the liberty of parrots

one thing leads to another
though the trail is not always
obvious    a good idea    a boat ride
crossed wakes purling behind
the double hull    the city beginning
its morning and up on the ridge
one dreaming spire made by the man
from Chicago who understood
fantasy and faced his poured concrete
with white stone from the south

the docent who let us in
was a teacher of Shakespeare
Byron and the Indian poets
we went to the lantern
and climbed iron ladders to where
the four faces of time in reverse
threw their fantastical light
around a dusty shell    
the forty eight very rich hours
were rubies in leadlight    that glass
made from gold    that light
holding all lights    extasiado
the end of the world just before
the first wave hits    yes that high
above the city and over the sea

the docent gave us directions
to the oldest known rose
in the country    but we detoured
looking for a museum 
and the answer to a question
about an elephant dead long ago
in a small mountain town    perhaps
collected into eternity here
along with bronze snails holding up
the banister and the delicate bones
of lesser primates in cases along the wall
sure enough    in a cupboard 
within a cupboard were the skulls
of two elephants behind glass
weird gas masks in the dark
soft sad glow of ivory    
we took a lot of photos hoping
for a positive identification
in the not too distant future
then went to look for the rose
somewhere between History 
and Classics    Rangihoua
and Missolonghi

it was unprepossessing
when we got there  Rosa rubiginosa
the sweet briar    a bramble
dug up and replanted by historians
lucky because someone destroyed
its progenitor at the mission station
as a noxious weed    the way
the dead artist’s painting
went into a skip outside Zoology
but the parrots he borrowed
were never returned to their cases
tough little rose at the end of the world
the first wave hits as we return
for flowers to mark
the climbing of the white tower
the reparation of bones
and the freedom of parrots everywhere

Michele Leggott’s sixth collection of poems, Mirabile Dictu, will be published in June 2009 by Auckland University Press, together with an audio CD of selected poems produced by Braeburn Studios, Wellington. Michele continues to coordinate the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre (nzepc) at the University of Auckland and is the Inaugural New Zealand Poet Laureate 2008–09.

Leggott comments: ‘ “the liberty of parrots” is the result of a red letter day last April when photographer Tim Page and I climbed the University of Auckland clocktower, known locally as the Wedding Cake (it’s white with fine neo-Gothic detailing). One thing led to another and by the end of the morning we had found two elephant skulls and a sweet briar said to be the oldest rose in the country. In terms of poetry, the morning offered many fine leads which I began to follow up.

Photo (right) of Michele Leggott in the clocktower by Tim Page, 2008.

Poem source details >



Trout 15: the liberty of parrots
New Zealand Poet Laureate’s blog: The ohakune elephant, 29 September 2008