Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Although the characters and central episodes of this piece are invented, many of the details in it - the Japanese subs off New Zealand, the logs on the road to Port Waikato, the paranoia about Tainui Maori as a potential Fifth Column - are not. You can find more out about the Home Guard and their plans to resist invasion in the online edition of Nancy Taylor's massive 'official' history of Home Front New Zealand during World War Two.


On an island things are simplified.
There are no borders to cross,
no enemy sentries to watch
through binoculars, or a hunting rifle's sights.
Our Home Guard can spread itself from coast to coast.
On the way to Port Waikato we stop three times
to roll three kauri logs off the gravel lane,
to roll them back.
In the moonlight they look like pillars
of that Greek temple the Germans bombed.
Dave Howell speaks first,
reminds us he's a doctor
as well as a soldier,
that New Zealand is a body
surrounded by disease. Infection can come
through the pores, or larger orifices
like the river flowing silently past this hall
out to the Tasman, where the Jap submarines wait
to surface and launch float planes
or beach themselves like whales.

It's no good to look at the sky too long.
Col Hamblin stared at the sky for an hour
until he saw the wrong type of wings.
The Zero flew low over his farm,
dropping an incedinary on each haystack,
then turned, and headed back toward the ranges,
toward the Maoris, the ones at Taniwha Pa,
who were burning the gorse off behind their marae
and flashing mirrors across the plain.
The buggers had cut a secret airstrip
out of the block of bush behind O'Shanessy's.
Soon that Jap pilot would be eating roast kumara
and pork, the best parts of the pigs from O'Shanessy's,
pigs that were supposed to go to the wharves,
to the Kiwi boys on Crete.

Nobody believed Col,
so he decided to show us
what the Japs could do.
He drank a bottle of still whiskey,
refilled the bottle with his petrol ration,
then locked the dog and rooster inside
and chucked his bomb through the window.
The dog crowed and the rooster barked
and the verandah beams burned down like candles
until the roof collapsed, and Col ran away
toward the ranges, waving his .22.
O'Shanessy and his Maori mates followed
shouting something in Japanese.
It was Dave Howell who found Col
crouched in a tomo, beside the dry waterfall,
two days' march from Taniwha Pa.
In his shirt pocket was a map
drawn on tobbacco paper, showing
an airstrip and a Jap ammo dump.
Dave only needed one shot.
Now we have to be extra careful, he says:
the infection can spread so swiftly.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home