Category Archives: Res Publica, Book One

“New Zealand (in Summer)” by Zireaux

New Zealand's Pahutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa) tree in summer bloom.

New Zealand’s Pahutukawa tree (Metrosideros excelsa) in summer bloom. ‘…Why all the trees would love to wear / your bright red bows in their summer hair!’

New Zealand! The lather of your shores
is Envy’s froth! The world adores
such thickly oozing golden light,
your sails and whales and sea birds in flight,
your kowhai glow and perfumed glades
and ferny groves of deepest jade
that bring to mind those maidens who,
unblushing, bathe in sylvan falls
or nimbly serve one’s lusty calls
for myrtle wine and honeydew!
How lush your lawns; how plush your coats;
and surely if we took a vote
why all the trees would love to wear
your bright red bows in their summer hair!
_____
Excerpted from Res Publica as part of the dVerse poetry group’s prompt.

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“Great Moments in History” by Zireaux

Japanese 'Kate' drops a torpedo on the USS Carrier Hornet in the battle of Guadalcanal, the Solomon Islands.

Japanese 'Kate' drops a torpedo on the USS Carrier Hornet in the battle of Guadalcanal.

In this scene, the narrator of Res Publica has set sail from Auckland to his newly discovered island, where he intends to live a solitary life. Upon nearing the isle, however, heavy waves prevent him from landing safely. Rather than return to his ordinary life in Auckland — dull days spent drinking beer and enduring a nasty wife — he prefers, instead, to steer his boat (the Tug of War) directly toward the island’s shores, even if it means the death of him.

to M.

222.

The wind tried hard to hold me back; it
madly wiped my tears and filled
my ears with caution – ‘You’ll be killed!’ –
and made a mainsail of my jacket,
which spasmed, crackled, slapped my face
with its loose collar. That airy embrace
was steady, strong, but lacked the muscular
pluck of swarthy Tug, who rammed
me through each wave in that crepuscular
spread of sparkling violet jam.
How thick a sea can seem to one
whose journey – whose life – is almost done;
how far each wave, how long each second,
when one’s demise is finally reckoned!

223.

And as my Tug reached full velocity;
then my isle began to charge,
a monster baring blackish, large
and drool-smeared teeth, with a ferocity
never had I fathomed of
that fledgling land for which such love
I held. The island rushed right at us.
I heard what sounded like a case
of stomach gas, a rumble of flatus
rippling through Tug’s belly. I braced
against the portside rail with hands
that didn’t let go when we struck land.
And what a blow! As if the ocean
could not bear our ship’s commotion

224.

and wished to smash us into pieces
just to stop our god-awful drone.
Imagine water turned to stone,
or newborn lamb whose fleece is
suddenly changed to armor plate
– that’s how it was. Our hurling weight
from softest substance smacked that lithic,
steadfast island with a boom
unheard across the South Pacific
since Japan’s torpedoes doomed
the Hornet and the Enterprise107
near islands named to honor a wise
Hebraic King! Atolls a-tolling!
Great moments in history are rarely consoling.

107 The Hornet and the Enterprise were American aircraft carriers assigned to guard the sea approaches to Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands during World War II. The Hornet still floated after receiving nine torpedoes and more than 400 rounds of shell fire from the destroyers Mustin and Anderson. The Enterprise proved equally indomitable, and although badly bombed by the Japanese in August and October, 1942, she still launched planes against enemy ships in November.
_____
Published as part of the dVerse Poetry Group.

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“O! That Moment of Immeasurable Ease!” by Zireaux

'One floats / as if on Time's eternal seas...'

'One floats / as if on Time's eternal seas...'

From Res Publica, Book One, Canto the First

To M.

17.

O! That moment of immeasurable ease
which comes on gently rocking boats
in warm contented weather! One floats
as if on Time’s eternal seas,
a million years slip by with every
lurch and lulling pitch. A reverie
held in wobbly balance between
a savage sleep (pre-Pleistocene)
and playful, sweet Arcadian reason;
that moment between our circadian seasons,
half-Somnus, half-genius! Asleep and awake.
To live in that balance, what poets we’d make!

Zireaux’s comments on this stanza
This is what’s known as a perfect stanza. Looking back on it, I’m intrigued by its flow. The structure of the first a/b/b/a tetrameter quatrain exists in every stanza throughout the entire work; and there are only so many rhythmic combinations a poet can use. This one — with the fourth foot of the third line beginning the second sentence — is a favorite of the Zireauxian style. Why? Think of a mother trying to dress a fidgety and freshly-bathed child; all jump and jitter, toss and tussle, until the head suddenly pops through the shirt, the feet through the pant-legs — and the feral little imp is suddenly transformed into a miniature person. So, too, the poetry appears to leap about with rhyme-less freedom, only to find itself, at the end, with its hair well combed, its shoes tied, and every inch of its spontaneous song dressed in the tailored ensemble of a perfect 12-line stanza.
_____
Published as part of the dVerse Poetry Group and as part of the Poetry Jam web prompt (the poem, about poetry and dreaming, addresses both).

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“A Crack of Blinding, Blazing White” by Zireaux

torm Clouds, by the English painting, John Constable (11 June 1776 – 31 March 1837)

Storm Clouds, by the English painter, John Constable (1776 – 1837)

In these stanzas, the narrator has hired a Robinson-22 helicopter, along with a female pilot named Megan, to locate the tiny island he accidentally discovered three days earlier in a boat. As they search for the island, they fly directly into a storm.

A Crack of Blinding, Blazing White
(from Res Publica, Book One)
by
Zireaux

To M.

                                                 . . . but wait! While I’ve
digressed, our chopper’s leapt and dived
and spun up in a charcoal patch
of clouds – a fitful gyroscope.
Why, even had I the slightest hope
of steadier gaze, my pilot was straining
forward, seeking some remaining
blue-space, adjusting pedals, seizing
a rebellious stick – and wheezing.
And I was less inclined to paint
poetic portraits than to faint.

100.

For all the islands that I know,
the Barriers, and all the sea
’round Tiritiri Matangi,57
had vanished from our view below.
This zone of Godzone58, as you know,
is mostly lightning-free – but lo!
Between our copter’s flashing siren
bloodying the mist, we spied one
crack of blinding blazing white
which might seem normal in the night
but this was day, by God! The sun?
A grey silk sack a spider had spun.

101.

Or fuzzy tennis ball the gods
would catch and toss, and when they held it
long, a Stygian demon dispelled it
with frightful flashes round our pod.
It captured Megan’s face (the sitter
for me to paint). Her look was bitter.
She pointed to a puffy, cute
orange zippered bag — a parachute? —
beside my feet.

                               ‘Could you,’ she yelled,
‘right there!’

                         I did as she compelled.

‘Emergency bag?’ I quickly availed her.

‘Of sorts,’ she said. ‘It’s got my inhaler.’

102.

‘Megan, I’m not a person to quibble
’bout some rain.’

                                     She took a long
and lusty breath.

                                      ‘And maybe I’m wrong
but we’re not flying. We’re being dribbled
like a ball! Shouldn’t we go back?
This Robinson might have a heart attack.’

‘I think we’re right above it,’ she said.

‘The island? You sure?’ I searched her red-
rimmed eyes, examined their onyx hue.

She grinned: ‘Shouldn’t I be asking you?
I’m trusting you, mister. If we go down
there damn well better be some ground!’

140.

But let me continue – lest I fail
to build at all! There was a sudden,
bone-shaking jolt, a final thud in
all that ocean-whipping gale.
Then all was still. The engine slain.
A hesitant applause of rain
rose up against our bug-eyed window.
A foggy mist had settled in though
– or no, the weather wasn’t clogged
as such; the inside glass was fogged;
so I didn’t know what was around it
until dear Nutmeg said, ‘We found it’.

'...and from a figure freshly laid / upon the water, like Hamlet’s maid.'  Painting by British artist Sir John Everett Millais, completed between 1851-52

'...a figure freshly laid / upon the water, like Hamlet’s maid.' Painting by British artist Sir John Everett Millais, completed between 1851-52.

141.

Slowly, salaciously, the clouds
slipped off my island. My vision
cleared, and with a growing precision
the traits with which she was endowed
(and which had been a haunting riddle
for days) appeared. Her naked middle,
where Meg in desperation landed,
was perfectly smooth, a sand-patch branded
only by the fanning ruts
created by our landing struts;
and rows of freckles running cross:
The footprints of that albatross.

142.

I saw the rocks, a peppered white,
where I had docked three nights before.
They spread along the south-west shore
as locks, or garlands, once bound tight
but loosened by the surf – as if
their mass were soft and gently adrift
and from a figure freshly laid
upon the water, like Hamlet’s maid.
Above, two clouds had come disjoined.
The sun slipped through, a slot en-coined
with yellow token. We’d hit the jackpot.
I seized my camera, took a snapshot.

143.

Land! O promised land! A Zion
of designs my own! A place
of dignified and leisured grace,
a land for me to live and die on!
A rock I found amidst a sea
of wandering dreams – or it found me –
a Hermitage to live withdrawn;
my private summer Yiheyuan.83
A solid place in pitching life.
A refuge from one’s bitching wife!
An ocean gem, a rich and free-land;
my country home, my
New New Zealand!

144.

I watched Meg sleep – and felt the world
reposeful too: the gurgling tide,
the lips of stratus spreading wide,
a tongue of moist blue sky unfurled.
Deep breath! A nose full of her smell –
a rich yet stagnant-seeming well;
a rock pool’s cup of sea-life teaming
or as the manhole, snorting, steaming,
can smell at once of putrid things
yet be the source where cities spring.


57 Tiritiri Matangi, which in Maori means ‘buffeted by the wind’, is located 30 kilometers northeast of central Auckland and just four kilometers from the end of Whangaparaoa Peninsula. The small island boasts 78 species of native birds and 71 species of trees.

Thomas Bracken (21 December 1843 – 16 February 1898)

Thomas Bracken (21 December 1843 – 16 February 1898)

58 A common abbreviation of ‘God’s own country,’ an affectionate nickname used by New Zealanders to describe their homeland. The phrase was first recorded in a poem about New Zealand written by Thomas Bracken (1843-1898) about 120 years ago. Bracken also wrote the lyrics for ‘God Defend New Zealand’, the country’s English language national anthem.

Let us take a moment to honor the great Bracken’s “God’s Own Country.” A single stanza should suffice, the first 14 lines out of exactly 100 (not sure we could tolerate more):

Give me, give me God’s own country! there to live and there to die,
God’s own country! fairest region resting ‘neath the southern sky,
God’s own country! framed by Nature in her grandest, noblest mould;
Land of peace and land of plenty, land of wool and corn and gold!
Where the forests are the greenest and the rugged mountains rear,
Noble turrets, towers, and spires, piercing through the ambient air;
Rising to the gates supernal, pointing Godwards through the blue,
When the summer’s sunny splendours tip them with a nameless hue,
And the gusts of winter gather snow and sleet and mist and cloud,
Weaving many a curious mantle, many a quaint fantastic shroud.
Oh! the mountains of New Zealand! wild and rugged though they be,
They are types of highest manhood, landmarks of a nation free.
Pleasure-ground of the Pacific! Brightest region on the main!
Land of many a rushing river, verdant valley, fertile plain!

This is landscape painting at its loftiest and most magnificent; and therefore laziest and most effete. Too many trumpets. Too many Tennysonian male-endings marching. It’s too easy to write this stuff; and yet Tennyson, Melville, Proust, Browning, Lowell, and yes, female poets too (see Ellen Bryant Voigt) — from A to Zireaux, who hasn’t been transfixed at some point by splendorous spires? (Read, for example, my “To Respiration.” Six or seven times. Aloud.).

But Bracken remains our father-poet and rightful heir of Erewhon. In one of my short stories (“The Importance of Breast Milk“) a character is convinced that a beard — a rich and voluminous beard — is what makes a writer great. Beards, plus boils on the bum, I’d say. No way of knowing for sure about the boils. Bracken, however, sported a very nice beard, and he was a very real poet, so we can safely infer, in his case, an affair — a love-hate affair, I believe — between chair and derrière.

83 A palace in Beijing, China, known as the Summer Palace, and which literally means, ‘Garden of Health and Harmony’.

__________
Published as part of the dVerse Poetry group.

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Response from Nowhereisland — Friends or Foes? — and Early Version of Res Publica, from April, 2003

Mount Ngauruhoe: 'I suggest writers like Ngauruhoe'

Mount Ngauruhoe: ‘As far as stories go / I suggest writers like Ngauruhoe’

You’ll recall that on learning the British artist, Alex Hartley, had landed upon the artistic shores to which I have laid claim myself, I did what any native poet would do — I applauded his designs and showed my respect for his achievement by nominating myself Poet Laureate of the territory he calls “Nowhereisland.”

My thanks to those of you who may have supported and seconded my self-nomination. As a result of our actions, yesterday I received a friendly but puzzling response from the director of an organization called Situations, the arts commissioning program behind the Nowhereisland project.

In her email, the director points out — addressing my claim that Alex Hartley’s work mimics my own — that Mr. Hartley “commenced work on Nowhereisland back in 2004.”

Puzzling indeed. If we’re going to bring dates into the matter of artistic discovery (never my intention), then for the record, Res Publica was conceived in 2001, with a completed version of the poem recited before a live audience, in April, 2003 — a good year and half before Mr. Hartley’s “discovery.”

I’ve decided to publish, below, that early version of Res Publica, from April, 2003, for Situations, Alex Hartley, and the Nowhereisland expedition team (they are still awaiting the copy of Res Publica, Book One, which was sent by regular mail).

I will comment further on the email I received from Situations — and its potential significance in terms of artistic integrity, colonialism and territorial rights — over the next couple days.

Res Publica
by
Zireaux

To M.

Prologue

The following is a true account
of seven years and fifty weeks
of my life. The thrifty reader who seeks
some greater truth from such an amount
should stop here. A visiting Kipling once said
our island nation is British fed,
but will one day repay its debt in stories. *
Rudy was known for allegories.
This is not one – it’s factual role
as firm as the streets our Capital stole *
from the sea! As far as stories go,
I suggest writers like Ngauruhoe. *

Canto 1
It Happened on a Practice Day

1.1

It happened on a practice day.
A lull in squalls made failing motors
of the sails. We were trailing-boaters
with nothing to do now but play.
A ray of sun had set alight our skin;
the weary umpire was first to jump in;
and the cool Gulf quickly doused
the judgements which his body housed.
A flagsman leapt, then a meal-hand,
then a sailor for Team New Zealand;
everyone but me – an unsociable seal,
who was busy sleeping at the wheel.

1.2

A knocking of the stern against
some rocks – “Come in! Are we racing
again?” By god t’was night! I was facing
the stars, which floated free, unfenced,
in the celestial sea – like spectator craft! *
I looked around: My boat was unstaffed!
The water – shiny as horse-fur, banded
with white where moonlight spanned it –
was flat as an empty stage, no props
or crops of trees, no mountaintops
piquing the horizon – which truly shocked;
for the knock told me my boat was docked.

1.3

The air was warm, my clothes were wet,
without a trace of salt. To the West
soft thunder answered in anapest
a difficult question. And new ones beget:
My mates? Perished? What absurdity!
On a different boat they must surely be!
Slowly my thoughts (I snoozed through a storm?)
diffused like water from the low landform
which caused me to stand, and from the stern climb,
and question that morning’s rapid “burn-time,”
and whether my brain had sizzled while I slept.
But lo! On ground my feet now stepped!

1.4

The land was as long as a football field
and curved like rising Te Ra across.*
Momently inhabited it was. An albatross
waived and flapped her feathery shield;
then fell forward in flight. Now I
was alone in the night; not high, but dry,
perched on drowned Poseidon’s head
as if the god were standing there dead,
blue face underwater; scalp made of sand.
A moment’s panic bade me search the land
for blow-holes. But Tinirau I wasn’t to be; *
nor is that other Robinson me.

1.5

My GPS guided me swiftly home
the roughly fifty nautical miles;
to my unknotting conjugation, where smiles
were absent as always. It was a syndrome,
this icy fever of married life.
The dawn spoke more than my gab-spent wife,
who rather than assessing her husband’s survival,
was dressing for work upon his arrival.
An affair with her paycheck! Oh how the toil
of marriage can stagnate one’s life and spoil
one’s rhymes! Enough of this despair!
Fill our wings, Muse! To Wellington’s air!

Canto 2
Longitude 175 58’

2.1

To the Land Office on Lambton Quay,
where nary a report of my tiny highland
by passing ship or plane or island
map was produced by the Admiralty.
The flu-sick helicopter pilot
(a woman named Meg) sought my islet
at longitude one-seven-five, fifty-eight,
beyond the swirling Culville straight
and Cuvier isles by roughly eighteen
miles, and snuffly expected a slate-scene
of liquid, with depths of fathoms forty,
but found a landing-pad for our sortie.

2.2

Land! Untrespassed land! Untrammeled
hope! Geographers appraised:
“It was,” they said, “quite recently raised.
Tectonic crusts can shift…” They rambled
on and on, while I recalled
the prior week a tremor had stalled
my wife’s soft typing a millisecond.
“Did you feel that, dear?” I beckoned.
“No” – click-click, her thoughts well-railed,
while mine across great oceans sailed
on maritime bail from marital prison;
not knowing, off shore, my new home had risen.

2.3

My home! No prints of human feet
or vision were stamped upon that ground
before mine! Yes, such spots are found
by children and lovers and other discreet
explorers of secret places daily.
The earth, like skin, impermanent, scaly,
replaces wounds with scars, and erases
others. Imagine the infinite cases
of ownership, were deeds dispersed
for all things traversed or sighted first!
Boundless kingdoms in every town –
but none of that matters to the Crown.

2.4

What is ownership alas? One kind
alone is vital to the poet: the title
of Uniqueness! For each new recital,
a copyright of style is legally assigned,
making tycoons of many a bard
who once found paying creditors hard.
Lord Byron owns the ancient East.
All paradise from Coleridge is leased.
Couldn’t I divine within me some song
to build my empire loud and long – *
Oh foolish bards! Get real! A purse is
worth more in bank notes than verses!

2.5

“Sweetheart, I need some money. It’s urgent!
The emergent country I staked with a flag
(when set aground by ‘Helicopter Meg’)
needs protection from government insurgents
who claim our recently risen stone
lies within their Economic Zone!
Our lawyers, however, tell a different story:
The rock’s outside the territory
of this nation by a distance fixed
at a quarter league. Everything betwixt
that point and Peru is blue free land!
And therein sits our New New Zealand.”

2.6

Notice my choice of “our” and “we.”
My tight-lipped wife’s a shrewd investor;
the issue of “returns” have long obsessed her,
making loans her choice of charity.
Even the way she drafted our prenuptial
was less kind-hearted and more cleanuptial.
I bravely signed her contract then
and — once I produced a schedule when
she’d be five-times repaid or more
(then moved it forward a decade) and swore
to slavery should my promise prove cracked –
she savorily agreed to my contract.

Canto 3
Amends to the Albatross

3.1

I embarked on a life of solitude.
I packed a boat; I farewelled friends.
I brought some herring to make amends
to the albatross (a waste of food.
She had fled when I arrived).
On clams and mussels and seaweed I thrived.
There was plenty of rain. By the time November
came and went, I was a member
of parliament – of parlia-tent
I should say, just me to represent
myself, a population of one,
to protect the liberty and joy I’d won.

3.2

Indeed, it’s hard not to rejoice
in a country which breaks from Johnson’s rule
(that Republics are governed by more than one fool) *
and gives Res Publica a singular voice.
Matters of nationhood could be debated
in sleep’s chamber. On a mattress inflated
I could sign, or veto, then take a swim
and check all imbalances according to whim.
I remember once composing a treaty,
then floating it, bottled, to Tahiti,
and voting all regulations to reject!
And then came my wife, her debt to collect.

3.3

Where were the profits from oil I’d promised?
The fisheries and pearl farms? The rich investors?
The earl from England? Or was he a jester!
“You’re worse than Madam Scary, my palmist,
who predicted our pairing would be marital bliss!
Only” – lifting a paper – “she never signed this!”
I couldn’t argue. The truth was plain.
The same contract; my same bloodstain.
I offered to repay nearly ninety percent
of what remained of the funds she lent.
But she refused, and demanded in one year
I double her investment – or disappear.

3.4

Alone in my air-bed I tossed and raved
and schemed and dreamed of my Xanadu.
An army. A gold-mine. A Sultana, too?
In the end I commissioned the island paved
by a handsome Kiwi-slash-Turkmenistani
with thick mustache, who was such a good man he
offered to work for a negative sum
if I’d let seventeen of his relatives come.
And why not? He arranged the ship and sloop
and life-vests for the entire troop.
By the time his family paddled ashore
he’d imported from Auckland provisions galore.

3.5

He built the first level. There’d be many more
added above – but the first was incredible!
A Byzantine structure with divans that were bed-able;
pink satin cushions littered the corridor,
where children, saddled with Micky Mouse bags,
rode bicycles streaming with Warehouse tags *
through vibrant smoke-filled lands indoors,
with Persian carpets lining the floors,
to a bright-eyed teacher near Entrance Eight
whose Turkic words they’d enunciate.
Indeed — since Cook’s Endeavor arrived
no better breed has ever thrived.

3.6

Such thrift! Such industry! Such zeal to adapt!
How eager they were to perform some labor
which met the demands of our western neighbor:
A swift tapestry. A stuffed seal well-wrapped,
and boxed and shipped to a buyer in the U.K.
with plastic flowers wired in a bouquet.
No enterprise eluded; no wage-law intruded;
no permit was needed or passport disputed!
I recruited an accountant. He was impressed.
We bought a generator for our concrete nest.
From boxing to xeroxing — our work was transformed,
and the saffron pilaus were microwave-warmed.

Canto 4
When Limping Sunlight’s Journey Ceased

4.1

Then came “Island Babes,” the game
on TV where bikini-clad ladies seduce
a castaway sailor, racing to produce
his child. (The show won great acclaim;
Not one of the seventeen infants was hurt!)
The producers saw a chance to convert
the roof of our massive island home
into a kind of open-walled dome
for scenes which called for clean conditions
(and off-screen advice from obstetricians)
with ample sea-views. Three mothers stayed.
The sailor married our first-floor maid.

4.2

My Turkmeni friend’s acuity,
his global sense for timely invention,
his noble bent – not to mention
consent for promiscuity
(he built a bordello on level five) —
brought wealthy fellows to our hive.
Oh unfaithful Muse! How many men
you’ve inspired before me and my pen!
Higher we rose without delay;
no code of compliance, no laws to obey.
Lottery stalls and cyber-cafes!
A maze of walls and malls to amaze!

4.3

Level ten was reserved for the King (of burgers)
and the rest of his estimable court (of food).
Oh the untiring, unfathomable fortitude
of aspiring Punjabis and Beijing-born workers!
An Irish pharmaceutical rented
levels twelve through twenty in which it invented
(in vacuo that ingredient – tax)
a range of aphrodisiacs.
Homes and clubs took a higher view,
and all the people of Waikawau knew *
when limping sunlight’s journey ceased; *
our tower’s orange embers ignited the East.

4.4

With the U.N. we were quick to enlist
our high-rise nation. Our intrepid free will
earned a capitalization of ninety three mil –
but again! These royal thoughts persist!
I say “our” – but was my life enriched
by a roof-top tent (same tent!) now pitched
one hundred and twenty meters higher? *
I am just a versifier,
whose hard-earned highness in life or title
won’t spurn the slyness of a wife’s requital.
To be Queen, she said, our contract had bound her.
While her heart enthroned my mustached co-founder.

4.5

Through the skylight of their royal penthouse,
I observed their polyandric cult.
Despite rain, or Thor’s sky-whitening bolts,
I remained, above all, a loyal tent-spouse.
A great queen she was! On each new graph
our empire scored in the upper half! *
How often I wished to congratulate her,
but her button wouldn’t glow in the elevator
no matter how slowly I depressed it.
Depressed it? I meant “pressed it” – lest it
falsely ascribe a wise introspection,
to scribes with horizons stretched every direction.

4.6

The sails and whales; the magic levity
of cormorants in flight; the pelagic grace
of sea-clouds trailing their silvery lace,
— they stirred illusions of longevity!
And just as the crescent moon is ignored
by sun-bright noon, incessant Time soared
so high and quiescent, no clear terminus
beamed through my azure. I determined thus
never to look down, but to worship infinity
and for years I was true to my timeless divinity;
and for years I considered my peace well-earned,
until the albatross returned.

Canto 5
Quick! Out of Bed!

5.1

It landed on the balustrade
(which helped to keep me safely caged
when nighttime walks were sleep-engaged).
The early morning gulls, afraid
of their giant sibling, grew upset
when I approached the para-pet
and offered it food, which it refused,
its transfixed eyes were well-transfused
with something wicked, reader! I shivered!
And had my voice by cell-phone delivered:
“A head-cold,” she sniffled, but that didn’t stop her.
I was whisked away by Meg and her chopper.

5.2

How great our building appeared from a distance –
only slightly besmeared by national flags
like the pulled-out pockets of a poor man’s rags,
and the soot-black stains from someone’s insistence
on firing crackers for every last sixer
(struck not by our New, New Zealand Elixers,
but by the bat of the Indian team!).
Such flaws would be fixed. The Queen’s regime
would import new migrants to clean below:
the hemorrhage of oil, the waste-paper snow;
hot sewage boiling in a yeasty sand-brew!
“Say Goodbye!” said my pilot, “to East-Sealand Zoo!”

5.3

“How could you fail to notice?” asked Meg,
plucking from her bed-side dresser
the tissue burlesquing its predecessor.
“I don’t know, Megan; to mask some vague
understanding of masses? Money-seeking
betrays the spirit – oh look at me! I’m speaking
in cliches!” “What goes up, they say…” “Perhaps;
but our Queen would never allow such a lapse.”
“Biblical then?” “No, we arrested
Babel’s fate. Our builders were tested *
in typical English.” Bewildered cough,
then a kiss; we continued from where we left off.

5.4

“Did you feel that, Megan? The earth just trembled!”
“Oh yes.” “No, I mean, really shook!
Quick! Out of bed! We need to go look
and see if my nation has come unassembled!”
“Your nation? Why? Its emphasis
is height! Which means its genesis
is written in those stories, right?”
I said nothing. We took a flight
in her thunderous Muse. My nation approached
like a flea-ridden giant, leewardly broached
by waves! The sea rose levels four!
The fifth-floor bordello becoming the shore!

5.5

And the fleas – the fleas were people falling!
“Take me down, Megan! Down, I say!”
— as a waiter leapt from a tenth-floor cafe
and gamblers trapped in casinos were calling
for rescue! Quake-born – but not shake-proof!
“Down,” I demanded, “down on the roof!”
As loyal Megan vainly searched
for level landing, plainly perched
atop the rail like sculpted stone –
just one unruly feather blown
about by our dragon’s approach (a quill
taking notes) – the albatross was still.

5.6

“Didn’t you hear me? Down I insist!”
I made as if to exit my door,
while furious Megan swerved and swore
and reached aside to hold my wrist
— but missed! Now I was bold enough
to jump, so I did, with a landing rough
and just as Megan was coming my way,
the building started to crumble and sway.
Then tumble and crash. I sunk last,
like Melville’s native on Pequod’s mast; *
and only knew I wasn’t dead,
when I saw a white cloud with wings wide-spread.

Epilogue

A thousand worlds are born each day.
(Whoever says the world is shrinking
suffers from a lack of thinking).
Every set of eyes conveys
a country different than our own!
But if my fallen nation be known
to future readers, I thank the nurses
who served as midwives to these verses
by copying a notice every morning
and giving it to my neighbors. Its warning:
“All talking and pop-culture is restricted,
lest from this library you’ll be evicted!”

— Takapuna, April 3, 2003

Notes on the text:

Prologue

1.7 – Kipling’s story, “My Lady of Wairakei,” in which Kipling makes this point, first appeared in the New Zealand Herald on January 30, 1892.
1.10 – Several streets in downtown Wellington are built on land which rose out of the sea during an earthquake in 1885.
1.12 – Ngauruhoe refers to an active volcano in New Zealand’s central North Island.

Canto 1 — It Happened on a Practice Day

1.2.5 – Uncontrolled spectator craft in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf have been known to cause delays for Americas Cup races.
1.4.2 — Te Ra is the Maori sun god.
1.4.11 – According to Maori legend, Tinirau rode on the back of a whale.

Canto 2 — Longitude 175 58’

2. 4.10 – Taken from Coleridge’s poem, “Kubla Khan”: “Could I revive within me / Her symphony and her song / To such a deep delight ‘twould win me / That with music loud and long…”

Canto 3 — Amends to the Albatross

3.2.3 – Samuel Johnson, In his Dictionary of the English Language (London, Walker and Co, new edition, 1853, page 536), defines the word Republick: “state in which the power is lodged in more than one.”
3.5.6 – The Warehouse is a popular discount department store in New Zealand.

Canto 4 — When Limping Sunlight’s Journey Ceased

4.3.10 – Waikawau is located on the Eastern side of the Coromandel ranges, the only town in New Zealand which could have seen New New Zealand.
4.3.11 – The sunlight is most likely “limping” because in Maori legend, Maui slows the sun by injuring it
4.4.7 – Had the builders followed the New Zealand Building Code, 1991, this would make the structure approximately thirty stories tall – but, of course, as the author makes clear, no such code was followed.
4.5.6 – Some literary scholars, such as Alberto Cross, in his book,
Kingdom by the Sea: The World of ______ (Stanton and Gross, 2001), claim the author is satirizing New Zealand’s efforts to rank in the upper half of the OECD countries. In interviews, however, the author has categorically denied such intent.

Canto 5 — Quick! Out of Bed!

5.3.11 New New Zealand followed its neighbor’s example of instituting a mandatory English language test for immigrants.
5.6.10 The three “natives” of
Moby Dick – Tashtego the native American; Queequeg the Maori; and Daggoo the African Negro — ascend the three mast-heads of their ship, the Pequod, as it sinks. Befitting the boat’s native American name (and the author’s nationality), Tashtego, the native American, takes the mainmast and is therefore last to sink.

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“Typus Excessus” by Zireaux

Pamela Anderson

Novelist, Pamela Anderson

Typus Excessus
(Stanzas from the prologue of Res Publica, Book One)
by
Zireaux

To M.

12.

My poem is true. And those who say,
how come we never read about it,
or saw it on Holmes1 – let me shout it:
You did! You did! There wasn’t a day
since summer, ’98, when mention
wasn’t made of my intentions.
TV One, the Herald, the Times.
So many events conveyed in these rhymes
between my pro- and epilogue,
appeared in the news, or someone’s blog,
or on a million cell-phone screens
from Russia to the Philippines.

13.

I have no doubt my story was seen
by you, my reader – and likely dismissed
by you as well. We seem to exist
in modern life as magazines
in quest to raise our circulation.
Life’s designed by copulation,
so said that brilliant thinker, Darwin;2
but, too, we yearn for a story to star in;
and they – our stories – compete as well.
Some with fiction cast their spell;
some rely on brainy proof.
For nothing’s quite as fit as truth.

14.

And that’s just it – for in these days
of typus excessus, everyone
(including Pamela Anderson!)13
is smitten with the writing craze.
It’s hard to tell just what is fit
and what is shit – and if they split
apart at all; if entertaining
fiction – en masse – is truth-attaining;
and whether truth, concise or wordy,
proven or not, can find a sturdy
spot of well-protected ground
midst waves of falsehood.

                                                Or must it drown?

__
1Popular news presenter who once referred to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan as a ‘cheeky darkie.’
2Question: Were Darwin alive today — and surely someone of his scientific brilliance exists in the world today — would he blog?
2Pamela Anderson (born 1967), a modern ‘blonde bombshell’ and actress, is best known for her breast implants, her exhibitionist stunts and questionable acting abilities in a 1990s television series called ‘Baywatch’. Her novel,
Star: A Novel, was published by Atria.
__________
Published as part of the dVerse poetry group.

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“The Icy Fever of Married Life” by Zireaux

The Angry Wife; Xanpippe, by Israhel van Meckenem, 1500

The Angry Wife; Xanpippe, by Israhel van Meckenem, 1500

“On the Obligation of Being Married”
by
Zireaux

My GPS guided me swiftly home
the roughly fifty nautical miles
last night – to conjugal death, where smiles
are absent as always. A dreary syndrome,
the icy fever of married life.
The dawn spoke more than my gab-spent wife,
who rather than assessing her husband’s survival,
was dressing for work upon his arrival.
An affair with her paycheck! Or rather, checks.
Her finances are quite complex.
I’ve never had a clue for whom
she works. A firm of some sort, I assume.

Or two. Or twenty. She talks of ‘clients’;
and every day in the Business Herald
I see those paramours appareled
in bold bargello stripes and giant
pie-graph pendants – harlequin kings
in all their latest corporate bling.
How fondly she speaks of blokes named Fletcher,
Nathan, Harvey. Sometimes I catch her
with Air New Zealand on one line
and Qantas on the other! She dines
with whoever pays the topmost dollar.
The world is small. New Zealand is smaller.

The sunrise 'points out every drying drop / of rain upon the windowpane...' (photo by Niklas Vogt)

The sunrise 'points out every drying drop / of rain upon the windowpanes...' (photo by Niklas Vogt)

I once inquired – ‘What do you do?
Are you an Accountant? A Business Advisor?’

I almost never apostrophized her
this way – with questions, I mean. I knew
that in those sharp, fluorescent eyes
I’d shrink in IQ, and years, and size,
and she’d reply in demeaning speech, her
tone just like a preschool teacher’s.
But strangely my question seemed to excite her.
She fixed on me. Her eyes grew brighter.
Her talons clutched her perfect chin.

‘Whatever,’ she preened, ‘it takes to win.’

So there we were – a businesslike dawn
appearing for work, a kind of P.A.,
ready to plan my wife’s busy day;
and pester her husband to mow the lawn,
get out the sprays, the vacuum, the mop.
It points out every drying drop
of rain upon the windowpanes,
of which there are many. My wife disdains
the quaint and frugal. Our house has six
beach-facing bedrooms – or boardrooms – each fixed
with phone, computer or both. We meet
now and then, by chance, in the master suite;

'If only...houses were decked / with brands, and Gucci the architect!'

'If only...houses were decked / with brands, and Gucci the architect!'

and even, for three or four hours at most,
divide the master bed between us,
a king-sized canopy bed, with Venus
adorning the headboard, and Cupid, the posts.
Imagine! A Roman bed in a ‘Spanish
Mission’ home, with large outlandish
bell above the entrance way,
and tiles like those in Santa Fe,
with classic Georgian patio
and wide French-doors for ‘outdoor flow’.
New Zealand’s the greatest country to be in,
as long as we live like Europeans.

To my wife a house is just the box,
like those that come with fancy shoes
or hats – to give observers clues
about the worth inside, the stocks
she trades, celebrities she knows,
cities she visits, parties she throws.
If only the halls of houses were decked
with brands, and Gucci the architect!
Cars, as well, are less for driving
than making a statement on arriving;
a status symbol for her to squash
her rivals with.

                                    For me?

                                                        To wash.
__________
Published as part of the dVerse group.
Extracted and revised from Res Publica, Book One, Canto the Second.

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“This Poet is Docking” — The Final Stanzas of Res Publica, Book One!

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey

Res Publica, Book One, Canto the Third

243.

‘Be serious, Arcady! A merry
search is on for you, you know.
And not just in New Zealand – no,
the BBC, Fox News, Al Jerry – ’

Al-Jerah

                      ‘ – whatever. The global news
broadcasts your face without your views.’

‘But of the two, my face is better.’

‘Except when wearing bold-print hats
and matching collars made of letters
spelling ‘shame’, ‘disgrace’ – and that’s
when they proclaim your death. If they
knew you were still alive here – ’

                                                                ‘May
I slip these off? These stanzas tingle
when your lips with mine commingle.’

President Bill Clinton: 'I’ve never served a King or Czar / in such a way with unzipped pants he / anointed me a tabloid star.'

President Bill Clinton: 'I’ve never served a King or Czar / in such a way with unzipped pants he / anointed me a tabloid star.'

244.

‘Okay, I guess, but please – I worry
these escapades just cause delay
– my love! – that they postpone the day
this poem’s finished.’

                                ‘One cannot hurry
the Muse. She likes it slow.’

                                                                ‘I know.
O darling! But maybe I could show
your poem to some kind of literary
figure – the type that turns a crime
to profit.112 Imagine the monetary
benefits (I hate these rhymes) –
the cash! Arcady Robinson:
The Man Behind the Isle. Part One.
A True, but Incomplete Confession
.
(Or should we ask for name-suppression?)

1421, by Gavin Menzies

1421, by Gavin Menzies. '...books / that make one think some Chinese ships /
once sailed around this country’s hips / in 1421'

245.

Imagine all those readers demanding
the second installment! The better half.
The judge will want your autograph
more than your neck!’

                                ‘You’re misunderstanding
books. Shall I explain?’

‘Please yes – ’

                  ‘It’s not that books aren’t bought unless
they’re finished first (for Byron
published all his works in parts);
but publishers these days require in
books those cabbalistic arts
that make one think some Chinese ships
once sailed around this country’s hips
in 1421;113 or Mona
Lisa has some trick persona

The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown

The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown. '...or Mona / Lisa has some trick persona / which symboligistic scholars / think denotes the holy grail'

246.

which symboligistic scholars
think denotes the holy grail;114
or if a woman wears a veil
then freedom either must enthrall her
or appall her (nothing betwixt).
I couldn’t care less for politics.
I’m not an Indian with spices,
snakes or mangoes to bewitch
provincial readers. No artsy vices
such as drugs or guns enrich
my bio page. I lack the style
that lets a witty pedophile
be so adored.115 I know that Chopra116
is a fraud. And so is Oprah.

The Book of Secrets, by Deepak Chopra

The Book of Secrets, by Deepak Chopra. 'I know that Chopra / is a fraud. And so is Oprah.'

247.

And dragons, hobbits, ghouls, boy-mages
– yes, they work to mesmerize
the kids (and Rowling117 gets the prize
for feeding them their veggie-pages),
but I’m like MAF,118 with virgin greens
in need of certain quarantines
to stop invasive breeds of fancy.
I’ve never served a King or Czar
in such a way with unzipped pants he
anointed me a tabloid star.119
My country isn’t torn by war.
My dad was neither rich nor poor120
nor even my dad . . . ’

                                         ‘Why stop your raving?
Your lips are nicely misbehaving.’

The World is Flat, by Thomas L. Friedman

The World is Flat, by Thomas L. Friedman. 'I’m not a pundit like that Thomas / of the New York Times, who sees / some universal homilies / in brief encounters abroad'

248.

‘I’m not a pundit like that Thomas
of the New York Times,121 who sees
some universal homilies
in brief encounters abroad. I promise
this as well: There’s not a chance
in hell I’ll beat that racer Lance122
– so tell me, then! An honest query:
What publisher will publish one
who lacks the features necessary
to be a popular writer?’

                                         ‘You done?’

‘With what, my dear?’

                                         ‘Your ticklish talking.’

‘This poem has sailed. This poet is docking.’

— End of Book One —


112 These lines were composed before it was announced that HarperCollins Publishers, stooping perhaps to a historical low, planned to publish a book written by the former American football star O.J. Simpson, under their Regan Books imprint on November 30, 2006. Entitled If I Did It, the book is Simpson’s hypothetical account of how he would have murdered his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman, both of whom were murdered in real life in 1994. O.J. Simpson himself was found financially liable for their murders in a civil trial in 1997.
113 Gavin Menzies, in his bestselling book,
1491: The Year China Discovered the World (Bantam Press, 2004), proposes that Chinese ships ‘discovered’ New Zealand after the Maori, but before any Europeans. Reviewing the book for the New Zealand Listener (‘The Chinese Colonisation of New Zealand’, January 2003), Michael King, New Zealand’s preeminent historian, writes that Menzies’s account ‘exhibits more false information and a more dishonest manipulation of evidence than any that I have encountered in a book issued by a reputable publisher. The book is, in short, a disgrace.’
114 In Dan Brown’s,
The Da Vinci Code (Doubleday Fiction, 2003), the well-known painting, the “Mona Lisa,” is said to represent a self-portrait of Leonardo dressed as a woman – and that this androgynous characteristic was Da Vinci’s way of symbolizing the holy union between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. At a reading in Takapuna, when asked about Dan Brown’s book, Zireaux replied: ‘Dan Brown is an anagram for “Own Brand.”’ Two months later, during a private interview in Sydney, Zireaux was asked to elaborate. He replied: ‘The prophet Daniel was a symbologist, interpreting the fantasy dreams of Nebuchadnezzar, the writings of Belshezzar. Brown, of course, is the color of many types of wood, horses and most forms of human excrement. Make of it what you will.’
115 Most likely a reference to Vladimir Nabokov’s
Lolita (1955).
116 Deepak Chopra, also very much his Own Brand when it comes to promoting alternative health (with seven best-selling books, countless tapes, CDs, videos, etc), is ‘a modern day Rasputin,’ Zireaux once told this editor, ‘with Oprah as his queen.’ (see ‘On Meeting Zireaux in New York City,’ an article by this editor which appeared in the
Slater Review, and the online edition of Listen Closely magazine, March 2007).

__________

The Poor Poet, by Carl Spitzweg, 1839

The Poor Poet, by Carl Spitzweg, 1839

Zireaux’s comments on these stanzas
The opening stanza of my Res Publica, Book One appeared on this Immortal Muse site on May 10, 2011. And now, 274 days later, it ends with our fugitive narrator, Arcady, hiding out with his voluptuous Muse in Frank Sargeson’s old bach, the final line making it clear that our happy couple is locked — and “docked” — in the act of love.

The second book — which has been delivered to some very kind publishers (nothing like the industry hacks who serve as targets for Arcady’s closing rant) — follows the adventures of our stowaway, Mr. Sayeed, through Turkmenistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Russia, America, New Zealand, and finally, at last, to the tiny island of Res Publica.

The journey includes tales of love, jealousy, honor-killings, kidnappings, a wonderfully poetic execution scene, a gun-toting bandit-queen mother, and (as any good reader would expect) an island battle with a hermaphrodite accountant.

The third and final book, which tells the story of Arcady’s great crime, is in the process of being transcribed from my illegible notebooks (a masterpiece for the student of graphology).

The bards who traveled the towns and villages of Mesopotamia, singing songs of heroes and gods, were paid less for the quality of their poems than for the wealth (the lavish oblations, abundant dowries, copious banquets) generated at the event they attended. Nothing has changed. The cruise ship crooner receives more for a single night’s performance then a poet will earn for a thousand-and-one days worth of soul-breaking creativity.

The busker who juggles atop a pole in Sydney can pass around a hat. The woman in Gothic dress who paints herself all silver and stands like a statue in front of a shopping mall will find more money showered across her spread-out handkerchief than a poet receives in a royalty check.

Alas — no coin-filled cap have I
for you to feed, as
Book One ends.
Just copies, signed, for you to buy.
(And don’t forget to tell your friends).

I’d like to thank the Immortal Muse site for posting my weekly stanzas and commentary. I’d also like to thank the superlative Radio New Zealand (particularly Adam Macaulay) and all the Tuesday Poets (with a special mention to Mary Macallum) for their generous support and encouragement.

And thank you, most of all, good readers.

 

Read from the beginning of Res Publica | Listen to the audio version (read by Stuart Devenie) | Buy a signed copy of the book

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“Stellar Tapers in the Night” — Stanzas 235 to 242

Oil-polluted water, photograph by Joel Sartore. '...that dented drum dispatched / an olive-green and brown placenta / which quickly filled a tidal pool'

Oil-polluted water, photograph by Joel Sartore. '...that dented drum dispatched / an olive-green and brown placenta / which quickly filled a tidal pool'

Res Publica, Book One, Canto the Third

235.

My eyes were stunned. My ears heard blister!
Raw-pain! Sun!

                                ‘Was someone there?’

‘Indeed there was! And dying for air!’

As it turned out, a dock-mate’s sister’s
brother-in-law – a friend in greed
had stowed away!

                                ‘Mr. Sayeed!’

‘The same.’

A Kiwi-slash-Turkmenistani,
with thick mustache, and thicker vowels;
a handsome fellow, a courteous man (he’d
squat downwind when relieving his bowels).
Except, of course, when stuck in a drum.
The lid was dented, and had become
impossible for him to open.
Until, at last, I smeared some soap in

236.

(you must admit, I am resourceful!)
and rolled the drum so that its rim
was unobstructed; and shouted to him
– that packed Sayeed – to give a forceful
kick. He did. And he was hatched!
At first that dented drum dispatched
an olive-green and brown placenta
which quickly filled a tidal pool
(one orange-red starfish turned magenta).
Then came the fetus, that grown-up fool,
all limp and soggy, with sludgy beard
and fudgy hair, his clothes all smeared
with slime and so horrifically smelling
I even gag in this retelling.

237.

Half-crazed, he was apologetic
just the same, and crawled, the wretch,
a shivering seal, out toward the stretch
of ice-cold sea. A sympathetic
soul, I wasn’t. I could have seized
a bucket, bathed him, helped him ease
his misery. Instead I headed
sulkily away, traversed
the land wherein cruel fate had wedded
our two lives; and sat and cursed
and didn’t go near him for several days
– or rather, weeks. The world plays
a joke and we sit bitterly grinning
with no idea it’s just a beginning.

Kiwi writer Frank Sargeson's House at 14A Esmonde Road in Takapuna.  'It stands on legs / of cinderblocks – or rather, sags, / much like a creature apprehended / in a net of shadows cast / by trees'

New Zealand writer Frank Sargeson's House at 14A Esmonde Road in Takapuna. 'It stands on legs / of cinderblocks – or rather, sags, / much like a creature apprehended / in a net of shadows cast / by trees'

In which our fugitive narrator pauses his story to invite us, his patient readers, to peer into the affairs of his writing shed . . .

238.

‘And then?’

                   ‘Then what?’

                
                                         ‘Well why this stifling
of your story? What muzzles you?
You’ve served some meat; we want to chew
it – Arcady! This foolish, trifling
rhyme of yours. How dare you set
the scheme my tongue must follow!’

                                                                  ‘And yet
in life, my dear, aren’t we required
to speak a certain way? Our words
are chosen for us. What we desire
to say is rarely what gets heard.
Come here, my love! Just look outside.
It is that time, the eventide,
when gypsy’s belly-dancing twilight
slips her gauze across our eye-sight,

239.

moves in sequined undulations.
Car-lights blaze like embers in
a desert’s sideways-howling wind.
Their wild and festive oscillation,
through the curtain gaps, advance
and stir our shadows into dance.
But do those drivers see the fervent
fun they fling upon our walls?
And is our reader so observant
as to see our bodies sprawl
upon this bed in just our socks,
a blanket on a pinewood box
which wasn’t built for two to mingle?
(Our ghost had friends, but slept a single.)’111

240.

‘And so?’

                         ‘And so, my dear, most stories
must live in constant twilight. To read
them is to nonchalantly speed
through claire-obscurist territories,
our eyes fixed more upon the red
oscelar brake-lights up ahead
than on the angels lighting stellar
tapers in the night. And yet,
unknown to readers, most storytellers
– in rendering that silhouette
through which their readers, eyes ablaze,
so blindly pilot – use those rays,
those passing rays of light, to brighten
up the starless dens they write in.’

Venus with Organist and Cupid (1548), by Titian.  'The more she feels a lover eyes her, / the more she serves up appetizers!’

Venus with Organist and Cupid (1548), by Titian. 'The more she feels a lover eyes her, / the more she serves up appetizers!’

241.

‘Your point?’

                              ‘My point: The reader rarely
disembarks his car to walk
(or if the writer’s rich, to stalk)
around the author’s nest! This barely
visible shack! It stands on legs
of cinderblocks – or rather, sags,
much like a creature apprehended
in a net of shadows cast
by trees (a net both torn and mended
by the car-beams speeding past).
See now, dear reader! See? I turn
my lamp on here and you discern
through golden window what I’m doing.
View the woman I am viewing

242.

as she lifts a hand-knit sweater
’bove her head’

                              – ‘It’s corduroy,
a jersey’ –

‘and lets us all enjoy
those lacy, black and loosely fettered
pups beneath; the way, each yoked
to each, they both in tandem poke
their noses out through thickly rolling
waves of flesh; how each one seeks
a tasty treat, or soft, consoling
master’s stroke. O let us peek
beneath their muzzles! No? Not yet?
A symptom of the female set:
The more she feels a lover eyes her,
the more she serves up appetizers!’



111 Kevin Ireland, a New Zealand writer who often lived with Sargeson, once recalled: ‘In the evenings we would drink lemon wine and people like Janet Frame, Keith Sinclair, Kendrick Smithyman and Maurice Duggan would drop in every night of the week. It was a wonderful, stimulating, exciting time; an oasis of common sense and literary excitement in the dull and conventional environment of the 1950s.’

__________
Zireaux’s comments on these stanzas
In case it’s not clear already, the “blister, raw-pain, sun” is Mr. Sayeed’s oil drum muffled cry for help: “Mister Robinson!” (Our narrator’s name, you’ll remember, is Arcady Robinson). Sayeed, by the way, becomes the protagonist for most of Res Publica, Book II.

The “ghost,” I remind you, is that of Frank Sargeson (first mentioned in stanza 58); the “pinewood box” his bed, which remains in his house on 14A Esmonde Road in Takapuna for readers who wish to visit the place where Arcady composed much of Res Publica (and where one of New Zealand’s greatest writers lived).

Just one more week to go — the final six stanzas — and the first book of Res Publica is complete.

Once again, I encourage you to visit the Tuesday Poets at tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com.

 

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“A Weirdly Whispering Wind” — Stanzas 227 to 234

Res Publica, Book One, Canto the Third

How our narrator, waking safely on his island, celebrates his survival – but then, to his despair, discovers an unexpected hatchling . . .

Form All Black rugby star, Marc Ellis, streaking at a provincial rugby match in 2007.

Marc Ellis, former New Zealand rugby star and founder of Charlie's Juice company, streaking at a provincial rugby match in 2007.

227.

Delirious dreams. A raw and painful
sun aroused me. I do not mean
the sun itself was shining; the scene
to which my sore – but proud, disdainful –
body now awoke was shadow-less;
the sky in pure white doctor’s dress,
the sun a stethoscopic metal
on a ghastly patient pressed.
So has his heartbeat finally settled?
Is the air back in his chest?
And still those taunting words – raw
and pain and sun. And kelp. I saw
no kelp, yet seemed to feel it round me.
How strange such words should so confound me.

228.

Where were they coming from? I wrestled
free of that well-fettered spot
– for seeking warmth, my legs were caught
by several nets in which they’d nestled.
I staggered up and looked around.
Tug’s twisted crane, like sniffing hound
in stiffened point, had found the very
spot where once the albatross
had looked at me with dark and wary
eyes. And there ol’ Tug had tossed
her smokestack pipe, which looked just like
a great harpooner’s skillful strike.
(What jokester muse to blame, that whaling
spawns the double-rhyme – impaling?)

229.

And there – untouched, untroubled – my planted
flag, all droop and drag, still stood
amongst the scraps of splintered wood
and strewn debris of disenchanted
dunnage. A truant, upturned drawer
of knives. And scattered on the shore
some tanks of water. A book (which heartened,
for it had landed someplace dry):
Melville’s Typee. A Charlie’s carton108
of juice (a mate of mine, that guy),
remarkably full, yet slightly scrunched
as if it had been stomach-punched.
Some happy news: my one-way shipment
had safely delivered my camp equipment.

Herman Melville: 'A book (which heartened, / for it had landed someplace dry): / Melville’s <em>Typee</em>'

Herman Melville: 'A book (which heartened, / for it had landed someplace dry): / Melville’s Typee'

230.

A tent. A bed. Some cargo had drifted
out to sea while I was lost
in throbbing dreams. A minor cost.
I couldn’t help feel but I’d been gifted
my life! This land! I scooped some sand
and kissed it! O all the dreams I’d planned,
my country! Our fate would be debated
in parliament – or parlia-tent
I should say – on my inflated
mattress, with me, just me, to represent
myself, a population of one.
To hold an election (and know I’d won!).
To write, to pass, to sign a treaty
sent by bottle to Tahiti;

231.

to draft new laws each year but never
let them pass, then on a whim
to check an imbalance, or take a swim
– or take a shit! And so forever
to break from Samuel Johnson’s rule
(that Republics are governed by more than one fool)109
A single fool I’d be with numerous
voices in my head. This struck
me as so credible, so humorous,
a wave of laughter felled me. What luck,
to go insane before my camp
was made, amongst these tattered, damp,
remains of my absurd intentions!
The mind must check its own inventions.

232.

But just as I was pacifying
these befuddling thoughts, I heard
those words again. What fish or bird
or god was speaking? I tried replying:
Raw!’ I shouted. ‘How raw my pain!
Where is the sun?’ – and in this vein
I tried conversing with that crazy
agent in my head, but soon
survival’s sunbeam cleared my hazy
thoughts. The rainy afternoon
detained me long beneath a torn
and trembling tarp. And when the storm
had passed, that eerie voice was silent.

‘Concussions make our thoughts turn violent.’

233.

That’s what I thought, my dear! Some knocking
of my head it must have been!
Some damage to the wit within
had made me hear some spirits talking
(while giving them such little speech;
no more than fi ve or six words each).
It wasn’t until the following morning,
when truly the sun appeared – a pink
electrifying sort of warning
bulb, for how it flashed and blinked
as it prepared for its ascent –
that I began to think, would I invent
such words? And not until that strobing
sun matured, and I was probing

234.

through the wreckage for some cooking
gear and kindling, did I decide
those words were more than mumbling tide
or weirdly whispering wind; and looking
for their source might give me peace
of mind. The murmurs, however, had ceased
a while. I fed on Tim-Tams.110 Then heard it
– ‘Kelp! O kelp!’ – muffled, yet clear.
I scanned the land where I inferred it
must be coming from. Just near
a crate filled with tin cans, a drum
of what I thought was oil had come
to rest. Or rather, not quite. That liver-
colored drum – I saw it shiver!


Samuel Johnson c. 1772, painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Samuel Johnson c. 1772, painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds: 'to break from Samuel Johnson’s rule / (that Republics are governed by more than one fool)'

108 Charlie’s Not From Concentrate (NFC) Orange Juice was co-founded by the New Zealand rugby league and rugby union player, Marc Ellis (born 1971). He is also a television celebrity known for – as this editor’s Kiwi colleague puts it – ‘somehow stepping outside the natural time continuum and doing adult things, such as running a business, hosting sport and travel shows, while never looking, or acting, older than 20. And thus, his youthful indiscretions, such as buying illegal party drugs, or talking on television about “sweating like a rapist,” or encouraging streakers to disrupt a televised sporting event, are usually forgiven as typical Kiwi “lad” behavior.’
109 Samuel Johnson, in his
Dictionary of the English Language (London, Walker and Co, new edition, 1853, page 536), defines the word Republick: ‘state in which the power is lodged in more than one.’
110 Produced by Arnott’s, the Tim Tam is made up of two dry, brown biscuits separated by chocolate cream and dipped in chocolate. For some reason, each package of Tim Tams contains exactly 11 biscuits, which requires the breaking of one biscuit to equitably share the entire package between two people.

__________
Zireaux’s comments on these stanzas
And so at last the relevance of our title — Res Publica — becomes clear: ‘A state in which power is lodged in more than one.’

To recap: Our narrator has discovered a tiny island. He’s claimed it as his own. He’s packed up a boat, set off by himself to live out the rest of his life upon that little rock amidst the open sea. But as he nears the island, in heavy swells, he finds no place to land his boat. He doesn’t want to turn back. His life on the mainland is miserable. He decides, instead, to crash his boat upon the island’s frothy shores. A shipwreck, by god — and lo! He survives! With no way to return (the boat is destroyed); and isn’t that wonderful? Alone on his island at last! “Just me, to represent / myself, a population of one. / To hold an election (and know I’d won!).” He celebrates his conquest, his solitude, his absolute power.

But then, he thinks he hears a voice — words like raw and pain and sun and kelp. And then, in the final lines of stanza 234, one of the oil drums from the shipwreck begins to move. ‘That liver- / colored drum – I saw it shiver!’ (Next week we’ll learn what’s inside).

A note about Melville’s Typee: I’m of the opinion that Typee, the great whale-man’s first book, provided an inspiration for Wells’s The Time Machine. Both stories involve an encounter with two tribes, one cannibal, the other peaceful. Both Wells’s “Time Traveller” and Melville’s narrator (Herman playing himself) are responsible for the death of a beloved member of their host tribe. Both, at certain stages, become violent toward their hosts and disconsolately question their own behavior. And both find innocent, loving female concubines who help massage away their despair.

I can’t think of a better book than Typee, a favorite of my youth, to survive on the island of Res Publica. (Although you’ll recall that while preparing for his trip, Arcady packed Apsley Cherry-Gerrard’s The Worst Journey in the World, another work which no doubt survived the shipwreck).

Speaking of inspiration, I encourage you to visit the Tuesday Poets at tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com.

 

Read from the beginning of Res Publica | Listen to the audio version (read by Stuart Devenie) | Buy a signed copy of the book

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