Saturday, December 30, 2006

Who's counting?


Kendrick Smithyman

Evening calm, blown up in
slow motion from white horizon glare
to eggshell blue, in the relapse between
afternoon and nightfall. Already, thumbnail
paring, the moon tends westward
unwarranted silver. Death is
the end of another working day
in Marama. It all goes dead.

Businessmen lock up their faces.
They steer home for dinner who know how
to be active at Round Table lunches,
do good for the Junior Chamber, wheel
with Rotary, roar like Lions – all their badges
which testify good conduct they display
on a pole at the onset of their town.

Roses along the sidewalk by the baths
fatten themselves venially, at expense
to community conscience? Someone
across the road has forgotten
to close the Court House windows.


Heat of one plain’s day is heady. Here goes
last day from this unparticular year.
New Year’s Eve. Nobody requires of me
my parole. Necessity is conscious
that to be free in a manner of speaking is
possible as a moon only a paring bent
westward without a star, above any plains.

The verb to be is not a verb,
merely a copula, but willy-nilly
you go involved across these amicable flat lands.
Imagine, living in some small
Wisconsin town is like living in Marama.
Prematurely involved – wasn’t it Wisconsin
which gave us Babcock’s test for butterfat
and a tithe of populist doctrine, or example?


Imagine, settled in Spoon River, tending
further east, for a share of wisdom.


Half-past five, the baths drain away
their children. A blue-faced learner
pool looks back at highest parts of a sky
not troubled much by satellites.
If you tilt your head
you may see space as not mere property
of technology, science fiction, or fantasy.


Conjecture: Irresponsible precedent has
us incongruously by the tail or by our shortest
hairs. Community is not tidily beset
about, by barberry hedges’ convenient limits,
lines of non-communication.

I sweat uncomfortably, towelling after swimming,
musing: Their Firth Street may
sardonically memorate the Lion.
Not the Lion only, if one were given
to signs, portents, conjunctions.

What rough beast in some frame house now
to the dinner table slouches, to be fed?


Roads spread generously wide.
Houses squat, clean and bright as though slightly
oiled like working parts of well maintained
machines. In one, a freckled mechanic
(he likes to think people speak of him
as an automotive engineer) sprawls with cassettes
contented beside his stereo tape unit
giving out with Big Bands of the Thirties.

Our social history is always catching
us by the tail but is not singularly ours.
Only what we make of it.

If I choose to stop over, tonight
at the picture house along their Broadway
I could see Elvis in Jailhouse Rock
on re-release.


Irresponsible. Incongruous. Therefore,
potentially comic; therefore, dangerous
neighbour to pathos.
The varieties of
religious experience available
in Marama are evident. I stare
stupidly at the shut face of a Gospel Hall,
succession of house fronts (shut)
and business houses (shut), shining
amiably congregated, amiably independent.

No late shopping this New Year’s Eve.


Closing time. Its speed, of emptying.
As in the City, in London. In Harrogate,
or Cheltenham. In Huntingdon –
there’s illsorted memory,
connecting this unlike end of year
day’s end in antipodean high summer
with a shut down wintry day in another
provincial town on another small plain.

Huntingdon’s main street draining, going
empty, going dead all faces turning
indoors to a blue-eyed televised
evening. Oliver Cromwell was schooled
in Huntingdon, into zeal for the commonweal,
a unicorn beast who beat the lion low
on another flat earth, at Marston.

What rough beast of conscience mooches
testily from a stud farm’s stable even now
pathetically cuddling his fantasies
out of town? His animus dreaming
to reform, where does he hesitate
guiltless of country blood, by what
highway where pass – longhaired, boards up –
kids for the Mount, and a new year

Cavaliers, ah cavalier!

1. 1. 71
Editor's note
Intersecting Plains : first published in Poetry New Zealand II (1974), 96; also in Dwarf With a Billiard Cue (1978) and Selected Poems ; KS’ note in Dwarf reads: ‘Marama is thinly disguised [Matamata in Waikato], but also fictionalised. The Babcock Test for butterfat was a technique I had to learn at school. ‘Spoon River’ refers to Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology which is located east of Wisconsin, a work which I taught for a while. For some remarks on Populism, see Sinclair’s A History of New Zealand [1959]. J.C. Firth, known as The Lion of the Plains, features in various Studies’. Edgar Lee Masters (1869-1950), American poet; his Spoon River Anthology was published in 1916; What rough beast : alludes to Yeats’ ‘The Second Coming’; Huntingdon is a town in Cambridgeshire, U.K.; Marston : The Battle of Marston Moor (near York) resulted in a victory for Oliver Cromwell against the Royalists/Cavaliers in 1644<


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