new zealand electronic poetry centre

Fiona Farrell



Imagine a small town.

Along its edges, chaos.

To the east, clinking shelves of shingle and a tearing sea, surging in from South America across thousands of gull-studded, white-capped heaving miles.

To the south, the worn hump of a volcano crewcut with pines dark and silent, but dimpled still on the crest where melted rock and fire have spilled to the sea to hiss and set as solid bubbles, black threaded with red.

To the west, a border of hilly terraces built up from layer upon layer of shells which rose once, dripping from the sea and could as easily shudder like the fish it is in legend and dive.

To the north flat paddocks pockmarked with stone, and the river which made them shifting restlessly from channel to channel in its broad braided bed.

Nothing is sure.

The town pretends of course, settled rump-down on the coastal plain with its back to the sea, which creeps up yearly a nibble here, a bite there, until a whole football field has gone at the boys’ high school and the cliff walkway crumbles and the sea demands propitiation, truckloads of rubble and concrete blocks. And the town inches away in neat rectangular steps up the flanks of the volcano which the council named after an early mayor, a lardy mutton-cop of a man, hoping to tame it as Greeks thought they’d fool the Furies by calling them the Kindly Ones: inches away across shingle bar and flax swamp to the shell terraces and over, where order frays at last into unpaved roads, creeks flowing like black oil beneath willows tangled in convolvulus, and old villa houses, gaptoothed, teetering on saggy piles, with an infestation of hens in the yard and a yellow toothed dog chained to a water tank.

At the centre, things seem under control. The post office is a white wedding cake, scalloped and frilled, and across the road are the banks putting on a responsible Greek front (though ramshackle corrugated iron behind). At each end of the main street, the town mourns its glorious dead with a grieving soldier in puttees to the north and a defiant lion to the south, and in between, a cohort of memorial elms was drawn up respectfully until 1952 when it was discovered that down in the dark the trees had broken ranks and were rootling around under the road tearing crevices in the tarmac and the council was forced to be stern: tore out the lot and replaced them with plots of more compliant African marigolds. There are shops and petrol stations and churches and flowering cherries for beautification and a little harbour with a tea kiosk in the lee of the volcano. It’s as sweet as a nut, as neat as a pie, as a pin.

Imagine it.



From The Skinny Louie Book (Penguin, 1992): 9-10

Fiona Farrell

Last updated 27 July, 2007