The Last Saturday Of May 1999
A lukewarm sun dries the cormorant’s
widespread wings at the water’s edge
as the fully-laden container ship
gathers speed in mid-harbour &
the tugboats fuss back to their berth.
The hills huddle under a wind-tossed
haze while a youth on roller-blades
exercises his eager labrador, admirable
his skill as on the leash he constantly
switches hands as the dog runs right
to left & back again. In the city all
the coffee shops are full, & salesfolk
pounce as you cross their threshold
the politics of choice, the Budget’s
been & gone. A century ago this
harbour would have been full with
sailing ships, the wharves swarm
with manual labour. Seddon was
king then to at this point in time
our Shipley; the wooden piles of
his period replaced by concrete,
slapped by the same but different sea.
Suddenly the shag folds its wings,
performs its centuries-old dive,
while the youth’s luck runs out
for the dog stumbles him to the deck
to grin foolish alongside; the bird
gulps down its fish as the animal
licks forgiveness from its master’s nose.
Here’s a poem I wrote eleven years ago. People ask ‘what does your poem mean?’ Well, it means what it says. To you. To me. This is a snapshot poem. A scene. An early winter’s day, mild, a container ship, the usual Wellington promenade along the waterfront, friends, coffee at Shed 5 or an ice cream. The dexterity of a boy and his dog.
But scenes often have a theme. I’ve seen pictures of this waterfront in earlier times. Ships galore, berthed at the human-made wharf or in the stream. In Seddon’s time. In Fraser’s Time. How commerce and transport have changed. Mention of Seddon – the women’s vote. And now a woman Prime Minister. And before Seddon, before Maori, cormorant fished these waters. Nature will out.
So the poem becomes a time capsule, capturing a moment, reflecting at what has gone before and glimpsing what may come hereafter. There’ll be a boy and his dog, I’ll warrant next weekend racing along that human creation. And if it’s a day like today there’ll be a wind-tossed haze over the hills. Nature will out.
In the original poem I had the word ‘aswarm’ to give the sense of physical activity on the wharves as ships were loaded and unloaded. I wanted to contrast that bustle with the leisurely Saturday strollers – contrast the pace of their earlier shopping. Somewhere along the line the ‘a’ was removed, probably in the name of editorial correctness. I never picked it up until the poem was published in “Recessional’ An interesting example of the perils of publishing.
WORDS with Douglas McLennan
14 hours ago