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
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.

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 
hometown to my
mother's long ago dreams

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

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?

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

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

which seems to me
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?

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

In the end
it's almost terrifyingly simple -

one thing
to another
pulls us through

from beginnings 
to  'the end'.



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