Reply from New Zealand


1.
You ask me if I have any miracles to report,
and I reply that there's traffic roar here
by the sea and the grit blows in our faces
if we walk along the highway, lugging our parcels
in plastic. And at night the Southern Cross is nothing
but a cat's cradle of stars, the essence of disappointment.
Arriving, of course, I expected off a ship's rail
–or was it a plane's porthole?–to encounter something
worth beholding, to being me to life. Here I ride the bus
every morning, a commuter in a strange land. I catch the 8:20
and ride right behind the driver who is half Maori and wears
a green jade earring. Out that window I catch a few sights–
a man shoeing a horse by the roadside, another with a spraycan
on his back looking as if he's still fighting the war–
flamethrowers to kill all his little enemies,
in this case a few dandelions. And out the window as I return
fatigued in the evening I see that mountain swing into view–
Harbour Cone, the one that looks like a breast. She is often
violet or lavender in the soft late sun
and she calms me as I gaze out the smudged window adoring.

2.
Often as we shoot past the harbor, oyster catchers are wading
the mud. Tide's out and those birds poke away. Rounding
the last hill we are given the town staggered beyond. I note
ships moored at docks, cranes with lines waggling crates
down to the hold. Ships are here from all parts. The Russians
have the rustiest, and I conclude we have nothing to fear
from them. Speaking of more miracles, some of the trees here
shed their bark, not their leaves. And there are no snakes
at all–and only one rare, poisonous spider,
which I have not yet encountered. In the States, of course,
you would not see a man shoeing a horse by the roadside,
not any more. And it's not likely you'll see a mountain
that looks like a breast, at least in such lavender light–
not one as perfect as this cinder cone, which arose out of fire
eons ago. I tremble each morning beholding her and just before
sunset as well when the light show takes place in the sky
and she seems to tremble as darkness sets in.

3.
As for miracles, last weekend across the glittering bay
we saw an albatross nest. Great parent birds swooped
over chicks covered with down white as soapflakes,
babes that swung their heads back and forth
like mechanical dolls. Down below in the water,
fur seals lolled about on their backs, clapping flippers,
delighted with themselves. They swam close enough
to gaze at us from whiskered faces, amused at what they saw.
And mirabile dictu, no one was trying to kill them!
That's about it for miracles–albatross chicks
and the mountain, fur seals, that horse being shoed
by the roadside. And perhaps I should mention the plums.
We bought a basket of them on our drive across Central Otago–
glorious country Van Gogh would have loved–they've held out
for three weeks now, and each plum is without a doubt a miracle.
Time stops as I squish one of these purple plums
and look across at Judy more politely working at hers.
Plum skin's so shiny that a scene appears–the golden
toi-toi bush outside reflected with all its plumage
as if she holds that world in her hand, kisses it.
Then suddenly, it's gone. When you start adding up
these miracles, the list keeps growing–same as with woes.
We walk every day in the fern forest and midway up stop
by a spring–cool water out of split rock. We bend
to cup it in hand. One will go to the ends of the earth
for such water–to cup in hand and feel one's love
in fine shape, surviving. And by the way, you should see
the New Zealanders' map. They have shown their two islands
as the center of the globe, with blue all around,
like Delos in the ancient Aegean. And way off
the edge, past Tahiti and the other former paradises,
I seek the unreachable island, you.


David Ray, Music of Time: Selected & New Poems, The Backwaters Press, 2006.