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   n z e p c
Gregory O’Brien  

All Together Now: A Digital Bridge for Auckland and Sydney             


To have feet and not have walked on them

A letter to Ken Bolton and Cath Kenneally



To have feet and not have walked on them—imagine
our five-month-old son, Felix, moving furtively
                                                            beneath the furniture.
Walking or crawling free, like our neighbour Mr Apostolakis, who
                                                            bought a pistol from

an undercover policeman he then tried to hire to shoot his wife’s
lover—he was given a suspended sentence and fined $7500, while his
spends 18 months in prison for possession of the (inoperative) firearm.

How could a mother do this to her son? the poor man moans,
smoking and gesticulating from the front page—the Greek population
back in the press, deservedly,
                                    reminding us of the time

a young Angelopoulos choked while trying
to swallow a bag of cocaine
                        as the police were about to
handcuff him. The Mount Victoria tunnel was graffitied a week later:


Strange times, it would seem. Mt Ruapehu has erupted
again, enshrouding half the North Island in smoke…
Even if my position
                        as New Zealand’s pre-eminent surf poet

is unassailable, Ken, I never was much of a surfer. Magazines always
did it better. I was content to watch the waves unfurl,
rolling poetically past, as I lay patiently on my board, imagining

the perfect trajectory
                        like the prisoner in Robert Bresson’s
‘A Man Escaped’, planning the perfect exit. Which
could only ever happen once. Like love, you would only

get one chance (Paul Klee said ‘everything is best said once
and in the simplest way’), with Bach’s Musikalishches Opfer
as backing—which proves the point. Since I was a child I have always

been drawn to chamber orchestras—I always thought: I want one.
The perfect escape—like Bach’s final composition.
                                    I was only ‘tubed’
once, at Whangamata, 1977. But no one was watching. The wave

I was riding, like any other wave, disappeared back
inside itself. The longest ride ever—but when it’s over
(as they say) it’s over. Might as well have been

sitting in a parked car. The world isn’t made of
permanent materials—a passing steam train, the steam train’s
steam. In the recording of these things and the reflecting

upon them, all we are really recording is our inability
to record them—like David Tremlett’s paean to the North Sea
air: a row of cassette recordings of the wind lined up and mounted on

a gallery wall. Here in Wellington, we have our very own smoking
National Museum—insulation inside the walls of the new building
                                                            having caught fire
last Friday, and various persons around the periphery were supposedly

cheering. While Mr Apostolakis, our smoking neighbour, walks free,
‘welcomes freedom’
                        as the front page says. Wasn’t it one of you who said
that Australian poetry is just like surfing, only

without the wave… or maybe it was a museum of clouds?
I’ve discovered the perfect metaphor, Ken, but I’m not sure what
it’s for: the robust cabbage tree against which the early settlers would

build their huts—they would use the hollow tree-trunk
as a chimney, small pots boiling on an open fire at the base of it.
The cabbage trees survived this, yielding foliage as well as

smoke. And when the settlers moved on, the chimneys resumed being
trees—which probably says something about adaptability: a well-
place somewhere between the natural and unnatural worlds…

which reminds me of a surf-movie theatre in Mount Eden,
The Crystal Palace, where we would park our Volkswagens (by some
good fortune our father had a volkswagen, a variant, which gave us

a credibility far beyond our surfing ability or our vocabulary
to describe these films in which the women were
                                                invariably confined
to non-surfing roles, lying half-naked about beaches, the loose sand

a kind of censorship). Anyhow, Ken and Cath, I hope the reviewers
are treating you well. As Richard McWhannell writes
(quoting Georgia O’Keefe): ‘Praise or blame, throw it down

the same drain.’ You’ll be interested to know—Cath
especially—that 99.75% of women
get what they want, or so says Mr Apostolakis.

The pursuit of wisdom, Cath, isn’t that what
it boils down to, be it surfing or the Western Canon or
the baby crashing about the home, the morning’s mail

blowing across the lawn, and you can’t get out there to
retrieve it? Felix finding his feet—
                                                ‘an inexperienced surfer
leaning into the curl’—
                                    with the kind of enthusiasm we once reserved

for losing ours, teenaged and stumbling
                                    from beach party
to beach party, Pet Sounds or a local band, Waves, echoing in our
ears, and the oracular pronouncements of Kiwi Surf magazine:

‘Go north, son!
                        …for a late autumn bash. Where the locals are going sick on a
bunch of nice waves.’
                                                It seems only yesterday,
my friend The Legendary Nick ‘popped the fins over a crisp close-out-out’,

later ‘punching his way through a crumbling Piha lip’…
now there are reports that, after some lean years, there are…
‘a bunch of hot grommets coming up through the ranks;

each vying for lead soprano in the Piha Boys Choir.’
We were in trouble back then
                                    —in all seriousness, in the light-
ness, the levity of our senses… 99.75% of parenthood

is finding ways of tricking the baby into falling asleep—
then remembering as far back as the ocean that gathered up
                                                            our limbs
and reconfigured them, that leapt the road… the ocean that has

preserved 99.75% of Lion Rock
and the flight paths of large, unfriendly
                                                birds… benedixit filius tuis in te… and
                        has blessed your children
within you… And all the songs of our youth—the Legendary Nick
            and I—they were unsung, so I will sing them now.

June 1996
First  published in Seven Letters (1997)



©Gregory O’Brien