Span: Journal of the South Pacific Assoc for Cwlth Lit and Language Studies
Number 33, 1992
Edited by Jenny de Reuck & Hugh Webb




After every war it happens, you say.
Poor buggers. First fight their guts out
on some piece of land in France
or Africa, some godforsaken hole
in Greece or wherever the soil is
rank with killing, then get them home
to a heroes' welcome, fanfares in streets,
and a bit of wilderness to break
in somewhere in the back-blocks.
On their wedding day he was given two horses.
(One was called Dick. That much
is remembered). Afterwards the two of them
set off, each guiding a pack-horse also. It took four
days impatient riding to get half-way. Between
them they carried bags of flour and salt,
an axe, a shotgun and a 303 for pigs
and food. Matches too presumably.
They did a lot of burning. Neither of them bothered
much about landscape. Never spoke of 'grandeur'. Wouldn't
have noticed the Rata out in her best at Christmas.
They were anxious
to get on. A tree was only worth the hard wood.
What was the point of sitting under shade watching
the leaves change colour where the sun
chatted up the birds.
They knew their proverbs and laboured. Their first
children were born under tarpaulin.
Later they were lent an ancient house on the bottom flat
next the river where the water roared over stones.
It lived at night
when they went eeling with naked ghosts
of other wars talking from under the Tawa trees.
Much later a leper lived there. When he died
a neighbour buried him. Also rough as the country he tried
to fence. Made the coffin too small. Chopped
off the legs to get him in. He was also a veteran
of that First War. Lost five sons
in the next one. Sometimes he thinks he hears the young
ones calling to him from below the river and he stumbles
across the flat to watch them shooting
down the current in an old canoe, but always
it is only the splashing water and the moon
on the river stones lighting up a legend
white with bones.

Note: Two different spellings exist for this place-name. While Tawhata is sometimes used, I have kept the one said to come from the legend surrounding Kinewaha who used to beat the Tawa in that area to obtain fruit.<


The more they cleared the rougher it showed up
but she was young and strong, wanting
to make her world. She planted rhododendron
in the slashed and burned ground. Bleached
flour bags for sheets and shirts. Had competitions
who could make the best pyjamas, the nicest frock.
Guarded her floral scraps for trimming.
The smaller bags made pillowslips and women
things, tray-cloths and aprons. The mud
didn't bother her. She was farming people and it was
something you'd expect. She sewed the sugar bags
for mats and patched small petals
on the towels. Nothing would grow much
in the damp soil under windows and flowers
took time. The nearest neighbour was two miles away
and it might have been another country, it took so long
to walk. The track kept slipping down the bluff.
Now there are signs telling you not to loiter and small
malicious rocks roll fretful clouds of dust.
The road is new and treacherous. The old one runs
above. Among the tufts of grass the track is still
discernable. That's where they took a tumble
in the night. From miles away they heard
the band swing Tea for Two on sprung boards
made for dancing and knew they wouldn't make it
then for supper. Two horses killed, the buggy broken up,
Arthur breaking his right arm. What happened
to the woman is not recorded. We know she lived.


After Molly killed the man she became a quiet chapter
in their histories. No-one talked of her again
in front of children. She was not pointed to
in photographs and everything about her lies
in semi-darkness, almost impossible to read.
We know aunt Molly killed a man.
That much was told us. There were no letters.
We never found a diary filled with blanks
to let you know how hard the days
how little time was left for writing it all down.
In what images are left
the other family women look away.
You can not catch their eyes. They seem pre-occupied
with what is happening in the hills,
the shapeful curves cutting the cerulean
sky. It got cold up there in the tin hut. The iron
chimney almost bigger than the house. An eight foot
fire at least was never out. The axe stood always ready
by the door, the draught whispered through the floor.
One imagines
she wore floral print and had her hair tied back.
A widow keeping the farm
going. And now the house is derelict, staring suspiciously
through hostile growths
of scrub and gorse. Even the trees
seem thin and uninviting and you decide not to go
up the rutted hilly track. The wind whistles as a child
might when he's learning, and the branches catch
the eerie breath and pass it round with rustling hands.
Only the night strides here
with confidence. Almost immediately it's dark.
Maybe it was midday when he came. Maybe later.
The dogs would have barked.
She would have answered his knock on the door
and maybe offered food. The tea would have been on the
She might have made a batch of scones and had him sit
in the fire to dry. The nearest farm was miles away.
She was at the end of the road, where her world
began. Perhaps they talked. He might have
fiddled with the sugar basin. She was thirty-five
and alone in the kitchen. Maybe it went to his head.
He must have suddenly gone for the axe by the door.
She reached for the gun that was always loaded
and blew his head off.
You imagine
you hear the dogs bark but it is only birds
disturbed against the running sky
suddenly dressed in mourning black.

New: 18 April, 1996 | Now: 11 April, 2015