MY MOTHER’S COUNTRY
There is no water here, only schist and quartzite;
the gleaming quartz gravel pulverised for gold.
The only gold now is gorse on the ranges,
the flat topped and rolling ranges, and basins
the alluvial basins long dry, nothing to drink
of the cold streams that powered wheel and sluice,
think silence and solitude broken by a rabbit
sudden as a rifle crack amongst the rocks
in a sere and sun-trampled land, not even
an acrid sip from a natural basin in the rock,
stillness interrupted by empty thunder,
impotent, somewhere off in the ranges.
Grass has a cleaner death than ours, a sudden
russet overtaking of the chlorophyll, acceptance
and no pain, a dry and fragile skeleton behind:
live, and die, and live, and die, and live again.
Behold the meteorite, all overgrown with lichens,
half buried, the contours softened by erosion
for thus does earth make of her own
part of the sky fallen in a forgotten shower.
Orchards I will not inherit crumble to dust
against an abrupt hill, and below the ranges
lies the town where my mother was born,
like Lyonesse beneath a lake, damn flooded.
Drowned Old Cromwell.
There is the water
but here is the land
my dead lie buried in
full six feet under.
No spring bubbles from the rock
Not even the sound of water
just the cicadas in the parched grass
the universe of their existence,
lichens, skinks, cockchafer beetles
and wild thyme
shanti shanti shanti
Rusting cages like gibbets are strung over
the Clutha; these are pragmatic
metaphors for vanitas.
From Cluaidh, the Gaelic name for the Clyde.
The river’s borrowed goddess is Clota,
the divine washerwoman,
worshiped by the Welsh-speaking Damnonii,
scrubbing clean the past in the eddy Mata-au,
a roaring taniwha.
Molyneux is as forgotten as the Moa of the upper headland.
High above the sparkling ochre stone of the gully
the hawks hover. In the glaucous water
mini Charybdis and Maelstrom,
for this is mythic country, and Scylla may any minute
erupt from the ore-bearing rocks, nosing for a victim.
Turning over in the riverbed
(the water of history rushing
over the rocks of time) a dissolving bone,
a lost nugget of gold, a story.
Stark rockfaces seamed with milky quartzite
hunting off like arteries to the motherlode.
The water is tugged and ripped continuously
from the bolt by the white thunder
of rapids no Huck Finn would dare attempt
and the river’s drumming weirs, whorls and hesitations.
Even in drought, this a maternal country, these
these calcified vertebrae of the landscape, ramparts
of civilisations that never were, dissolving
like slow aspirin over centuries into the trickles
and springs babbling oracular through fissures
beneath, gnawn out hollow cloisters where the first tribes,
returned from trading, traced inscape constellations:
terror eagles that could carry off an infant, moa
with periscopic necks, taniwha the river guardians
(and wonder if they worked in monkish silence
or gossiped and told stories, tagging like teens),
touched up by a flying Indo-Dutchman or broken up
for crude mortar and fertiliser for sheep pasture
and even fed to chickens to improve their eggshells.
Think of Oamaru, as if a fleet of quinqueremes
fetched up in Waitaki mouth with a lost Roman legion
and they had their own Renaissance without waiting.
Think of all those neoclassical basilicas Frank Petre
knocked up around the South Island; all limestone,
lunar and luminous, our ersatz Carrara and Parian.
Malignant quarries, descending terraces like Dante’s
Hell, eat into the green breasts of hills like cancer,
chisel, sledgehammer and crowbar, in frenetic violence.
The thyme and tussock scented air has a churchlike
cadence, labyrinthine gennel and ravine,
karst, underworld castle, grotto and womb-cave,
ampitheatrical doline, fluted karren, an abstract
sculpture park, an alien world from 1960s Star Trek
populated by the occasional fleece-bound hermit ram.
There on the hill like the Rook from Titan’s chess set,
the squat wizard’s tower of an old lime kiln, mellow
and round; that’s where they immolated the lumps
of congealed millennia of foraminifera skeletons
haunted by trillions of very tiny ghosts whispering.
Beyond the crumbling portal it’s dim and cool
like being submerged in well water, but dry
and the slightest sound roars around its hollow, blackened
brick rudely glyphed by bored teenagers from nearby
farms, satisfying the unconscious craving for the aedicule.
Outside the breasted curve of the landscape watches
this recent interloper warily, though recognising
the reassemblage of its own atoms, and the water
twists through it like dark veins in a wrist, chuckling,
giggling and babbling irresponsibly in the darkness.