Sport 26: Autumn 2001
Brian Turner — Southerners
(i.m. Michael Henderson, 1942-98)
We met first on what I recall
as one of the better Wellington days.
A shimmery northerly, sharp sunlight
and a few whisping clouds,
shadows flitting across the green
of the old Basin Reserve.
Summer of sixty-nine or thereabouts
when we were callower
than we knew, but keen
to do better not worse
in all ways. You were playing cricket
for Vic and I for Midland,
southerners going in to bat
for the midlanders. Clock. Howzat?
Not out. Awwh! It wasn't
quite right for either of us.
You were lithe, angular, spoke
clearly, precisely. You sprang
then loped over the ground,
the way you ran exultantly
on the Takaka Hill, or Mt Arthur
on a peerless day, flecks of snow
on the heights behind you,
the glitter of Tasman Bay
a giant shield to the north
and east. You told me you were
in Foreign Affairs, had done
a law degree at Canterbury,
against your better judgement,
were writing speeches for Ministers
and had had enough. You were
about to resign and set out
on a ship carrying cattle to Guam.
You said you wanted to write,
explore the gulf between foreign
and familiar, had already filled pages
in your Log of a Superfluous Son.
It was years before I saw you again.
But you'd written from Iowa,
Pittsburgh, Perth and elsewhere.
You'd met Borges in Buenos Aires
where he asked you to read
for him from Shakespeare; you
taught inmates at the penitentiary
in Pittsburgh, and students in WA
before you came home to Motueka
where I saw you for the second-to-last time.
We played cricket with your three sons
on the path beside the house,
and Ross hit one through a window
when you held it back a little
and deceived him with pace
and then paid the price
which you and Ellie couldn't
ever readily afford. A regular pattern
down your too few spirited
years. Still lean, dark, athletic,
more piratical-looking then ever,
you were waving wildly
as I turned the corner out of Fearon Street
and headed back to Nelson, then
south for home. When I heard
they'd found a tumour I feared
the worst and it was. Not fair.page 157
I cut and pruned vergilia,
planted a small tree on the day
I heard you were going
quickly. I heaped bunches
of the pink and white flowers
in the old plastic white bucket
I used to crap in in the outhouse,
and threw them on the compost pile
high with the scraps and clippings
from which we hoped good things
would grow. They did,
but so little acknowledgement.
Now we have the last of your three books,
none of them well-known,
all of them remarkable, a prize crop,
precious, wrought tales, evoking rare
sounds of The Small Change of Silence.