The ground will not let us in. The sky
has shut us out. And so we step
in and out of sleep between ground
and sky, walking into the shapeless north.
The ruts of other carts are frozen hard.
The road is lumpy with dropped hats,
dolls, worn-out shoes, the things that
got too much or were no use.
We think all the time of the boat.
We do not think about what lies behind.
When it snows we think that snow
at sea level is very rare. When a pine
crashes down in our path and we struggle
to haul our cart over it we think of the wood
that's used for shipbuilding, the clatter
of boots on the timber deck, the honey
varnish of the curved interior walls.
When we lie down to sleep at night,
tenting ourselves against the indifference
of the stars, we think of the slow swell
of the sea, of being rocked to sleep
and forgetfulness in the warm belly
of the ship that waits in the north.
The forested, snow-dusted hills
are as grey as a stubbly chin.
A hawk turns in the white sky, and we lie
like carrion, a rough scrawl of limbs on the road.
Sarah Broom's first poetry collection, Tigers at Awhitu, was published by Carcanet Press and Auckland University Press in 2010. She was born in Dunedin in 1972 and now lives in Auckland with her husband and three children. In 2006 she published Contemporary British and Irish Poetry: An Introduction (Palgrave Macmillan).
Broom comments: 'I seem to remember that in writing "North" it was the landscape that came first, a very harsh, cold landscape, and also that phrase, "the shapeless north". Then the people emerged, lonely figures driven by fear and longing, drawn by that image of the boat and the sea which overwhelmingly symbolises rest. They are refugees, but I don't imagine any particular geographical context, in fact the setting feels to me almost mythologised.'