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Sport 25: Spring 2000

Bob Orr — Fairfield Bridge

page 100

Bob Orr

Fairfield Bridge

for Murray Edmond

A lost city
whose rugby goalposts
spelt the first letter of its name—
the river
with its railway tracked
freezing works
dairy factory
gunboat banks
dividing the city into two.
Its huge weight swimming
over shoals of coarse-grained sand
a shadowy half world
of taniwha and river weed
of mysterious green swirlings
its surface sometimes tracked with sunlight
a great highway of ghosts
soundless as a huge unwritten poem.
We left when the world
looked over a wall
into the soul
of Russia.

And later on in Auckland
with the young New Zealand poets
pounding our way up Constitution Hill
to the Kiwi Tavern's Friday-night swill—
poetry was a purple house
page 101 a dark-eyed muse
who at midnight
rode a Triumph motorbike
from Symonds St to the intersections of the moon.

Does the mouse that we could never catch
in the kitchen of second-hand pots and pans
now sit at a desk awaiting my hand?
Will it open memory screens—
my father building an inland boat
my mother reading Dr Zhivago
my sister's eyes the colour of paspalum
my brother's given easily to laughter or to anger
in which I still recall
the blue
of haystack skies.

Murray maybe we both stood on Fairfield Bridge
watching rowing skiffs from our school teams
fly upstream like arrows
or Caesar Roose's tugs shifting sand barges
heavy laden to a ramshackle riverbank unloading depot.
Was that Chuck Berry Finn we saw
six months in a leaking boat
on his way past Taupiri's green pyramid
floating down the Waikato.
The river bulging like a muscle
before the bridge's concrete piles—
its wake unravelling behind.
Sometimes it seemed to me
as if the bridge were heading
as in a dream slowly but steadily upstream.

page 102

Murray, you tell me
of a sister who lives just out of Melbourne.
I have a brother up north in Queensland
in a sugarcane town
by the edge of the blue and blinding Pacific.
In the house where we lived as kids
he used to sleepwalk. I hope there is space
enough for him in Australia. I guess
he has known of the dream time
ever since he was young.
I sometimes think of Sydney
its blue and green waters flashing.

I think also of a house
not far from Hamilton
and what is left of it today—
an overgrown concrete path
in whose cracks crickets find a home.
A garden in which coppery tomatoes
in the summer months turned red.
Home to a gaunt army of scotch thistles now—
crowned with tufts of ancestral purple
and acknowledging no king
standing before my regret
besieging even memory.

Across the rugby and hockey fields
of St Paul's Collegiate
was a hawthorn hedge
awash with honeysuckle
page 103 and a paddock that heaved and lifted in the wind
green or blue when cloud shadows crossed above it
lush with clover paspalum and buttercups
where bulls like ships at sea
through the tall grass steamed
in the course of earthly voyagings.
Where I lay on my back
and closed my eyes and saw everything.
Fairfield indeed. Now just another upmarket subdivision.
I dream of moonlight turning grass at midnight
bronze and immemorial.

The weatherboards of memory keep shifting.
In dreams they float down like the stars—
each morning I wake up in a different house.
You too I think. It is like catching
a long looping intercept pass.
You have nailed it already in a poem.
A team of ants hauls a sledge of straw
up to the end of the millennium.
Just outside of Hamilton
where peat fires used to burn
the cowshit cooled like lava.
I stand in a paddock no bigger than a postage stamp
where each green blade of grass
brief as lightning flashes in the wind.
Each one I think must be the key
to a million subterranean doors.
There is one I must enter—
a field mouse will lead me
and I will see you my friend
where you have been a long time before.