Journal » Trout 13 » At The Sign Of The Packhorse I Stand Like A Tree And Sing My Song Of Joy [Robert McLean]
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At The Sign Of The Packhorse I Stand Like A Tree And Sing My Song Of Joy

Robert McLean

You have said you will not grant us any thing;
For we have nothing else to ask, but that
Which you deny already; yet we will ask –

Almost unnoticed (as legend has it)
Ngai Tahu lent a name to this place,
O-kete-upoko, (for non-speakers
"place of the basket of heads"),
to an outcrop peppered with decapitated dead
until tussock and tea-tree
scrub reoccupied the headlands,
lacebark, ribbonwood and kowhai,
broadleaf and horopito up above
what has been lost to fire,
(where necessary, what can be
has been judiciously replanted)
saxatile epiphytes clinging for dear life
to naturally indifferent hosts

such as Poor Harry Ell,
who ghosts our walks on afternoons,
an eidolon lurking in manicured
undergrowth, a public-spirited man
and a lover of this
and every other nature,

who cut short politics
to devote his life to pursuing a dream,
laying firm foundations
wreathed with an "ornate
baronial late-gothic,"
an anachronism or incidental error,

less frequently frequented now,
"no country upon earth
with a more rugged and barren
aspect than this doth,"
an opinion shared in letter and spirit
by the incumbent populace

for whom, on August 2nd, 1838, Jean Langlois,
commander of the "Cachalot",
a whaling ship, purchased what he believed
to be the entire Peninsula
for goods worth in the region of 1000 francs,
signed a "deed of purchase"
and sailed home to France
to begin settlement proceedings,
his countrymen in cramped confines
en route to a "new land"
only to be stymied by the now
inestimable Captain William Hobson
and his haphazard Leviathan,
oily tresses and Lilliputian coat of armour,
beaten to the punch by
a little less than two months,
deposited where silvered braids
are clotted with plastic,
bald patches combed-over
with stands of pine,
albeit scurfy and scuffed-up,

Akaroa somewhere in the distance
as a soft signature skyline provides
the scenic backdrop for the city,
spires snagged in sheets of smog,
public and private reserves running
in almost a continuous line
from Godley Head to Coopers Knob,
Quail Island foursquare in the foreground
of my field of vision
where a skittish schnauzer tugs at the leash
of its sciatica-ridden master,
unsteady on her swollen feet,
stirring sympathy for the overlord
for whom this place hums
with provisional beauty or provincial history

if one is prepared to closely examine
the limits of consolation
which out-strip the sum total of its parts
(GOD being commensurate
with an absolute circumference),
blood will flow every now and then
to prove it, what surrounds this vantage point
is littered with landmarks and collateral,
scaffolds and picnic-spots,
and, in turn, these associations give way
to Hall's totara and broadleaf,
to other names and places,
little more than a hint of what will be –
never mind all that: the view
is spectacular, bordering on sublime,
and as light glances across these hills
I realise at last that now is the time
to close this book and open my eyes.


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© Copyright 2006 Robert McLean & Trout.