new zealand electronic poetry centre


Ian Wedde


Pathway to the Sea

to  A. R. Ammons

First published by Alan Loney at Hawk Press (Taylor’s Mistake, Christchurch, 1975)
in a handset limited edition with cover art by Ralph Hotere    


I started late summer-before-last
digging for a
                        field-tile drain
at the bottom of the garden
where below
                        topsoil that leached away
as fast as I mulched  &
          fed it was
                 a puggy day

slick turning rainwater
        frost dew snow sparrow-
               piss & other seepage & drainage down
under an old shed
         in the lower adjoining
                 section : here the water
bogged foundations & floorboards
          till the whole crazy
                 edifice began to

settle sideways  &
         slide on greased clay
taking a fouldrain with it :
        visions of “faecal matter”
                 bubbling up from clogged
overflow traps bothered
        me & some
     others too : it was time

to act !  especially since
        in addition to ordure getting
                 spread around  &
putting its soft mouths in
        deep cloacal
                 kisses to our
livers any obvious
         breakdown in the system for
                  disposal of this shit

( ours in fact )  would
         bring the council inspectors round
                 like flies
aptly enough & that would mean
        they’d get to look at
                other aspects of how
we choose to
        live which might strike them as
               unorthodox or even

illegal : for example there’s
         lots being done round here
                 with demolition
timber, & that’s illegal, you gotta
        use new timber,
                  citizen, the old stuff
which was once forests of kauri &
        totara & rimu took oh
                hundreds of years to get to

where it was when it was
        milled, the houses it knit
                 together stood & with-
stood “better” than the forests
         I suppose : the timber
                      served, anyway, it
did that for whoever watched
        the process through,  &
                     now that the houses ‘re out

of phase much as the forests once
        were, though like the
                      forests the fibre of the brittle
timber can still spring
         & ring . . . now,
                     anyway, that it’s time
to go, it has to get broken, stamped down, splintered
        by a ‘dozer’s tracks  & what’s
                     left of fibre knot

& resin has a match
        put to
                     it : it goes “up
in smoke”— but round
         here we hoard the stuff &
                     use it, it easily bends
nails, it splits & you
         belt your thumb often enough
                      to know all about that

but the structures
        stay put ! & the inspectors
                     would say “Down 
with them” — well, down with
       them ! . . . I like the way you
                      have to compromise with brittle
demolition timber : what gets
         built has bent the
                       builder as well as his

nails & nerves : he’s
        learnt something about
                      service, the toughness of the
medium may have taught him
        that ease is no grateful
                     index to dispensability
or availability : like
        who wants a companion for
                     life or whatever span

you fancy ( they’re all “for life” ) who can’t
        put some juice
                      back in your
systems? — ah how you value
         the tough lover who
                          keeps you up
to the mark, whose head
        eyes language hands
                      loins en-

gage you, give you
         elevation, a prospect, with whom you ride
                     up the up &
up like birds beating on in
       the mutual updraughts of
                     each other’s wings — birds, a
subject I’ll come back to later
         when I’m through with this
                      drain : what needs

to be noted here, though, is that even if
        some things don’t fight
                       back at once or
obviously, nonetheless you
         can bet your “sweet” ( for )
they fight back & your children & children’s children
        will be paying your
                      blood-money, citizen —

well, meanwhile, we agreed, let’s
        keep our shit out
                      of the public eye & let’s
keep our friendly sheds, our lovely slums,
         our righteous brittle screwy
             inspired constructs
up : & then
        let’s add some
                     flourishes, decoration in this kind

of setting doesn’t coddle
         anyone, least of all the chickens
                        whose coop’s
included in the drainage
        problem threatening to
                      overwhelm us
all : besides, we’ll all
       benefit : chickens with dry 
                     feet lay more eggs

because they’re happy : happiness
          as a concept may be 
                        about as brittle as
demolition timber when the latter’s traced
         back to its
                       forest & the former
to its causes, but it
        serves likewise, it teaches us
                        “for life” : if you’re

for life you’re for its crazy outhouses
       the corners of happiness that don’t
                     square : right,
there were lots
        of reasons, the practical & the
                      ideal didn’t separate out,
the forests & the brittle planks
        were one, we
                      were engaged, we wanted

to convert our drainage problem,
      transform it, tran-
                     substantiate it, assume it into
the causes of our happiness & the
        happiness of our
                      chickens whose wet feet
& poor laying rates
        rebuked us daily — we picked
                      up shovels, backed off somewhat,

then we started digging fast, we went at it, we went
         down four feet & then
                       two more, there was
all kinds of trash, bottles & old
        sofa springs & broken
                      masonry & bricks
& unusual quantities of bones dating no doubt
        from a previous owner who bred
                      dogs, Dobermans ( — men? ) I

heard, then we began to get
         into the clay
                      pug, we were out
of sight by now, the shovels hove
         up into view at
                       infrequent intervals &
were twitched & shaken
        by their invisible handlers
                     to dislodge the sticky glup :

a comic & as time went by
         popular spectacle : for those
                       down in the drain
the strain began to 
        tell : some quit, some
                     hid, some developed rheums
blisters & trenchfoot, streptococci
         swarmed upon their tonsils,
                       they pissed

chills straight from the kidney (it was
        now winter, autumn had
                      dallied by among
the easy wreckage of an
        earlier level )
                      they defected, deserted,
they offered their apologies, they
         fucked off, the practical &
                        the ideal

sprang apart like
         warping unseasoned
                       timber, boiiiiinnnnngg-
ggg . . . a sound, it occurred
         to me, not
                      unlike a drop
on a long rope — well, that’s what
         deserters got once, & I found myself
                        wishing it on them

again as I
          plied my lone shovel, bucket,
                        grout, mattock, axe & spade,
baling out the boggy trench
          as the “drainage problem” halted
                       right there, hacking
through roots ( that deep ! ) shoring
         up avalanching walls ( the drain —huh ! — was
                       by now fifty yards

long & in some
        places twelve feet
                      deep ! impressive even
if left at that ) & shaving
        out gummy scoops
                     of clay with grunting
I then flicked heaven-
         ward into the blue
                       icy sky or

alternatively into the sky
        the low colour
                    of clay : clay
anyway, clay & more
          clay, the gobs landed up
                    there pretty
randomly after a while,  & sometimes
        they got washed
                     down again by the late winter

rain, lots of it, which the
        roots of trees were
                  sucking at, the sap
rising in them, beginning
         to, refreshed by those
                  surface-feeding tendrils, those deep
tap-roots,  & it’s here the
            story really
                        starts : not

that what’s been said so far’s
  irrelevant, though I apologise for its
                        disorderly development &
the large number of      
            apparent non-sequiturs — things
follow let me assure you, they
             proceed, citizen, they practically hunt
                         you down,  & me, who’ve

just been enjoying the way
              these lines unfold, much
                          more easily than how the pug
& clodded 
             marl left that
                         drain, landing up there
out of sight & almost
             burying one
                         of three baby

fruit trees ( here we are ) which
             therefore didn’t get its tiny
                         branches cut
back before the
              sap rose in them as spring came
                           on gravely, gaily, with me still down
there in the trench
             still chucking the odd
                        clod up & still

covering that pear tree : finally
             a retaining wall
                         got built ( use
was made of 
              used materials ) & then a truck
                          came with field-tiles
& another with shingle & we got
              together some
                          used roofing-iron  

& we had a drain ! Yeah ! there
             was enough fall in it to get
                          “the problem” drainage
away & out of our way, the chickens
              basked & layed, the clammy surfaces
                           of seeping banks
dried up, the rotting
              structures with their feet in
                          clay delayed their

inevitable demise, miasmal
              damps & soaks breathed
                          out their last stinks of mould
& fungus, artesian
              cheeps & kisses of surfacing
                           wet were drowned in
birdsong, when the sun shone it
              dried & when the rain fell it ran away
                          the way

we wanted : it was
              summer, the leaf
                          uncrinkled from the bud,
blossom fell, fruit
               spurs plumped out,
                           sap circulated with its natural zest,
& one small
             pear tree, un-
                         pruned, went

crazy ! was a mares-nest
               of wild growth, capillary
                          maze of shoots & tangled
twigs gobbling the provisions
              of root & leaf, starch
                          & water, sweet open
sandwiches of rotted
               stackbottom & whatnot,

& snacks broken & tasted
              by those bon-vivants the
                          earthworms : the whole gusty
                            that tree whose clusters
 congested & grew
               together with ungainly health
                           while nearby

the other two grew
              straight sturdy
                           & slim, sunlight
entered their hearts
              they reached up
                          heavenwards : “benighted” is
a word we should have 
              the use of
                          more often : oh pear tree ! in

that condition you’d never
              score a single
                          shriveled product : well
come autumn I cut you
              back till there was almost
                          nothing left : the lesson
is, effort’s got to be directed . . .
             yeah, I heard
                          they wanted to build an

Aramoana, the sea-gate, & someone’s bound to direct
              more efforts that
                          way soon, listen, there’s
birds out there, we’re
              back with those lovers, the buoyancy
                           & updraught of some kind of

mutual understanding of what
              service is, of the fact that
                          a thing being easy doesn’t
make it available or passive :
               listen, effort’s got to be right
                           directed, that’s
all, the catering’s amazing, everything
             proceeds, citizen, sometimes
                           it’s hard work, but you’re

engaged, you want
                to keep practical & ideal
                            together, you’re
for life, you know that happiness
              has to do with yes
                           drains & that nature
like a pear tree
              must be served before
                          it’ll serve you, you

don’t want your children’s
              children paying
                          your blood-
money, citizen, you’re
               for a different sort
                          of continuity, you want
to live the way
             you want
                          to, you want to keep

your structures up, you
              want elevation,
                          you’re ready to do
your share, you’ll dig your field-
              drain & you’ll
                          keep your shit out
of the water supply :
              you want to
                          serve & to be left alone

to serve & be served,
              understanding tough
                          materials, marl & old timber,
the rich claggy rind 
              of the world where
                          dinosaurs once
were kings : well they’re gone now though
              they survived longer
                          than we have

yet, but then we  know, don’t we,
              citizen, that there’s nowhere
                          to defect to, & that
living in the
              universe doesn’t
                          leave you
any place to chuck
              stuff off



this poem is dedicated to
all concerned with the present
production of it to the belief that
Aramoana should be left to the birds
fish sand-hoppers & other denizens
who at present possess it only so
long as their ambiguous productivity
is tolerated by men ambitious for
quick solutions and profits

Ian Wedde 

Last updated 21 November, 2009