the day of the explosion they postpone 
her arrival    two men walk out and agony 
begins its clinch    we crouch by the radio 
unable to help    thinking they could all be dead
hoping for a miracle twenty nine times 
the size of a mountain in the eye of a needle 
stitching blue heaven to green earth 
let them walk out let them walk out alive

it is too dangerous    when they bring 
her at last three days have gone by    each 
more terrible than the one before    angels 
look out of the eyes of this dog who is here 
because I am blind and the world is huge 
with possibility    we walk her in a raw wind 
not knowing we shouldn’t    a mistake 
that costs but is not the end of the world 
under the dark mountain of sorrow

when they show the dust blasting 
out of the portal for fifty seconds    we know 
there is no hope but listen as machines prepare 
to enter the shaft    today I learned how to comb 
how to check ears eyes nose teeth and all over 
for the baseline that is hands on a warm body

when the drill breaks through    the images 
show that nobody reached the oxygen refuge 
when they find a cap lamp still flickering 
in the camera’s eye four and a half days 
and a kilometre in    we go out for the first time 
just around the block    only to hear 
there’s been another explosion

dog    I hold my breath as you take us 
into the world I can’t see    each day 
a little further a little more command a little 
sliver of hope under the dark mountain 
where fear waits with its next fuse 
and rescue is unlikely any time soon

from all over the world gear and advice 
pours in    a third explosion sets the coal burning 
deep underground    the trapped miners 
become the lost men    the men who lost their lives 
and finally the entombed men    now they gag the mine 
starving the fire of oxygen and the violent language 
of despair cries out upon us    threading the path 
between light and darkness pain and rage 
care and the undoing of everything we cared for

my dog how can you move with such grace 
through these days    pulling sea and sky along 
with you under the red-flowering trees    mixing it 
up and down the road with all comers    this is not peace 
but motion    ten thousand people looking up 
the valley to a dip in the ranges while someone sings 
You’ll Never Walk Alone    not peace but motion 
what is her name they ask me and I say
she has been here since the start    her name is Olive

Michele Leggott was the Inaugural New Zealand Poet Laureate 2008-09. Her most recent publications are northland (Pania Press, 2010), Mirabile Dictu (Auckland University Press, 2009) and a CD of selected poems, Michele Leggott / The Laureate Series (Braeburn/Jayrem 2009). She coordinates the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre (nzepc) with Brian Flaherty at the University of Auckland.

Leggott comments: ‘The Pike River coalmine exploded 19 November 2010 with consequences that will persist in the tightly knit communities of the West Coast for a long time to come. Twenty-nine miners lost their lives, and the voices of investigators into the causes of the disaster are still in our ears and on our screens. The guide dog who arrived as the horror of the explosions played out is my loyal companion in a world that darkens physically but does not crush or sever living bonds. My poem walks the first two weeks of Pike River, which were also the moment of her arrival.’

Poem source details >



‘olive’ on Otoliths
nzepc author page
Michele Leggott reads ‘Olive’ in Melbourne, July 2011 (video)
Michele Leggott / The Laureate Series, CD of selected poems, at Jayrem Records