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Heemi
(for James K. Baxter)
                                                                                                                                Hone Tuwhare
 
No point now my friend in telling
you my lady’s name.
She wished us well: ordered wheels
which spun my son and me like
comets through the lonely night.
You would have called her Aroha.
 
And when we picked up three young
people who’d hitched their way
from the Ninety Mile Beach to be
with you, I thought: yes
your mana holds, Heemi. Your mana
is love. And suddenly the night
didn’t seem lonely anymore.
 
The car never played up at all.
And after we’d given it a second
gargle at the all-night bowser
it just zoomed on gulping
easily into the gear changes
up or down.
 
Because you’ve been over this road
many times before Heemi, you’d
know about the steady climb ahead
of us still. But once in the tricky
light, Tongariro lumbered briefly
out of the clouds to give us the old
‘up you’ sign. Which was real friendly.
 
When we levelled off a bit at the top
of the plateau, the engine heat couldn’t
keep the cold from coming in: the fog
swamping thick and slushy, and pressing
whitely against tired eyeballs.
 
Finally, when we’d eased ourselves
over a couple of humps and down down
the winding metalled road to the river
and Jerusalem, I knew things would be
all right. Glad that others from the
Mainland were arrowing toward the dawn
like us.
 
Joy for the brother sun chesting over
the brim of the land, and for the three
young blokes flaked out in the back seat
who would make it now, knowing that they
were not called to witness
some mysterious phenomenon of birth on
a dung-littered floor of a stable
 
but come simply to call
on a tired old mate in a tent
laid out in a box
with no money in the pocket
no fancy halo, no thump left in the old
ticker.
 
Mihi: Collected Poems (Penguin, 1987)

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Bare stage.  In the centre, five or six blazing torches inclined towards each other to form a pyramid with a single head of flame.  The theatre is entirely lit by this.  Indian music, flutes, drums, chanting.  Shadowy forms.
   After a time, WEST appears.  As he speaks, INDIANS enter, one by one, from the wings, through the auditorium.  Each takes a torch and returns with it the way he came.

WEST: 
Origin of fire.
In the old days men ate raw flesh
And had no knowledge of fire.
Also they had no weapons
And hunted the game with their bare hands.

A boy went hunting one day with his brother-in-law.
They saw a macaw's nest perched on a cliff-ledge.
They built a ladder and the boy climbed up to the ledge.
In the nest were two eggs.
The boy took them and threw them down to his brother-in-law
But in the air they turned into jagged stones
Which as he went to catch them cut his hands.
He was very angry.
He though the boy was trying to kill him.
He took the ladder down broke it and went away.

The boy was on the ledge for many days and nights
Dying slowly of hunger
Eating his own excrement
Until one day the jaguar passed by
With his bow and arrows
And seeing a shadow cast ahead of him on the ground
Looked up and saw the bot.
The jaguar mended the ladder helped the boy down
Took him back to his home and revived him
Feeding him cooked meat.

The jaguar loved the boy and treated him as his son
Calling him foundling
But the jaguar's wife was very jealous of him
And when the jaguar was away she never missed a chance
To scratch him or to knock him over.
The boy complained to the jaguar that he was always frightened
So the jaguar gave him a bow and arrow
And taught him how to use them.
The next time the jaguar's wife attacked him
He shot an arrow at her and killed her.

The boy was terrified by what he had done.
He took his bow and a large piece of cooked meat
And escaped into the jungle.
After many days of wandering he reached his own village
And told his people all the things that had happened to him
Showing them the meat and the bow.
The men were very excited by his discoveries
And they set off on an expedition to the jaguqar's home
To steal his weapons
And to steal his fire.

What you take from people
They will never find again.
Now the jaguar has no weapons
Except his hatred for man.
He eats no cooked meat
But swallows the raw flesh of his victims.
And only the reflection and the memory of fire
Burn in his eyes.

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Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

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Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

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Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it
And spills the upper boulder in the sun,
And make gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there,
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
"Stay where you are until our backs are turned!"
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, "Good fences make good neighbors."
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
"Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down." I could say "Elves" to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there,
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

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Often in summer, on a tarred bridge plank standing,
Or downstream between willows, a safe Ophelia drifting
In a rented boat - I had seen them comes and go,
Those wild bees, swift as tigers, their gauze wings a-glitter
In passionless industry, clustering black at the crevice
Of a rotten cabbage tree, where their hive was hidden low

But never strolled too near. Till one half-cloudy evening
Of ripe January, my friends and I
Came, gloved and masked to the eyes like plundering desperadoes,
To smoke them out. Quiet beside the stagnant river
We trod wet grasses down, hearing the crickets chitter
And waiting for light to drain from the wounded sky.

Before we reached the hive their sentries saw us
And sprang invisible through the darkening air.
Stabbed, and died in stinging. The hive woke. Poisonous fuming
Of sulphur filled the hollow trunk, and crawling
Blue flames sputtered - yet still their suicidal
Live raiders dived and clung to our hands and hair.

O it was Carthage under the Roman torches,
Or loud with flames and falling timber, Troy!
A job well botched. Half of the honey melted
And half the rest young grubs. Through earth-black smouldering ashes
And maimed bee groaning, we drew our plunder.
Little enough their gold, and slight our joy.

Fallen then the city of instinctive wisdom.
Tragedy is written distinct and small:
A hive burned on a cool night in summer.
But loss is a precious stone to me, a nectar
Distilled in time, preaching the truth of winter
To the fallen heart that does not cease to fall.

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In a hollow of the fields, where one would least expect it,
Stark and suddenly this limestone butress:
A tree whose roots are bound about the stones,
Broad-leaved, hide well the crevice at the base
That leads, one guesses, to the sunless kingdom
Where souls endure the ache of Proserpine.

Entering where no man it seemed
Had come before, I found a rivulet
Beyond the rock door running in the dark.
Where it sprang from the heart of the hill
No one could tell: alone.
It ran like Time there in the dank silence.

I spoke once and my voice resounded
Among the many pillars. Further in
Were bones of sheep that strayed and died
In nether darkness, brown and water-worn.
The smell of earth was like a secret language
That dead men speak and we have long forgotten.

The whole weight of the hill hung over me.
Gladly I would have stayed there and been hidden
From every beast that moves beneath the sun,
From age's enmity and love's contagion:
But turned and climbed back to the barrier,
Pressed through and came to dazzling daylight out.

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One the road to the bay was a lake of rushes
Where we bathed at times and changed in the bamboos.
Now it is rather to stand and say
How many roads we take that lead to Nowhere,
The alley overgrown, no meaning now but loss:
Not that veritable garden where everything comes easy.

And by the bay itself were cliffs with carved names
And a hut on the shore by the Maori ovens.
We raced boats from the banks of the pumice creek
Or swam in those autumnal shallows
Growing cold in amber water, riding the logs
Upstream, and waiting for the taniwha.

So now I remember the bay and the little spiders
On driftwood, so poisonous and quick.
The carved cliffs and the great outcrying surf
With currents round the rocks and the birds rising.
A thousand times an hour is torn across
And burned for the sake of going on living.
But I remember the bay the never was
And stand like stone and cannot turn away.

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On Calvary Street are trellises
Where bright as blood the rose bloom,
And gnomes like pagan fetishes
Hang their hats on an empty tomb
Where two old souls go slowly mad,
National Mum and Labour Dad.

Each Saturday, when full of smiles
The children come to pay their due,
Mum takes down the family files
And cover to cover she thumbs them through
Poor Len before he went away
And Mabel on her wedding day.

The meal-brown scones display her knack
Her polished over spits with rage,
While in Grunt Grotto at the back
Dad sits and reads the Sporting Page,
Then ambles out in boots of lead
To weed around the parsnip bed.

A giant parsnip sparks his eye,
Majestic as the Tree of Life;
He washes it and rubs it dry
And takes it in to his old wife -
'Look, Laura, would that be a fit?
The bastard has a flange on it!'

When both were young, she would have laughed
A goddess in her tartan skirt,
But wisdom, age and mothercraft
Have rubbed it home that men like dirt:
Five children and a fallen womb,
A golden crown beyond the tomb.

Nearer the bone, sin is sin,
And women bear the cross of woe,
And that affair with Mrs. Flynn
(It happened thirty years ago)
Though never mentioned, means that he
Will get no sugar in his tea.

The afternoon goes by, goes by,
The angels harp above a cloud;
A son-in-law with spotted tie
And daughter Alice fat and loud
Discuss the virtues of insurance
And stuff their tripes with trained endurance.

Flood-waters hurl upoin the dyke
And Dad himself can go to town,
For little Charlie on his trike
Has ploughed another iris down.
His parents rise to chain the beast,
Brush off the last crumbs of their lovefeast.

And so these two old fools are left,
A rosy pair in the evening light,
To question Heaven's dubious gift,
To hag and grumble, growl and fight:
The love they kill won't let them rest,
Two birds that peck in one fouled nest.

Why hammer nails? Why give no change?
Habit, habit clogs them dumb.
The Sacred Heart above the range
Will bleed and burn till Kingdom Come,
But Yin and Yang won't ever meet
In Calvary Street, in Calvary Street.

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Alone we are born,
And die alone.
Yet see the red-gold cirrus,
Over snow-mountain shine.

Upon the upland,
Ride easy stranger.
Surrender to the sky,
Your heart of anger.

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