where William Colenso and his wife Elizabeth had their mission station. We then went out to Meeanee , a sort of flatlands about 2 kilometres away. Normally I go out there to buy my vegetables at 'Vegelands', a cheerful place where a NZ-Chinese family sell excellent vegetables and fruit at prices way below the supermarket.
(In fact recently during a snow storm, the supermarket ran out of fresh vegetables, revealing what we all know: Hawke's Bay vegetables are trucked out of the area to a central pricing point then trucked
back into Hawke's Bay with a new higher price added along with the suspect word written in plastic 'FRESH'.)

We went and looked at a curious place, the church where Sister Aubert worshipped. It is now a restaurant
of a glam sort. You urinate where the high altar once was. I cannot do this without a kind of silent prayer.
It seems profane. In fact to be eating in a one-time church seems pretty suspect too.

My friend saw French flags and said it was a nice acknowledgement of Aubert's French peasant origins.
Somewhat wearily I said: no, it's the World Rugby Cup. The French team is staying in Napier this weekend.
Everyone is very excited.

From here we went up Colenso Avenue, where I showed my young friend the small cottage to which Colenso
withdrew in the late 1850s, early 1860s. Then along to the beautiful Ormand Chapel which was once
the grammar school (so maybe there is a long history of religious buildings having multiple uses.)

Into the graveyard to look at Colenso's celtic cross, which I noted some kids had scribbled on with crayon.

It was a beautiful, almost glittering day of early spring. The wind was sharp but the sun clear and, if you could get out of the wind, warm. Native birds called out and I showed my young friend - perhaps perplexed to be among a city of the dead - the places where so many young bachelors lay. He asked me if I thought they were gay. I explained that colonial life was often brief and violent. Many of these men came out without families and
much other support. They worked hard and died young. Of course there are secrets, but these, for the most part,
have remained secrets. There is a melancholy attached to these young lives lost to time and the world.

But there is also something, well, earthing to be in a place where so many dreams and hopes have ended. To me it isn't melancholy so much as elucidating. Perhaps that is the romantic - the optimist? the delusionist? in me.

Come November I will be taking a tour of these same Colenso sites during the celebrations to mark
Colenso's birth.

In some way it is like telling the rosary beads (although I am not Catholic or even really particularly religious.)

Below here is a spruiking document for the forthcoming celebrations....

But like telling the beads, going round these sites gives a curious comfort, as if touching some intangible mystery.







Tuesday, September 6, 2011

How one thing leads to another....


Recently I was down in Wellington

There was an official reception at Premiere House and I was given the Michael King Fellowship. In my naivety I thought this meant the Prime Minister would be there. I invited family members who lived in Wellington. Well, none of them could turn up and neither did the Prime Minister. Possibly this was a good thing as I don't think his special brand of kiwi-everyman-ness could stretch to writing. Besides he's too busy getting his head stuck between the thighs of footballers or something. So he wasn't there.
In a further outburst of naivety I wrote a kind of poem-doggerel to celebrate the event. But when I stood up to read I had a complete outbreak of nerves

This struck me so unexpectedly I didn't know quite what to do. So I paused for a moment to collect myself. But to my horror my voice betrayed me- I was on the very edge of tears. 
Why was this? 
I don't know. Maybe it is some deep vestigal thing from the boys high school I went to when I was the object of curiosity because of the alleged strange (effeminate) sound of my voice. 

Of course it was this which made me a writer. 

Because I couldn't speak out loud for three or four years, I went inwards and learnt to use words on paper. 

Nevertheless sometimes the past kicks back. 
Which is an irony in a way as the poem was about the past kicking back….or at the very least, about how writing The Hungry Heart, my book on William Colenso, led me to Sparrow on a Rooftop - a look at colonial society in Napier at the time of the capture of Kereopa Te Rau.
The poem-thingy was called...
How One thing leads to another.

Aeons ago
on 8th February 1858 to be exact
my ancestor sailed to Goa Bay
via Halifax
Greece & Port Jackson
scarlet pinpricks of
pinked out empire
Goa Bay
being Napier dressed up in Indian drag.

Napier Hastings Havelock
Delhi Road
or simpler balder
Main Street being 
a skid of clay
up to the fort

my ancestor plainly
a barrackmaster
under the Jack
creating a brood of
colonial brawlers
who sat on the spot

till my mother
lassoed my dad
and set off for
greener pastures.


Lovely Auckland 
volcanic and tidal
swoon-salty
tram-clicky till

the thirst for
further wars
took away my dad who
saluted the flag

in Cairo Cassino
and ending up in Trieste
with a fiery Italian lass
my mother
finding consolation
in hot American jazz.

2.
One thing leads to another
and then my brother 
and I surfed in on
the baby boom
a tidal wave 
taking us
so far away from 
Napier
hometown to my
mother's long ago dreams

now
viewed through a periscope
deeply submerged
chickens in the backyard
and silver-kid dancing shoes
hidden in the hall cupboard.

3
One thing leads to another
so I came back
on the scent of a dream
a whiff
a track almost 
grown cold
hard to see
in the overgrowth
& loss of years 
& haste & mess
of contradictory impulses

who are we even
if not ourselves?

and so I came 
face to face with an old seer
who lived here (or there)
just round the corner

writing his notes
to anyone really who
would listen
stuffing them in a bottle
letting it drop
into the tide

find a home
find a heart
find a hearth
find a listener

is this not the quest of 
every scrivener?

4
he wrote
"I love doubters;
of a truly honest doubter
I have great hope'
well hello
good morning
and good evening
sir
i doff my hat.

'we have brought 
upon ourselves
the necessity of bearing
burdens 
beyond our strength'
wrote Sir William Martin
on the escalating wars
illuminating 
an impossible predicament

which seems to me
now
a doubter 
in the dark
to be
a deafness as to stories

have we Pakeha cast out our ancestors
popped them on a boat
bandaged their mouths shut
and sent them on their way
to oblivion?

who are we
if not ourselves

our history needs to be said
not as apology
a sorrier mess
than every other sorry mess
that humans manage to make
as humans

after all
who made a less mess?

these are some of the stories
which need to be told

of burdens taken on 
too strong
to be borne
and other smaller rhythms
to do with begetting
and begotten, forgetting
and forgotten - and this is key
-remembering too.

find a home
find a heart
find a hearth
find a listener

is this not the quest of 
every writer?

5.
the quest lies
in following the track back
of trying to understand.

In the end
it's almost terrifyingly simple -

how 
one thing
leads 
to another
and 
pulls us through

from beginnings 
to  'the end'.


……………..





Friday, September 2, 2011

Dread


Dread. Noun. ‘Be in great fear of; shrink from, look forward to with terror.’Concise Oxford Dictionary.

At times I feel the most unutterable dread. This often accompanies a book coming out. It used to be dread of exposing myself or exposing other people who were close to me. Dread that they might be hurt or might retaliate.
But I still feel this dread when the exposure is less personal.
Dread about getting it wrong.
Dread about some smartypants academic crowing over the inevitable mistake.
Dread about getting it wrong.
Dread about - being alive.
Dread, this strange oppressive feeling, of being squeezed in.
Dread.
I wake at 2 in the morning and obsess.
I can’t understand it. Maybe it’s part of being human. 
I’ve talked to other writers and some have said they feel the same sense of dread when a book comes out.
It’s so very peculiar. When you are writing a book you feel a lot of things  - joy, depression, confusion, exhaustion. But you don’t normally feel dread.
But when a book nears its public viewing - I feel - well, dread.
I don’t know if it’s protective, or a sense of loss of control. It’s when a book or a project meets...the world. 
Anyone who reads a book can have an opinion and that opinion is - to a degree - legitimate. 
Maybe all along you had it wrong.
Maybe all along you were just obsessed, stupid, ridiculous.
Yes, that’s what it’s about. You are frightened of being ridiculous, or worse, made ridiculous.
In one way you are airing your own obsession.  The way you see the world.
When you’re writing you’re carried along by the act of writing itself and the pleasure of living inside a world which appears coherent and full of its own meaning: but when this world hits the outside air, it may fall apart.
You may be exposed as someone who is delusory.
Maybe this is what the dread is all about.
Grinding the backteeth dread.
Wide awake at exactly the same time each night dread.
Circular, can’t escape the problem dread.
Dread. Dread. Dread. 
Most writers only talk about freedom.
I talk about dread.