Tam Vosper

Tam Vosper lives in Lyttelton. He is working on a PhD with the University of Canterbury English Department, writing on the subject of Allen Curnow and the poetics of place. Among sundry other distractions, he also reads and writes poems.

 


 

Cassandra Warns of Climate Change

For my discomforting prophecies
I was harried past all asylum
to the very limits of discomfiture
by those whom I had told out of love
to do otherwise than trace headlong paths
past the rubicon of my wretched vision.

They saw to it I was silenced
and all memory of me effaced
beyond recognition.

Now, when children point at me,
questioningly, in the street,
they are bustled off by their guardians
at double pace
who readily assure them
that I am a nobody,
that I am, in fact, illusory –
a nameless, voiceless,
trick of the light –

as with the spectacular
pink and gold plasma
of a sunset seen through smog.

 

 

Rattling at the hoist

Do not speak of hatred of the flag.
It has God’s cross, see, in the white and red.
– Allen Curnow,
Not in Narrow Seas

I.
Saints George, Andrew, and Patrick
interlace the charged canton
where tri-crossed Jack marks their spot;
a red-starred asterism
defaces the Blue Ensign:
Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and
Delta—cruces of the Crux—
fimbriated stellar white
swim ruddy in royal blue
inverting the blueblood let
by Bolshie’s bullet and blade
who’d no means to dream the dream
borne by Britons fleeing class
to contrive égalité
in a South Sea’s Just City
built on Pastoral Paradise—
‘the country at the end of
the world’, Lenin called it;
distantest Epsilon gone
like so many lesser stars
to the cynosural dogs.

II.

Long before a nation-state
gathered under this strange flag,
the tangata whenua
saw no cross blazon the night;
perceived instead an anchor
dropped by some great star waka,
else perceived an aperture:
Tawhiri’s mighty blowhole.
Antipodean pilots
wore crosses around their necks,
their sacred books bore the same,
and divided up the globe
into quadrants, which their cross-
barred compasses minutely
mirrored: four cardinal points
raised above their guiding rose;
overdetermined the word
for what they found in the stars.

III.

Moving ahead to landfall:
there found no dragon to slay,
no snakes to beat out with sticks,
above no cruciform clouds
divining holy battle.
Instead there were things plainly
impossible to count on:
taniwha haunted rivers
but flashed neither scale nor fin,
benign lizards crawled the earth
eons ere the fruit was bit,
and the cloud children numbered
not an apostolic twelve
but an odd baker’s dozen.
Prefabricated cities
did not suit the tutelars
of this young geology:
fautlines, fens, and smoking vents
would not make justice easy,
and to found a paradise
in pasture meant ushering
into this fractious Eden
much deforesting hellfire,
while bloody, mundane wars raged
for land, wealth, and sovereignty.

IV.

Today we stand just upright
at the edge of a fogged dream.
Piecemeal treaty settlements
have been deliberated,
welfare desperately clings on
to Maui’s bore-holed gunwales,
and our red and blue parties
offer scant alternative,
bleeding into each other
a Tyrian purple blend
befitting the tanned magnates
who helm our foundering ship.
No/good place Utopia,
Butler turned it on its nose.
Re the flag: dye it purple
and make of it a winding-sheet.

V.

Spectres of our future void
will have, in hoarse unison,
whispered to no living ear:
‘We, who’d crucified this land
on gaunt saltires to Mammon,
spurned by our averted gaze
the soil of our survival’,
and, with nothing left to haunt,
will have then dissolved in long
white cloud, masking from the sun
these stilled, denuded islands
where wind, rain, and gravelling tides
will score a listless music
for fallen spires, flagless mud.