new zealand electronic poetry centre

R I C H A R D   R E E V E


Seven Songs for Islands

If breaking through brine
then breaking through time,
or culture, at any rate.
Sunshine, salt and sleet
mould lava into grime,
suffusing into grey-green
immensity the bed-rock.
The racketeer-squawk
of a chancy mollymawk,
faeces draped on a crag,
means little to the trawler
moored in shallow water.
But the sea in the bird,
the breeze in the watcher
as he peers overboard,
paints this other picture.
Rakaihautu, the man,
cold in a swamp, could think
up guide-gods to thank
breaking through beech
to meet with the great eye,
reflect on that mountain
forest and sunken ridge.
Where it drained to the sea
they travelled on a raft,
following that which is now
known as the Waiau.
Exhausted at the shore
where damp squalls wore
inbedrock a thin cleft,
they peered from its mouth
atan island to the south.

But Don Bauza, alone
from his Italian captain,
interrupted in Spanish
the mountains his pinnace

tracked like a surgeon’s nib
in drenched Doubtful.
There was nothing there
on that lonely knob.
Chewing on a mouthful
of Catholic opprobium
for the English navigator,
he returned to the world
of gaffs, planks, rum,
feeling downcast and cold.
On deck flailed a turtle
that the first mate killed.
Communitysuch as that
which grew on Ruapuke,
where shrewd, sour Tuhawaiki
clutched like the limpet
at those scales of rock
weathering the strait,
watched the swell fetch back
the currency of history,

young men and women
transformed on the mainland
into servants, bow-men­:
fashioned by demand    
that drew them back forth
just as any rasher of kelp,
crippled, with a cough,  
or not needing any help.
Where the coracle dips
riding swell falls away.
The deeps open where steeps
fall down white and grey
as the face of a sick man.
Regurgitated water.
The Captain’s daughter,
she didn’t like it when
those scrawny sealing gangs      
(dropped off by her papa)
would spume their catarrh
over her clean things.
Far out on Raggedy rocks,
through a window pane
she counselled wet Englishmen
fighting against the rain.
As there are sea mists
so there will be mystery.
As there are bandaged fists
so there is the history
of people at the shores
of other times and climates.
He thinks of fishermen
blown south to the Snares —
unsuspecting primates
whom the warm current bears
over desolate ocean
with its pointless motion.
As there are sea mists
so the heart of the book
is the heart that invests
in the passage they took.
Hauled into discussion
with the sea, Solander’s
fish-torn shoreline thunders
in the white confusion
of south-east and west swells
swept by the southerly.             
Waitutu, refuge of exiles,
house of drowned souls,
is looking out through me
at that abandoned blade.
Mountain rivers flood
bone-toothed, whipped sea.
Departed from the gods,                      
the island has looked back.
Impressed by its feuds  
I trudge down the track.


Last updated 28 April, 2006