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Sport 11: Spring 1993

Appendix One: Out of the River and up the Hill

Appendix One: Out of the River and up the Hill

Coincidentally, I find myself living in McFarlane St, Mt Victoria, Wellington—the same street where James K. Baxter lived shortly before his death. It’s also the street where my great-cousin Eileen Duggan lived for a time. I have lately come to think of the group of us as a kind of three-way streetcorner conversation. Naturally, we talk a lot about poetry. One of our group’s shared topics happens to be Mother Mary Joseph Aubert. Eileen’s ‘Tribute page 157 to Mother Aubert’ is an emotive, idealised depiction of the good Sister:

She saw in each of these a Christ grown old,
A Christ with tattered soles and ragged sleeves,
A Christ that all the world rejects and grieves . . .

Baxter’s version of the foundress (in Jerusalem Sonnets 12) is equally heartfelt, only his is a scathing depiction of an ominous woman who instilled Western values in the heads and hearts of the Maori.

I suspect my version of Mother Aubert (‘The Milk Horse’, from Days Beside Water) falls in the ambiguous space between these two versions. I imagine myself scuttling to and fro between my late cousin and the late Baxter—from the downhill side of the street where Eileen lived to the uphill side where Baxter resided. And I live along the far end at Number 46, conveniently the same number as on the letterbox in Nigel Brown’s 1974 ‘Driveway’ painting (see below). In that instance, Brown was deliberately echoing the age of James K. Baxter when he died.

A surprising number of other writers have lived and worked in McFarlane St—Vincent O’Sullivan, Witi Ihimaera (so I am told), Jenny Bornholdt and Chris Orsman . . . These are all part of the other conversations that go on in our street, now.