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Graham Lindsay

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Maiorum Institutis Utendo

Gulls flying
motes of ash in the updraft, up in the sunlight
the sun declining on the western faces
of hills, houses
people readying themselves to go home from work
to the pub from work:

see them in the Oriental
faces afloat in a dark tank
the old gropers grinning boyishly
holding freshlit filtertips aloft in their fingers
spilling first glassfuls from full jugs on pedestals
easing their arses on the awkward hotel furniture
settling in for the night;
others walking
head down along the golden streets.

Two wood pigeons on the powerlines
great fluffy feathered white breasts, forest green necks
red eyes red collars red crowns transcolouring
three purple claws visible on each leg
symbol of transcendence of the carved ancestors.

Signal Hill in the binoculars, that place that presence
the War Memorial statue on the peninsula, away over there
the stone hillsides.

Bracken View by the Northern Cemetery
where the lovers in cars cradle each other blind
behind the windscreens to the view
which nevertheless settles down through their hoods and all around
where the hoons heave their empties vaingloriously
in beautiful glinting parabolas of bad taste
leave their piss in half-filled bottles on the parapets
beam headlamps like searchlights in a swathe across the city as they
drop clutch and depart
in slithering mud-spinning volleys.

In the Northern Cemetery east of the main gates Bracken lies
under a view he would not have cared too much for:
wharves, cranes, gasworks, bits of railway track
silos, oil depots, chimneys, sweepage of houses and industry
probably the earth has caved in his bones –
he was dug in there in 1898
and fastened with a monumental plug.

On the Lookout pedestal we’re accorded
this civic charm of his:
Go, trav’ler, unto others boast
   Of Venice and of Rome
Of saintly Mark’s majestic pile,
   And Peter’s lofty dome;
Of Naples and her trellised bowers;
   Of Rhineland far away: –
These may be grand, but give to me
   Dunedin from the Bay.
He didn’t get it, we don’t either
more than a glimmering.

A bronze compass disk points out the places of ‘interest’;
Cargill’s Castle, First Church
Otago Boys’, the Technical College
and other architectural and engineering amazements
of the city fathers, the councillors those mothers
monuments in masonry to their everlasting memory
their foresightedness;

Queen’s Gardens, the Early Settlers’ museum
a bust of James Macandrew beside plaster colonnades and acanthus leaves
D.M. Stuart D.D., daydreaming through a hole in the past, out on the reclaimed beach front
Queen Victoria with downturned orifices
the mournful cheeks of the chaste maids Justice and Wisdom
tears of rain rolling down their heads
Wisdom suffering impressment, her eyes direct
merely watch what you say they ask –
hard pips of the nineteenth century
in the brown core of the present;

the Cenotaph like a Mandarin arms folded
until you see the crosses on its breast
an emaciated marble lion guarding the plinth
griefleaves of shadow cascading up the spotlit spine

(the Sixty-Fifth moves out onto Anzac Avenue
elderly men running shikkered to catch up with
the Holsum Bakery Kaikorai Band
it’s too much)

Norwich Union breaking wind with MFL
monstrous mausoleums transfixing the night-time gaze
of out-of-city children
AIRPORT HOUSE about to take off
the Gresham Home Supply not going anywhere
men spitting vomit alongside the Café de Curb.

The directions – get it right – that way north, trans-border
stand with your arms flung like a weathercock
planes coming in from the upland
crossing the Sorbonne of the low night sky
over Swampy and Flagstaff (Johnny Jones’ highway)
the geophysical barriers reducing to silhouettes
way over them the world flies out

that way the aurora
over the cold flat plexus of the southern ocean
all the way to Antarctica, our kindred land-form from Gondwanaland days
an odd angle it seems, with us on Te Waka a Maui aslant like this.
Bell Hill in the harbour
grief envy, what keeps us back
‘The estimated cost, £355,000, would be covered, it was believed,
by the return from the sale or leasing of the land created’ –
between thirteen and fifteen metres were cut off
and First Church erected in its stead;

the pommel on Saddle Hill sheared for basalt
the great girth of the hill underneath sliding toward Mosgiel;

the reserve on Signal Hill, contrary to statute, leased to a farmer
who bulldozed the bush regenerating on its summit, presumably
because it was eating up space and nutrients
his dozen or so sheep could increase on
because that’s the model for the New Zealand male, if he means business;

two quarries on its spurs
the lower a great amphitheatre for the prevailing winds
and detonations jumping in the bowels of Black Jack’s Point
the upper a silent auditorium for the post-mortemed rock.

The peninsula heavily forested from ‘shoreline to skyline’
when Tuckett came through looking for the new Edinburgh
where Kahukura stood, one foot on Hautai the other in Tainui,
watching over the ambergris of the cells of man
as it floated landward.

George O’Brien painting the lines of his times:
sunset over the harbour from Waverley
the ‘kidney’ clearly visible at the Heads, where they plan,
the councillors those motherfuckers, to raise an aluminium golgotha
so they and their cohorts can continue buying in
their bright new Japanese cars, and dispense with the bumper stickers saying  ‘We Love Otago’ and
‘Otago Needs Jobs’

they’re going under
the Skeggs’ eggs, Bolgers Birchs Coopers Couchs, minions of late Western
     capitalism, are going under
and they’re taking with them their
charismatic catastrophe;

painting also Kaituna, from Te Pahure o Te Rangipohika, or Signal Hill
where he was, 1860s, deforestation already commenced
the passive imperturbable upper harbour ringed now
by the orange lights of Portsmouth Drive on the Southern
Endowment (sic).

protestation . . .
Pelichet Bay, Mud Terrace:
the former taken ‘chiefly for the convenience of land-owners in the vicinity’
the latter through the surveyors drawing Princes Street through blue water;

Andersons Bay, the Southern ‘Endowment’:
the decreased volume of water in the harbour reducing ‘tidal scour necessary to prevent shoaling’:

proposed widening of road facilities beyond Careys Bay
proposed reclamation of twenty-nine hectares at Te Ngaru
pretty soon plans will be revived
for an international tarmac on the upper harbour.

A dead octopus suspended in the tide
where the water empties through the causeway laid by Taranaki prisoners
many of them dying of bronchial and tubercular diseases
the nineteenth century equivalent of germ warfare

stretch-marks on the water’s surface
black spools of current unravelling
into seemingly insoluble bird-nests
riding over rapids and dissolving
in the coves the water like moiré
reflecting hanks of copper light from the lamp-posts
on Burns Point shimmering wind-rippled.

Across the Bay those spaceships the highrises are readying for lift-off
from the cavernous dark roar of the water-front
the gloom of night pours heavily into the hill above Ravensbourne
cars battle round the bays and headlands
an ambulance flashes deathly scarlet beside a prone cyclist
the industrial isthmus looking like a ghoulish school playground
the curvature of the world evident
in the meniscus of the Bay.
Fancy finding ‘New Zealand’ on an AA Otago roadsign
the ‘New Zealand Centennial Memorial’ beside the simple seal of a country road
simple grass verge-hedge-paddock, and
ten-acre farmlets on a hilltop!
Eucalyptus trees full-grown, kennels, nurseries, stone out-houses
a hamlet ‘over the rainbow’
a stone’s throw behind the city shoulder.

Alone at the wheels of their big cars
the poets who lost their lives, maybe lost their wives and children,
have been up here
gazing into the crystal ball of Separation
they descend now through black gates, back to the shadowed trenches
of Caversham, Maclaggan, Leith and North East Valley
the cattle-stops rattle behind.

We must grow into the immensity, the phantasmagoria of
Dunedin, New Zealand, the World; that large!
That way north, over there, over those hills
stand with your arms flung like a weathercock
over Maniototo, that plain of the fruition of vision,
where the world flies out, outwards and upwards
that way the aurora
east-west the transmeridional
demarcation of our spirit.

‘At the beginning of the Dominion’s second century this monument is dedicated to
     the memory of the pioneers who braved the first’
History and The Thread Of Life commanding the vistas
the patriarch heavy-browed, in boots
with a hollow book and a solid pencil, gazing west – padme gate padme gate
the hooded woman in sandals with a bale of twine or
fishing line, gazing into the birth. And

Edinburgh, here!
‘This rock hewn from the rock on which Edinburgh Castle stands was given as a
     centennial memorial token by the people of Edinburgh to signify the bond
     which forever binds the cities of Edinburgh and Dunedin’
cloaked in indigenous lichens
and here too is Robbie Burns inscribed: Auld Lang Syne.

From the Seal of the Province of Otago – Maiorum Institutis Utendo* –
looking down on our home town
a freighter casting chevrons and demi-spheres in the harbour dawn’s mercury bowl
the bridge of the Memorial soaring out over the city
old brain of the chieftains Pukemamaku, Whanaupaki, Kapukataumahaka, Te Pahure o Te Rangipohika
demurely regarding the slip of gold at their feet.

* ‘By following in the steps of our forefathers’ (translation from K.C. McDonald, City of Dunedin)


From Big Boy (Auckland: AUP, 1986)
© Graham Lindsay

Last updated 23 December, 2003