Title: Sport 20

Publication details: Fergus Barrowman, March 1998, Wellington

Part of: Sport

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Sport 20: Autumn 1998

C.K. Stead

C.K. Stead

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.

page 134

Ars Poetica

Barefoot in shallows
his sleeves
the small boy
talks to the tide
to the water-birds
to the tall sky
and the Bay's
furthest reaches
If your words
could speak
his world…

would it be enough?
It was Yeats who said
poems must be packed in salt

The birds are
migrating somewhere
They pause here
to feed and to quarrel
and the nights
are full of their noise

page 135

Recipe for poetry
(or Spanish omelette)—
green peppers
deep oil
in a heavy pan
eggs beaten lightly
cooked slowly
eaten cold
with white wine

the potted cyclamen
responds to
‘Reach for the skies…’
‘All in favour please raise…’
Its five eager hands
in white gloves
on thin stems
catch light from the window

The birds stand
each on one leg
in a wind
that ruffles and nudges
page 136 They don't topple
but hop—
the favoured leg
asleep in its feathers

the poem as
or obscene
is more than
cocks and cunts
twats and dicks
or the rhyming of bum with come
It is Martial
the Roman realists

The four-year-old
lost in a crowd
fists in eyes
and wracked
with sobs—
page 137 this is apocalypse
the poem at the end of the world

The wind has died
and the moon
will not settle the question
It lies on the water
mimicking itself
in a French accent
‘Alfred de Musset’
it reminds me
‘died young’
‘Where is your blue guitar?’

of the child's
rainbow and rose
but a glory
gone from the earth