Drowned Volcano

The plane drones across mattress kapok
to follow the crease-marks of the atlas
over a blue haze where outer islands
rise amongst dolphins, humpback whales.
Islands there, pulsing with breadfruit sap,
unwrap tapa mats from coconut cordage. 
The flukes and tails of those islands thwack,
then shimmer back beneath ocean spray.

Outer islands under trade wind flags sail,
showered in storms of frangipani stars.
Untamed sea horses swim with them through
nights maned in swirls of dark rum;
and garlands of surf decorate them.
Days, lit up with guava fragrance, bud
into banyan roots, flowers of wild banana, 
candlenut trees, sweet mango’s sacrament.

Only now does the smudge of the Great Wall
of China café burning become visible.
Only now do rusty freighters and fleets
begin to leak as if they cannot stop,
and the jelly-green glass wobble with tadpoles
that strain to break into toads the size of trucks.
The sky drains its kava bowl, the sea chucks
up a tsunami of canned Pacificana,

and a jack-in-the-box is surfacing
amid shoals, reefs, sands, as a sign:
a drowned volcano risen on a raft
of birthstones loosened from the globe’s grip.
A scorched cinder cone, it climbs and shines.
It might herald the re-entry of Christ
into the Pacific, or a radioactive atoll,
ringing an alarm for the end of time.

David Eggleton is a poet and critic whose many awards include PEN Best First Book of Poetry and the Robert Burns Fellowship. David is a six-time Montana New Zealand Reviewer of the Year, having been awarded the distinction in 1991, 1997, 2001, 2003, 2007 and 2009. In 2010 he was named the new permanent editor of literary journal Landfall.

Eggleton comments: ‘I wrote early drafts of “Drowned Volcano” in 2006, soon after returning from my first visit to my maternal grandmother’s home village of Namoli, near Nuku’alofa in Tonga. As a part of that Pacific journey I flew from Sydney to Tonga, then back to Brisbane – flying over New Caledonia – because I made the trip with my mother and my brother, who live in different cities. The incidents and sights and sounds in the poem are related in different ways and on different levels, some deriving from anecdotes told by relatives in Namoli, including the small island that “drowns” and then resurfaces periodically. The poem also weaves in different kinds of time, including dreamtime and memories.’

Poem source details >



Otago University Press author page
New Zealand Book Council author page
New Zealand electronic poetry centre author page and author feature in ‘Artists, poets and musicians from the fringes of Dunedin