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At Anawhata

July 19, 2010

One of my favourites of Dad’s, ever. This is from  Bird With One Wing. He wrote this when he was 46 years old, staying at the poet Michael Neill’s (brother of the actor Sam Neill) cabin at Anawhata, New Zealand.

Happy Birthday Dad, wherever you may be. May your spirit be at peace.

(for Jan Kemp)

Here I am,
fallen on bad times,
the sky broken
over my own fair city,
and am driven,
at least for a while,
to this ancient land
whose true hierarchies
are the sun and the sea and the wind:
not the temporal powers
of politicians.
But can the elements
and all the myths of antiquity
expiate my pain,
or teach truth and wisdom
to a profane and ageing poet
who makes so much
out of his own unbelieving?

Anyway, here I am,
feeding the fire
in the old iron stove
inside a little hut
lent to me
by Michael Neill;
it was once
a railyard signal box
at a former station
named Swanson:
wherever that was
or is;
which some mad nut
brought all the way
out here
to perch
400 or so odd feet
above the water
at Anawhata!
thing to do!

And I must
be crazy too,
( though not
perfectly ),
sitting in here
when I should be out
where the winter wind
might forage through my mind,
explore my face,
every line and crack of it:
to test this stranger,
probe his source.

O Western Wind,
wish that
you could
lay your fingers
upon me,
define me
for me!

Or alternatively,
pluck and toss me out
high over the sea,
over the smooth brow
the Ocean God,
so that I might be cleansed.

Dear Michael,
this is truly
such a lovely room,
such a lovely little station
to cross
on my short journey
to find the gods.

Not only HAUAURU
and old TANGAROA,
but so many others
I can feel
lurking about
here in Anawhata,
here amongst the Waitakere Ranges.

And not only gods,
but ghosts
from those far gone days
before the pakeha came.

I have felt them already,
the mana of those ancient Maoris,
during the drive out here
through the deep reserve,
the nikau palms,
the toitois marking every curve
as the small track
wound deeper and deeper,
and farther and farther
away from the city.

From the range,
I saw some lonely knolls
by the sea,
some outcrop of rock
where a time-lost pa
might once have been sited.

I was expecting
not this little hut
but some tuaahu,
some sacred place for divination;
or to see a tattooed warrior
laying down his mere,
letting his woman
welcome me
with a karanga call
to the marae.

And now, dear friend,
I grow sad,
brooding on battles lost
by those brave warriors
to the musketry
of the pakeha:
your forefathers,
Michael Neill!


So many battles

So many won
won and lost

I wonder
for those who won
what was their gain?

I can see only
cities and cities
squatting now
where spring green valleys
had once lain
fabulous in the sun
and in the rain;
where kiwis used to strut
in the rich darkness,
careless that man
call them half-blind.

While man
is often purblind,
especially about himself.

Out here,
I can hear
announce his domain;
tonight, he sounds
quite benevolent.
how he howls
against this wayfarer:
O so proud, primordial,
blasting his haka all the way
across the Tasman Sea.

At my feet,
the flax
bows its stiff leaves,
in a shower of sound
like that of flickering rain.

From another hill,
a lone cow
moos unseen
in the cold night,
mourning for what
I do not know.

I sense
the stars,
only fear the stars
would drop
into the sea.

At this remove,
on this very height
where sea and land and sky
I suddenly think
of my home,
my voyage
from my wife and kids,
and of why I’m here.

What is it I seek?
Another way of life?
Is there really
another way to live?

Is there a way to die?

Is there any choice?

And if there is:

Then, to live:
I want to live like now!
And to die:
I want only when the time comes.

And when my time comes,
it will be westward
to be engulfed by the sea,
like Hinerangi over the glittering
pathway of Tane
to the realm of
benign protectress
of Rarohenga,
the assembly place of souls,
where old Ra, the Sun God,
presides golden over a cloudless sky:
just like this late afternoon,
the way he set, spilling gold
over Anawhata.

Or I could go,
perfectly willing,
kneeling to bestow
a last kiss
upon this earth,
before giving back
this body
of little worth,
the ceremony of tangi hanga
to help send
my spirit on its way.

Then my insides
will explode
to fatten the grass,
fatten the trees,
and then the trees
with their fat berries
will fatten the wood pigeons,
until, finally,
my bones, cleansed,
would be free
to thunder
their chant
to time.

* * *

And now, after sleep,
to find
yet another morning,
is a miraculous event,
as the light dances in
while the tiny room
is still wood-smokey.
Outside, through the wide windows,
I see the hills stand
against the light,
clad with soft green clouds,
daubed by the manuka scrub
and the taller ti trees,
and the surface of the sea
winking shafts of sun
back at me.

Warming these same bones,
once so cold,
tired with the hours,
into hot lava stone.

And I run out,
for there is
so much to know,
climb up a cliff-face,
clinging onto tough grass tufts,
crops of conglomerate
volcanic rock
up and up and up
like an intrepid goat
biting the substantial air.

I look down upon
a lush valley
from the top,
and especially
that one
particular tree
its dead-white branches,
stripped of their bark,
like skeletal smoke
caught sculptured
to the sky,
while its roots
eagle claw
the earth,
digging deep in,
not letting go.

And I too,
at the summit,
will not let go,
will not, will not!

I hear your roar

I too
want to roar

I want to live
Ae Ae Ae
Ae Ae Ae
Ae Ae Ae



Anawhata, N.Z.
June 1980

Listen to Poh Seng’s reading of ‘At Anawhata’
– Recorded at the Havana Theatre, Vancouver BC, 1998, by Gerry Gilbert.

Click below

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