Ben Egerton

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.


Victoria Land

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

sun-yellow, scribbling
smoky patterns
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 –
eighty-six thousand
square kilometres

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
expectancy bronzed
onto your warm cheeks.




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,
had written
‘i am Moses’ on the plastic

yellow roof
of the climbing-frame boat
in the playground.
He had taken care

to encase his statement in a love heart
but no capital i
and with
a small circle

instead of the dot.
Odd place
for the parter of waves

of commandments
leader of the Israelites
in those wilderness years
to leave his mark.

Here nothing numinous:
two inflatable
orange surf-lifesaving dinghies skimming

over the water
antiphonous caw from a crew
of complaining seagulls.