new zealand electronic poetry centre


David Howard

Fugacity 05
Online Poetry Anthology


excerpts from THE WORD WENT ROUND (1874)

                for Garry Currin  



With every breath
                Cosmos from Chaos.
                                Now, boys, haul the maintack
                                                around. This ‘Hirish hound’ knows
                                                                knowledge is inexperience
                                                                kneaded like dough by memory –
                                                I want to know the cause of
                                the effect that novelty
                produces on me
with every breath....

Meet her, meet her
                not a hair from her
                                course, or I’ll stop your grog
                                                for a month. With all sails lashed,
                                                                Kantian imperative set
                                                                aside, I ride my fear of x
                                                categorically as
                                the Asia shifts, lifting
                like that brawny voice:
Meet her, meet her

                the memory of
                                novelty. New Zealand
                                                looms like a moult albatross,
                                                                prospective instead of tested.
                                                                Baited with pork, my fishing-line
                                                snares the bird: a raree-show
                                for Derry labourers
                and those with no real



A boy like me
                expected to work
                                out his own salvation.
                                                Cork fishermen made their skins
                                                                from calico: boiled linseed oil,
                                                                rubbed it in, then left it to dry
                                                in the sun. I used to be
                                mad for the girls, my skin
                bursting but they spurned
a boy like me –

I had no trade
                save taking rooks’ eggs.
                                What’s in an occupation
                                                with no time to call your own?
                                                                Crossing Greenwich’s longitude
                                                                in south latitude 38
                                                ten o’clock on board is ten
                                in a Donegal croft.
                There was no time so
I had no trade.

The sky is deep
                blue, blue as the sea
                                non-swimmers imagine.
                                                Edged with silver, every wave
                                                                anticipates – what? Whichever way
                                                                you choose to look, looking at things
                                                brings gut-feelings of nothing
                                much. New Zealand is such
                a long white cloud now
the sky is deep.


In New Zealand
                florets of foxglove
                                outside my own cottage;
                                                orange montbretia marks
                                                                the Protestant population –
                                                                a fantasy that may come to
                                                pass. As an albatross lifts
                                dips levels my spirits
                follow: it summers
in New Zealand....

Words change meaning
                more easily than
                                me. Some poor passengers
                                                sound like cows at milking time;
                                                                they insist on their condition.
                                                                I’m more like an unsigned painting
                                                obscured by a sloppy glaze –
                                unclear yet certain, so
                certain each viewer’s
words change meaning.                                                               

This new country
                means change; changing means
                                ‘the luck of the Irish’
                                                might be more than a bad joke
                                                                hotch-potched from potatoes and milk.
                                                                A Malthusian afternoon
                                                retires to night: blue-black like iron
                                and the carpenter’s left thumbnail
                after he’s hammered
this new country.


Off Cape Saunders
                April 26 th
                                and the notion of ‘home’
                                                slips like an excited pig
                                                                on wet decking. Now I expect
                                                                ‘now’ will mean something other than
                                                the expected. Take stock of
                                sandbanks with massed shellfish
                and devil-black shags
off Cape Saunders;

brown-backed linnets
                thrushes green and grey
                                nameless natives I’ll learn
                                                with tongue and buckshot.
                                                                The word went round to be prepared –
                                                                near Taiaroa Head shadows
                                                reduce to shoal-spume and flats
                                at dead low water. Hold
                fast to the song of
brown-backed linnets

but remember
                The Banishment of
                                Patrick Brady . Today
                                                night and day permanently
                                                                reverse. Turn your head and you will
                                                                turn the world upon this headland
                                                or that pier, like to like yet
                                changed utterly. For now
                there’s nothing to do
but remember.


You have no choice
                because you chose this.
                                Being sure is being
                                                coarse. Rough as a soujee bag,
                                                                your understanding scrapes the soil
                                                                you’d cultivate. It’s a fool thinks
                                               he’ll see beyond ‘Moeraki’ –
                                if it’s all written up
                it’s written down, so
you have no choice.

Christ, I don’t know
                why the boulders lie
                                there. How can my accent
                                                wrap the local in its cloak?
                                                                The ‘wharenui Uenuku’
                                                                means more than I can say, saying
                                                good and bad jostle like sheep
                                through a lynch-gate. Even
                cockabullies grow.
Christ, I don’t know.

A covenant
                made of blood and bone
                                from the nameless backblocks:
                                                that’s understanding. Rainbow
                                                                Paleolithic. Promising
                                                                the ‘primitive’ a salvation
                                                I recognize from Ireland –
                                Follow His commandments
                you will see our backs.
A covenant                                                      


Last updated 25 May, 2005