Robert Creeley's NZ
THE DOGS OF AUCKLAND
Curious, coming again here,
where I hadn't known where I was ever,
following lead of provident strangers,
around the corners, out to the edges,
never really looking back but kept
adamant forward disposition, a Christian
self-evident resolve, small balloon of purpose
across the wide ocean, friends, relations,
all left behind. Each day the sun rose, then set.
It must be the way life is, like they say, a story
someone might have told me. I'd have listened.
Like the story Murray recalled by Janet Frame
in which a person thinks to determine what's most necessary
to life, and strips away legs, arms, trunk--
to be left with a head, more specifically, a brain,
puts it on the table, and a cleaning woman comes in,
sees the mess and throws it into the dustbin.
Don't think of it, just remember? Just then there was a gorgeous
light on the street there, where I was standing, waiting
for the #005 bus at the end of Queen Street, just there on Customs,
West--dazzling sun, through rain. "George is/gorgeous/
George is..." So it begins.
Almost twenty years ago I fled my apparent life, went off
into the vast Pacific, though it was only miles and miles
in a plane, came down in Auckland Airport, was met by Russell Haley--
and he's still here with Jean, though they've moved
to the east coast a few hours away, and Alan Loney is here
as ever my friend. And Wystan, whose light I might see there
across the bay, blinking. And Alistair Paterson is here with a thirty-
four foot boat up the harbor--as in comes the crew of Black Magic
with the America's Cup, in their yellow slickers, the cars moving down
Queen Street, the crowd there waiting some half million--
in the same dazzling light in which I see tiny, seemingly dancing figures
at the roof's edge of the large building back of the square, looking down.
How to stay real in such echoes? How be, finally, anywhere the body's got to?
You were with friends, sir? Do you know their address...
They walk so fast through Albert Park. Is it my heart causes these
awkward, gasping convulsions? I can mask the grimace with a smile,
can match the grimace with a smile. I can. I think I can.
Flooded with flat, unyielding sun, the winter beds of small plants
form a pattern, if one looks, a design. There is Queen Victoria still,
and not far from her the statue of a man. Sit down, sit down.
3. (for Pen)
Scale's intimate. From the frame and panes of the fresh white
painted windows in the door, to the deck, second floor, with its
white posts and securing lattice of bars, but nothing, nothing that
would ever look like that, just a small porch, below's the garden,
winter sodden, trampoline, dark wet green pad pulled tight, a lemon
tree thick with fruit. And fences, backyards, neighbors surrounding, in
all the sloping, flattened valley with trees stuck in like a kid's picture,
palms, Norfolk pine, stubby ones I can't name, a church spire, brownish
red at the edge of the far hill, also another prominent bald small dome,
both of which catch the late sun and glow there near the head of Ponsonby Road.
The Yellow Bus stops up the street, where Wharf comes into Jervois Road,
off Buller to Bayfield, where we are. I am writing this, sitting at the table,
and love you more and more. When you hadn't yet got here, I set to each morning
to learn "New Zealand" (I thought) as if it were a book simply. I listened to everyone.
Now we go to bed as all, first Will and Hannah, in this rented house, then us,
lie side by side, reading. Then off with the light and to sleep, to slide close up
to one another, sometimes your bottom tucked tight against my belly or
mine lodged snug in your lap. Sweet dreams, dear heart, till the morning comes.
Back again, still new, from the south
where it's cold now, and people didn't seem to
know what to do, cars sliding, roads blocked with snow,
walk along here through the freshening morning
down the wet street past green plastic garbage bins,
past persistent small flowering bushes, trees. Like the newcomer
come to town, the dogs bark and one on a porch
across from the house where we live makes a fuss
when I turn to go in through the gate. Its young slight
mistress comes out as if in dream, scolds the sad dog,
cuffing it with shadowy hands, then goes back in.
I wonder where sounds go after they've been,
where light once here is now, what, like the joke,
is bigger than life and blue all over, or brown all over,
here where I am. How big my feet seem, how curiously
solid my body. Turning in bed at night with you gone, alone here,
looking out at the greyish dark, I wonder who else is alive.
Now our bus lumbers on up the hill from the stop at the foot of Queen Street--
another late rain, a thick sky--past the laboring traffic when just across
at an intersection there's another bus going by, its windows
papered with dogs, pictures of dogs, all sizes, kinds and colors,
looking real, patient like passengers, who must be behind
sitting down in the seats. Stupid to ask what things mean if it's only
to doubt them. That was a bus going elsewhere? Ask them.
Raining again. Moments ago the sky was a grey lapping pattern
towards the light at the edges still, over Auckland, at the horizon.
It's closed in except for the outline of a darker small cloud
with pleasant, almost lacelike design laid over the lighter sky.
Things to do today. Think of Ted Berrigan, friends absent or dead.
Someone was saying, you don't really know where you are
till you move away-- "How is it far if you think it." I have still the sense
I've got this body to take care of, a thing someone left me in mind
as it were. Don't forget it. The dogs were there when I went
up to the head of the street to shop for something to eat and a lady,
unaggressively but particular to get there, pushes in to pay for some small items
she's got, saying she wants to get back to her house before the rain.
The sky is pitch black toward the creek. She's there as I pass with my packages,
she's stopped to peer into some lot has a board enclosure around it,
and there are two dogs playing, bouncing up on each other.
Should I bounce, then, in friendship, against this inquisitive lady,
bark, be playful? One has no real words for that.
Pointless otherwise to say anything she was so absorbed.
I can't call across it, see it as a piece, am dulled with its reflective prospect,
want all of it but can't get it, even a little piece here. Hence the dogs,
"The Dogs of Auckland," who were there first walking along with their company,
seemed specific to given streets, led the way, accustomed.
Nothing to do with sheep or herding, no presence other than one uncannily human,
a scale kept the city particular and usefully in proportion.
When I was a kid I remember lifting my foot up carefully, so as to step over
the castle we'd built with blocks. The world here is similar. The sky so vast,
so endless the surrounding ocean. No one could swim it.
It's a basic company we've come to.
They say people get to look like their dogs, and if I could,
I'd have been Maggie, thin long nose, yellowish orange hair,
a frenetic mongrel terrier's delight in keeping it going, eager,
vulnerable, but she's gone. All the familiar stories of the old man
and his constant companion, the dog, Bowser.
My pride that Norman Mailer lists Bob, Son of Battle
as a book he valued in youth
as I had also. Warm small proud lonely world.
Coming first into this house, from seemingly nowhere
a large brown amiable dog went bounding in
up the steps in front of us, plunged through the various rooms
and out. Farther up the street is one less secure, misshapen,
a bit thin haired where it's worn, twists on his legs, quite small.
This afternoon I thought he'd come out to greet me, coming home.
He was at the curb as I came down and was headed toward me.
Then he got spooked and barked, running, tail down, for his house.
I could hear all the others, back of the doors, howling,
sounding the painful alarm.
Empty, vacant. Not the outside but in. What you thought was
a place, you'd determined by talk,
and, turning, neither dogs nor people
were there. Pack up the backdrop, Pull down
the staging. Not "The Dogs" but The Dog of Auckland--
Le Chien d'Auckland, c'est moi!
I am the one with the missing head in the gully
Will saw walking up the tidal creek bed. I am the one
in the story the friend told, of his Newfoundland,
hit by car at Auckland city intersection, crossing on crosswalk,
knocked down first, then run over, the driver
anxious for repairs to his car. I am the Dog.
Open the sky, let the light back in.
Your ridiculous, pinched faces confound me.
Your meaty privilege, lack of distinguishing measure,
skill, your terrifying, mawkish dependence--
You thought for even one moment it was Your World?
"Anubis" rhymes with Auckland, says the thoughtful humanist--
at least an "a" begins each word, and from there on it's
only a matter of miles. By now I have certainly noticed
that the dogs aren't necessarily with the people at all, nor are the people
with the dogs. It's the light,
backlit buildings, the huge sense of floating,
platforms of glass like the face
of the one at the edge of Albert Park
reflects (back) the trees, for that charmed
moment all in air. That's where we are.
So how did the dogs get up here, eh?
I didn't even bring myself, much less them.
In the South Island a bull terrier is minding sheep
with characteristic pancake-flat smile.
Meantime thanks, even if now much too late,
to all who move about "down on all fours,"
in furry, various coats. Yours was the kind accommodation,
the unobtrusive company, or else the simple valediction of a look.
June 28 - July 21, 1995
Originally published in 1996 by Meow Press, Buffalo, NY, on the occasion of Robert Creeley’s 70th birthday.. A limited edition with ink drawings by Max Gimblett was published in 1998 by the Holloway Press, Auckland, NZ.