Ben Egerton is from Wellington. Currently a PhD candidate at the IIML at Victoria University, his interests lie in the intersection of contemporary Christian poetry and ecological stewardship. Ben’s dog thinks that he’s a very fine thrower of tennis balls.
In my first years of the Antarctic work I spent three summers and a winter ‘down south’ of the first years of our marriage. I used to say, “I gave the best years of my wife to the Antarctic.” – Dr Bernie Gunn
And each night I’d yearn
for her dot of colour.
By kerosene flame
on the prefabricated walls
I worked. Hunkered
in the empty quiet
in the ice-free margins
on the notebooks open in strata
on the desk.
I didn’t choose Antarctica
it was given to me.
An assignment at the limits
of my capabilities –
and five months
of hard copy.
And later, suspended
in the dimming,
I’d drift off
to the greens and browns
of our orchard
in the scent of late spring
where you in your apple-red dress
lay face up
onto your warm cheeks.
GATHERING NEW CARTOGRAPHIC INFORMATION FOR THE REVISED EDITION
It is one thing to draw a map at random, set a scale in one corner of it and write up a story to the measurements. It is quite another to have to examine a whole book, make an inventory of all the allusions contained within it, and, with a pair of compasses, painfully design a map to suit the data.
– Robert Louis Stevenson
America, on the bar wall, measures
about two feet by three feet and is empty
in the middle, and surrounded by sea.
Mexico and Canada have vanished,
along with problems of walls or porous borders.
Alaska is a small island, slowly towed
several thousand miles south, thawing
off the California coast.
The oceans are a flat cobalt calm washing
to a light-lined shore – though there’s little
by way of coastal infrastructure,
no provision for high tides or storm surges
and, should a large wave sweep the country,
no safety on higher ground.
We try to fill in the blanks, suggest
where to situate the major cities, conjure
significant geographical features with our fingers.
From nothing we build highways and state lines,
irrigate vast swathes of land for wheat, grapes
and cattle, erase faults and anticipate
areas of heavy rainfall. Like pioneers
we plot our future, not thinking who
or what our map betrays as it takes shape.
For a moment our America is alive, glowing
with permanence, but we can’t make
our landmarks stick, always one glance away
from a blank sheet and broken promises:
a white flag adrift in blue-ringed quiet
that’s more thought-bubble than navigational aid –
your right shoulder throwing shadow
across most of the Midwest.
In faded black
someone, probably Moses,
‘i am Moses’ on the plastic
of the climbing-frame boat
in the playground.
He had taken care
to encase his statement in a love heart
but no capital i
a small circle
instead of the dot.
for the parter of waves
leader of the Israelites
in those wilderness years
to leave his mark.
Here nothing numinous:
orange surf-lifesaving dinghies skimming
over the water
antiphonous caw from a crew
of complaining seagulls.