ngā kaitiaki / the guardians

our mothers schedule another meeting
one from this side one from that
place where more things are visible
than we suppose    we’ve driven north
and Dallon’s gallery is almost full
waves slapping under the floorboards
when you say your name our mothers
smile and it’s boarding school in the war
and the same school thirty years later
you’ve come from Kashmir you’ve come
from Denmark you’ve come from Kaihu
from Kerikeri and Tauranga Bay
I am almost speechless and then I’m not
everyone in the room says their name
then we turn out the lights the better to hear
those Hokianga waves in the dark 

a shell with a china handle
arrives in my hands    demi-tasse
he says and it’s a coffee cup
from a small table under the painting
where Hagar wrestles with an angel
whale ivory for a bullwhip
he puts in my hands    the old house shakes
and the wind off the harbour remembers
who planted the date palm on the bank
where the path snakes down to the road
a double hulled dinner plate
heavy in my hands    rare as he says
and we have three of them here    no bung
in the rim where the hot water went in
to keep the gravy warm
along the hallway he takes
a stick from the wall    my fingers
take in ivory and high polish    and then
carving that makes supplejack twists
below a cage of air
we follow him down    old tuatara
in hat and tails at his front gate    eyes closed
beside her whose eyes are open    who pours
coffee keeps dinners hot and holds it all
together    feathers brush her face
and the longtails whistle overhead

I take them their groceries he says
every three weeks    they’re ninety they don’t like
the city    still get up early four thirty or five
drink date tea they make themselves
I don’t like it    you know soak the dates in water
horrible stuff but that’s what they do    ninety
I brought them down here for a holiday
three weeks and they worried so much    his dog
her chooks the garden the fishing    I had to take them back
we got to the bottom of the beach
and I gave him the wheel    he was like a kid
frightened hell out of us but I let him go
until we got to the stream then I took over
they were so excited the last few miles
I stayed up there with them    came back
with half the garden in Agee jars
and that smell of hot vinegar
among the tomatoes bubbling on the stove


land sea and sky

Lawrence Durrell arrives in Corfu
and sees the Pleiades in a pool of dark water
near the house he rents at Kalamai
under the glacid surface of the sea fishes
are moving like the suggestion of fishes
the Corfiotes indulge him and the rest
of the family when they get there    paradise
on earth and adjectives like stars
in his Mediterranean prose    he keeps faith
with the sisters in their misty pool
the colour of their eyes is everywhere
their seven songs reach through the years of war
and sad diasporas    and as he steps
ashore in Cyprus to begin Bitter Lemons
there they are    rising in a beautiful narrative
at Bellapaix for the beginning of summer
a world of water trims a world of fire    the map
on the bedroom floor survives the predations
of curiosity and terror    there they are
the flicker of their wings twinkling frostily
a flight of pigeons fanning out on the blue

a salute to the girls whose eyes
split the spectrum    fire lion saffron    and are
painted on narrow boats    river ocean thunder
making their way across the night sky
they learned to love the dark    they sprang
from doorways one bunch of ribbons
or the other in their excitable hands    look at this
they said and the warmth of one evening
or the coolness of another spread out
from the harbour entrance    girls how do you
split white light with terrestrial eyes
and where do you go when the door swings
wide    releasing you ultra infra
into a field of stars with names as strange
as your own    nobody ever explained
the jumps to left and right    the halos
of laughter they made    those girls my eyes

a new moon sits in the sky tonight
waiting for the sisters who are some distance
away the suggestion of fishes swimming
or flying like stars across the dark pool of the sky
up there it’s summer and a girl brings cherries
to the surface in her lips as the poet watches
unable to believe his eyes    down here
winter and the heliacal rising of doves
on long strings that hold us to the earth
and one another as the little eyes open

poet's biography ->