some day


I set out again in the morning of the world 
moving south the mountain behind    but never 
out of sight    aroha-pai I said to my mother 
and sister    don't cry    this is something 
I want to do    catch the skein of stars behind 
the mountain    pull its snow blanket close 
in the snapping blue air    black maire 
under my fingers and the blade looking for 
roads that will shape what I cannot say 
now or perhaps ever    the mountain hooks 
my heart the wood my dreams    at Ngaere 
the lake and its trees flick past and are gone 
here the mountain paused to weep    I move south 
putting summer and her face behind me 
aroha-pai    I have forgotten the tiny figures 
we made in the snow cup of the crater 
the day of the open climb    but I have not 
forgotten the curve of the maire    I have not forgotten 
the stars setting over the mountain and the cold 
leave-taking as our train pulled into the station



when the horses were drawn up 
we became a host    silks across the moon 
were not more beautiful than our eyes 
straining to make out a winner    a loser 
at the edge of the track    a path to undying 
on the boisterous roar of the crowd



we stand in the stream a second time 
Psyche and Philomel with us    but now also 
Minotaur and Ibuki    Maunganui    Hawkes Bay 
Star of India    Limerick    Tahiti    Arawa    Athenic 
Orari Ruapehu    Waimana    we clear the straits 
and Minotaur takes the lead    Ibuki 
the right flank    Psyche the rear    Philomel 
the left flank    between them the transports 
form two lines    Arawa leading to port    Maunganui 
to starboard    eight cable lengths apart 
in perfect weather we turn west    I am part 
of an intention    an arrow laid on the sea 
face to the sky and wrapped in a blanket 
I stay on deck when the boat begins to roll 
sick like everyone else the first two days 
I keep one eye on the horizon    marking 
troughs and crests in the grain    we greet 
whales and porpoises    we march around 
Hobart    apples and flowers from the crowd 
pick up Pyramus and the Australians 
at Albany and turn north    floating palaces 
of light on dark water    before the blackout 
before Cocos and Colombo    before Aden 
and Suez    in single file we pass through 
the canal    guns and searchlights ready 
to take on the Arabian moonlight



the mirror image the second self the place 
of olives remembered in a famous seaport 
called also Peace by Farsi speakers    in Fujian 
where the silk road begins    the guidebook 
is unequivocal    each sits in the shade 
of the other offering a long view    almost 
I make out the dense pattern of sails 
almost the exchange of hostilities    and trade 
in the souk then as now    bolts of satin 
flying fish shimmering in the morning sun



we always had ponies    mostly fat 
and happy to have four at a time kicking 
along to the river pool    later on there were 
picnics hay rides and family excursions 
to Dawson Falls Mangamahoe or    once 
the Meeting of the Waters    we swim the horses 
in the Nile below the Delta barrage    trek sometimes 
between date palms and lush berseem    but desert 
sweat coated with grey dust is our signature here 
the khamsin blows    a cloud of black locusts 
strips the small farms bare    we fight our way 
back to camp through dummy lines 
buy oranges in the desert and talk of France


ismaelia square

I went back again and again
great banks of purple bougainvillea
but I couldn't find that room    I saw
arching over the road the doorway
sandals of gold toe-caps of gold 
I passed through into a workroom 
beaten gold inlaid with lapis 
and there she was    not very tall 
a walking figure with the head 
of a dog    straight shoulders 
and blue eyes fixed on the void


foot soldier

a jam tin bomb I give to you 
wrapped in a Turkish sock    dead boots 
sticking out of the fresh sap wall 
bits of shattered mirror for periscopes 
heat and flies and putrefaction    words cover 
wounds and decomposing flesh    two pints 
of water is better than no water at all    night bathing 
with bullets mule carcases and ship's fuel 
beats washing in a tin cup up on the ridge    Imbros 
and Samothrace float on the cloudless blue 
beyond the blockade and the white hospital ships 
another world    when they call an armistice 
we form up in burial parties and spend the day 
digging stacking collecting our dead and theirs 
piles of bodies and weapons at the centre line 
drawn between us    then back to the trenches 
at 5 pm and there we were in hell again    digging 
and fighting digging and dragging and fighting 
the wounded haunt my waking    the dead 
my sleep    a terroir of exorbitance and depletion 
in Shrapnel Gully    sitting in an armchair 
washed ashore with other wreckage    I fish out 
a postcard of Heliopolis and write   heartily delighted 
with your Trinity College results    we are enjoying 
splendid weather & having a swell time 
this ought to make a splendid tourist resort 
later on but if you come right away bring a gun


ari burnu

from the arm of the chair I remove 
a single lathe    split by sun and rain 
but serviceable    the tree fern I carve 
bends over notched hills and a bird 
underneath I scratch AKE AKE KIA KAHA 
and take it up the beach to put on the grave 
of Manny Marfell    who knew the back country 
better than any of us    and won't be 
going home to his rough and tumble life


night fighter

eight inches square the white patches we sew 
on the backs of our shirts    no coats no blankets 
no lights no cartridges    just bombs and bayonets 
up the side of the Dere in the dark    the destroyer 
turns off her searchlight at 10 pm and stops pounding 
the position on that crazy overhang    we pitch on up 
into their lines    take the top and hold on 
a day and another night    to be sent forward 
into the trap that waits below the crest 
of Chunuk Bair    as the sky lightens they come 
for us again    ALLAH ALLAH ALLAH 
faster than a galloper louder than death    our white 
patches fall off and we are finished with the place 
I remember    stretchering all day to the beach 
one hand tied up in a dirty bandage    the steady beat 
of engines taking us off under cover of darkness



after the hospital English trees    and furlough 
among strangers who never left home    but look 
like all of us    they are kind and take photographs 
on the lawn at tea and on the terrace    they want 
to make up for the bad blood    the melancholia 
hanging around uncertain smiles    the snap 
we take on the balcony outside his room in autumn 
sunlight    one in uniform and still banged up 
the other about to sit finals and become 
a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons 
I know you will be delighted with this    he writes 
for never have we been taken together before



the doglegs that took us from Sling 
to Alexandria    Mosca to Marseilles 
slow entrainment through spring and all 
its blossoming orchards orderly vineyards 
clustering villages busy towns    to Le Havre 
where we taught ourselves gunnery and supply 
to Armentières which taught us    nothing 
we didn't already know    three blasts 
on the whistle send us diving for cover 
little sister    as the plane pokes around 
taking photographs that could give away 
the guns behind a factory door    or a wall 
in someone's back garden    inky pinky 
parlez vous    the estaminets are full 
little sister    old men and boys dot the fields 
bringing in a harvest where there is one 
we go south in easy stages    St Omer to Langpré 
les Corps Saints    Amiens to Bonnay and Corbie 
summer is gone and we have come to the valley 
of the Somme    our gun carriages 
founder the horses starve    we pack gas shells 
to forward pits and watch the first line of tanks 
lumber off behind curtains of accurate fire    little sister 
there is language for this    and for everything else 
we fall into knock down break up dig out push away 
there is language for everything but the cost is 
unspeakable    I was there I did these things 
for fifty two days then we were taken out 
and sent to Fleurbaix with what was left 
little sister    inky pinky parlez vous en


caterpillar valley

in the dead hour he comes 
from the Casualty Clearing Station 
at Gezaincourt    such a pretty name 
if we had ears to hear it    we talk 
such a long time we talk    he is 
a tourniquet a suture a hollow needle 
I am trebuchet bombarde heavy mortar 
between us file columns of men poisoned 
by gas    bandaged eyes    one hand 
on the shoulder of the man in front 
they shuffle past the little cemetery



each footprint draws the eye of a searching gun 
knee-deep in snow we walk backwards 
with feather dusters    covering our tracks 
more or less    spreading big white sheets 
in front of our own guns after firing 
to conceal the fan-shaped marks in the snow 
leather and sheepskin waistcoats    whale oil 
for sick feet    new diagnoses for sick souls 
the hard frost    the hard frost 
our mother in stocking feet outside the window 
listening for the baby's cry in the dark    trying 
to remember how many cartridges have been fired 
from the gun in the dead drunk grasp of him 
who torments her    our father    who shot 
at the six-year old then at her and now lies 
dead to the world in bed with the four children 
she walks to the next farm and raises the alarm 
she will press charges she will not take him back 
kicked in the head by a horse when young or not 
cut feet and terrified heart    the mountain 
standing silver ghost to her trail of tears 
our mother before we were born    of whom 
he could say when they came to wake him 
she might have kept it quiet    the guns put down 
successive lifts    wheel to wheel 
in the only available cover


te henui

she takes a spade and digs 
them in side by side    black earth 
to the chin then under they go 
looking sideways at each other 
the one they lost to the river 
the other to unspecified illness 
two small boys    our brothers 
whose names she repeated 
in our names    calling you 
by the drowned one's name 
calling me always by the other



it was too much for you    when we were 
mining at Messines you were neurasthenic 
in Brockenhurst    then in charge of invalids 
on Ionic returning home as we drove deeper 
into the Ypres salient    coming to the place 
called Passchendaele I called out your name 
but you did not hear and so we went on 
weary and heartsick    we crossed 
somewhere in the Indian Ocean    two 
dazzle-painted ships with their cargos 
of hope and despair    you were gone 
in and out of the hospitals trying to work 
with torn wings and the shame    unable 
to explain why you couldn't come back 
I set up the business again    breathed 
hot wood and the sweet scents of 
the machine shop    trying to forget 
your shaking hands trying to imagine 
a pathway that might bring you home 
it was no good    when you lay down 
in the leaves of the forest with morphia 
running softly along such ragged 
highways as were left to you that night 
I was dreaming of the cone rising 
out of the bight    blue with distance 
my brother of whom we will not speak 
your children will grow up with excised 
details    your sweet Madeline will struggle 
to understand why you ran away 
my brother face to the stars and voyaging 
over the endless shoulder of the mountain 
how is a bird    where is spring    ake ake ake



where else would I lie    having brought 
so many others to the place    stood by 
the open grave    listened to the riro thread 
its song with the grief of snuffling relatives 
then driven the back roads foot to the floor 
thrashing the big car and singing at the tops 
of our voices Some Day When I'm Awfully Low 
the way we might have done on a different 
road in the springtime just around the corner

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: ‘My grandfather Edward Douglas Evans sailed from Wellington with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in October 1914. He was at Gallipoli, and later in France and Belgium. In November 1918 he came home to Stratford, where he set up a furnishing business and married my grandmother two years later. My mother remembered her mother calling the family in for meals with her father’s army whistle in the 1930s. There was otherwise little left of his story, and even less about the death of his brother Owen, whose name had vanished from our part of the family. I never met my grandfather, who died before I was born in Stratford in the 1950s. But one of my sons, born a hundred years after his great grandfather, has the same deep brown eyes that look from old photographs.’

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