Hilltop: A Literary Paper. Volume 1 Number 1
James K. Baxter
James K. Baxter
Some have said: This was the fortunate one
Whom nature loved so, she could refuse
Him nothing. Born under a fruitful planet
He in his cradle tamed great dragons;
Later dug up the rainbow's gold;
And when he turned his hand to puppet-show
Made statues weep and clay birds fly.
No. He and Nature were sworn enemies—
Uneasy friends at best.
Say rather: Reared in Stratford, starved London,
Botched every trade—till tired of tavern laughter,
Time's anguish and the ignominy of man,
He colonised a state of near-despair
And ruled it with a kingly hand.
It was two nights ago I dreamed I came
Out of a brothel in a foreign town.
Behind me clinging hands and drunkenness
Of dead eyes searching for a living name.
There in the doorway ready to turn back in,
I saw a bridge across a swollen stream.
The larrikins who leaned there in a row
Were laughing, pointing something out below.
I ran and saw there in the river bed
A thief thrown down that should have long been dead.
For through his flesh stuck out the jagged bones
And as he moved they pelted him with stones.
Though I cried out and cursed them in my horror
I knew them well and a familiar terror.
For lust that moved like anger in my mind
Showed them and me inseparably joined.
So looking at the bones and bloody water
And my live brother, I was murderer.
From the plain it seemed an easy mile at most
Over snowgrass, dry river-bed, and bare
Sun-tortured scree, up to the snowline where
One can see nearly from island coast to coast.
And so we climbed and sweated for that boast
A good five hours—till now, we stand and stare.
Sheep crawl like maggots on the bluff down there
And the far ocean glimmers like a ghost.
Inhuman purity! The sun has cast
His net about us, gripping heart and head.
Between wild snows and firmament more vast
A hawk hangs lonely, shadow of grave dread.
Only the dizzy blood beats thick and fast
In swollen veins, to prove we are not dead.
Homecoming in November
Homecoming is gentle. The sea that Homer called
Winedark, windflecked, wild; the green hill stays
Cloudsuckling as before. Brittle the voice Of birds and leaf susurrus.
To walk down the road again and yarn
With Uncle Jack, buy matches at the store,
Saying: "Yes, it's good to be back home."
All this is trite and easy
As flying in a dream. But what is home?
A black pool deep as death. Have I not seen
The hill break like a boil with lava, and
The clay field sweating bloody.
Whom shall I blame? A trivial hour can hide
The roots of irrefrangible lethargy.
Downstairs a clock strikes twelve. Clatter of forks
And slow sad radio music.
Time is a frown on the stone brow
Of a monument, a gale shaking the quay.
There is never time to let the whole day sink
Into the heart, and hold it sheltered there.
Power breeds on power in labyrinthine hives
Nested under the daylong driving cloud;
Stale breath of suburb dawn hazing the harbour,
Tiring the eye, stripping the nerve to fever.
City of flower-plots, canyon streets and trams,
O sterile whore of a thousand bureaucrats!
There is a chasm of sadness behind
Your formal giggle, when the moon opens
Cold doors in space. Here on the dark hill
Above your broken lights—no crucifix
Entreats, but the gun emplacements over-grown
And the radio masts' huge harp of the wind's grief.