A PAINTING IN AN EXHIBITION


For Bill Hammond

...the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
                              W. H. Auden, “Musee des Beaux Arts” (1938)

The invisible machinery of the forest
falls silent. We have interrupted
their wait for the missionaries
to come, wring their necks, and stuff them.
They are lotus eaters caught halfway between
men turning into birds, or birds to men.

Beneath the dripping cumuli of leaves
they populate their landscape casually
like ponga and tī, and like trees, have little say
in what happens to them. Their eyes reflect
fear drowned in disdain for the barbarians.

Doubtless they were living there
in that Chinoiserie Eden pre-Adam’s conquest
erased all treaties and prior claims, and Eve moved in,
bland suburbs metastasising over
the barrows of huia-headed Thoth.
Though born here,

we’ll always envy them that.

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