Sport 33: Spring 2005
A woman is standing under Erebus.
She has wrapped all her gifts around her,
A bulky mammal able to feed her young.
See the red fag with its purple shadow,
the fagged road curving towards tomorrow.
There is shelter here, off to the right,
a bunch of metal rods and a cloth.
You wonder if it's going to be enough.
It's a big surprise when Jofe tells us
that he's heading off tomorrow, so today's
the day he's all set to make a snow cave.
Jofe's a surveyor. He's already found
the perfect spot, right there in front of Erebus.
He asks us if we'd like to give him a hand.
We stomp out with saws. We cut big square
blocks out of the glacial flow we're standing on.
The blocks are light, just water bubbles looped
with air, easy to cut and easy to carry.
I spend far too much time, of course, smoothing
one small face to perfection. But that's what I'm like,
always trying to write the next poem.
The others just get on with it.
Four white walls and a white arched roof rise
in the white desert. The sun melts the outer surface
to a smooth slurry, the wind freezes it. Frozen water,
frozen air. Jofe says it will last for years.
Now it's time to open it up, cut a wee door
in one wall, snake in, drag out one by one the pile
of green sleeping bags that make up the scaffolding.
Jofe dives in like a meerkat, kicks up buckets of slush.
Then it's up to us. It's a bit like blowing an egg.page 39
We have to take turns lying fat on our backs,
chipping away with a short-handled shovel the dry
white fluff that packs the middle, hacking it back till blue
light shudders in the roof and Jofe shouts 'enough!'
Then we all squish in laughing ourselves silly.
That's when the blizzard struck. Now it's white-out.
Our faces grow black from burning blubber, our eyes
weep, our lips split. Jofe says we have to keep calm,
keep on talking to each other. Our rations run low.
Outside, the ponies lying dead in the snow.
was it only yesterday, the waves a crowd
waving olearia branches, soft sage and white veined,
throwing down the branches alleluia alleluia
the waves rinsing the gravel, sieving the stones,
testing them, weighing them, seeking
the heavy body, the light body,
the hens next door singing their lamentations
'Oh No-no-no-no-no NO-no-no-no-no'
the ice looks like leaf litter, like roughcast
on the walls of the kauri villa roughly worked
up, the dense blue shadow and white
of pressure ridges that meet like clenched fists
over a card table, clouds that replicate the ice
and vice versa, O constant mirror,
fantastical theatrics, an elegant display
of miniatures, human apparatus in a white cabinet
the snow is all chopped up in layered whitenesses,
smooth skin of the berg
a wash and swirl like pressed steel in a ceiling,
a ship stuck fast in a milk bottle
tent toggles tightened, two spongy black figures
just standing around
this impulse to read the wilderness as domus
for Vivienne Plumb
This is me in the penguin suit. And this is Vivienne.
She's in a penguin suit too. That's Eirlys. She's dressed up
in goggles and fur because, being taller, she's a hero.
The cardboard cameras are unbelievably authentic
as are the polystyrene blocks of ice.
The hero is kind. He puts a big gloved hand on the top
of our heads. We lean across his broad chest
like book ends. We look up at him. It's really cute.
Should my flippers go vertical or horizontal,
I wonder. Ah, the comfort of this nice big fat squeezy tum.
We turn a deaf ear, Vivienne and me,
to the charismatic slavering of the dogs, spit gleaming
on their bloody fangs, the avalanche of their barking.
We think they're all barking mad.
Then someone says 'We're a man short'
so they pick Vivienne up and take her into the hut.
They sit her on a chair at the top of the table
with a bib round her neck and a pink paper crown on her head.
They put a plate of plum pudding with brandy sauce
and tinned cream and a spoon and a fork in front of her,
with a cigar to follow. They toast the King.
Then they all sing: 'For she's a jolly good fellow'
and so say all of us.
What if that wave were to stop
just there as it is, snapfrozen?
What if the blowsy wave flowers stopped,
a rip in the valance, each fine blue stitch
stilled holding its silver needle?
What if the sea did indeed stop
and all the vegetable armies, the grasses,
mad bunches on the stony dyke,
the lupins, their heavy perfume stopped,
the starfish, pale asterisk on the stony page,
the polyps stopped, their strange juices frozen?
What if the gulls and the terns all stopped
and the tiny black swallows
that zip up and down the midnight lagoon?
What if the sun itself were to stop,
no longer rinsing blue from the loveliest ice chamber?
Then we would be the wonders here,
like the seals, little fallen angels in the dry valley.
The bones in our hands smoothed
like long white gloves, our fine pelt wind-dried,
gravel in our brain pans and our eyes.