ECLOGUE: CHRISTCHURCH IN WINTER



Ultima Cumaei venit iam carminus est:
magnus ab entergo sæclorum nascitu ordo.
- Virgil, Eclogue IV*

In Te Wai Pounamu, winter comes in hard
straight off the Antarctic ice floes, scything low
over the flat scrub of the plains and outside
the sheltered harbours Tāwhirimātea of the storms
               lashes at
Tangaroa’s glum lead waters with his fists.
In
the wet black sand, the godwits print angelic biographies
with their bird-foot cuneiform before
they take off for the warmer lakes of Siberia.

North Hagley Park smokes like an old piece
of roof tin chucked on a tip fire,
with the breath of people and bare willows
in this grey steel freezer of a South Island cold snap.
Joggers and dogs towing their people cough up
expanding gypsophila blooms.

Far out, resting on the surface of the nation
of groper, terakihi and the ugly roughy, a Russian
trawler captain looks to an angry black horizon,
dreaming of a bountiful catch.
The office lemming plucks files from the cabinet,
delicately like Orpheus strumming his lyre.
He looks
               out into the raw grey day and
moves closer to the heater.

As soon as afternoon tea is over, darkness falls.
Spring becomes
a bitter aftertaste and talk of cherry blossom
drops out of frequency.
                                             The Southerly chooses to whistle
a subzero tune from the Ice Age’s greatest hits
until my cheeks burn like beetroot.

The streets are stuccoed, candy-coated –
Jack Frost’s crack troops
are parachuting in through a sky dirty white on white:
Scandinavian camouflage,
a charcoal picture, the trees are by Mondrian.
This monochrome remains

even after I shut my stinging eyes.


Earlier versions of this poem were first published in Big Sky: A Collection of Canterbury Poems, edited by Bernadette Hall and James Norcliffe, Shoal Bay Press, 2002, and later in Wildes Licht: Poems/Gedichte Aus Aotearoa Neuseeland: Englisch-Deutsch, edited by Dieter Riemenschneider, Tanzlit, 2010, where it is also translated into German.

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