Our trip to Takaka

Well, we went to Takaka
for the weekend
and there was this spring.
This spring.
And we could see under the
water with this mirror thing.
And there was this eel.
This eel, swimming from right
to left like a reel of silk ribbon,
like a pennant waving.
You know: a pennant,
with teeth and an eye like a
silver stud among all this
pondweed. And there were
all these bubbles. Each one
was like a little world
rising in its sleek skin.
And then we went to see
the goldfields.
And there were these caves
in scrubland. They’d stripped
the hills till the ground ran red.
And we went into one of the
caves and there was this young
man sleeping on fern fronds,
meditating to make the world
well. He had his dog with him.
His dog.
That’s how we knew he was there.
The cave was deep, like an ear.
Or a belly button. It was deep and
damp, and we heard the dog bark
down in the dark and a young man
saying, “Be quiet!”
The clay in the cave stuck
to our hands like dry blood.
We gave the young man a
bread roll.
A bread roll.
With cheese and egg. And we
said, Well, good luck with the
meditating and everything.
He said, yeah, well, he was
going to give it his best shot.
Then we drove home.

That was our trip to Takaka.

Fiona Farrell was born in Oamaru, educated in Otago and Toronto, where she wrote her thesis on T S Eliot and poetic drama. Publications since include two collections of poetry (Cutting Out, AUP 1987; The Inhabited Initial, AUP 1999), two collections of short stories (The Rock Garden, AUP 1989; Light Readings, Random 2001), and three novels (The Skinny Louie Book, Penguin 1992 – winner of the New Zealand Book Award for Fiction 1993); Six Clever Girls Who Became Famous Women, Penguin 1996 and The Hopeful Traveller, Random 2002 – Deutz Medal runner-up 2003). Her work has appeared in various anthologies and she has been the recipient of several awards, including the 1995 Katherine Mansfield Fellowship to Menton, France. UK students have tangled with one of her poems, ‘Charlotte O’Neil’s Song’, which featured recently in the GCSE syllabus. Charlotte also appears in Roger McGough’s “Wicked Poems”.

Farrell comments: ‘I wanted to write something dead plain about a meeting which moved me deeply. It’s an “Our Trip” story, deliberately flat, in the tradition of those narratives we have been writing since primary school.

‘The poem is “true”, in the sense that we did indeed go to Takaka, where we met a young man sleeping on bracken, meditating in a cave. It seemed a noble and desperate thing to be doing: a traditional reaction by the young idealist in this post-colonial, post-90s, privatised, globalised beautiful suffering relic of a country.’

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New Zealand Book Council writer file