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Sport 20: Autumn 1998

Notes from ‘A Natural Setting on the Far Side of the World’

page 130

Notes from ‘A Natural Setting on the Far Side of the World’

I've been reading a poem
‘New Zealand outback’
by Lee Harwood (b. 1939)
of Brighton, Essex,
author, my Who's Whos tell me
of Wish You Were Here
and veteran of marriages
with Jenny Goodgame
and Judith Walker.

It doesn't seem he's ever
set foot in our space
nor is his poem about
the New Zealand ‘outback’
(something we don't have).
Rather it addresses
a certain ‘Marian’
who wrote him a poem ‘about
a lily and…love’.

So it's an adult
and sultry afternoon
and there's an open book
on the table in his poem
given him it seems
by ‘Marian’, and showing
his long-lost forebear
snapped with two others in
the New Zealand ‘outback’.

page 131

Mario Soldati (b. 1906)
ends The Orange Envelope
sending his narrator,
a writer called ‘Carlo’
to live in ‘Auckland, New Zealand’
where he looks from a window
at ‘tall kauri pines,
palm trees and giant ferns’
all in a ‘meadow’.

Three years ago
on the Ligurian coast
my friend Bacigalupo
thought I should meet
his friend Soldati—
but the novelist, 89,
no longer remembered
what in his novel was ‘true’
and what he'd invented.

He must, he felt sure
though an age ago
before Alzheimer's began
to cloud the picture
and lose the plot
have been ashore at
‘Auckland, New Zealand’
at least in his mind.
Where else did travel occur?

But now, darkening
almost to blackness
here's Premeditated Murder
by Belgrade Croatian
Slobodan Selenic (b.1933)
page 132 in which the narrator
distressed at her lover's
return to the war-zone
refuses to kiss him

or say goodbye
and consumed with remorse
at word of his death
tramps the battlefield
with an old man
until they find the corpse
faceless, half-buried
with its jet-black hair
and delicate hands

to be kissed too late
brought home in a box
on the top of a bus—
and on the last page
asked by friends
‘What will you do?’
‘I'm going to New Zealand.’
‘How long?’ they ask.
She tells them, ‘For ever.’

Enough of fictions
here's the morning paper
20 May 1997
photograph front page
of Alenka Vlaj
no date of birth but
glamorous in jeans
personal secretary to
Prime Minister Drnosek

page 133

of independent Slovenia
with Tone Koscak
Prime Minister's bodyguard
bare feet in water at
Tucks Bay, Coromandel
with their new-born son
delivered on the beach
by Fern Drysdale
a local midwife

because Alenka wanted
the birth to happen
‘in a natural setting on
the far side of the world’.
Is this a case of
life imitating art
or the wide-bodied jet
making remoteness easy?
They fly home Friday.