The Return of Christ to Futuna Chapel

The combined height of three plain-clothed
policemen, or the length, unfurled, of an orange
shawl—how else to measure

the returning bird-man, the weight of him
free-standing or afloat, lifted
from a white unmarked van.

Flesh of the wooden sea-swallow, sap
of his veins, unwound from a rain-drenched blanket
and restored in grey wall-space, partitioned light.

So it must be, in good time, the tree god is
reclaimed by the ordinary forest, the storm
petrel returned to the storm.

Gregory O’Brien’s collection of poems inspired by recent travels in the South Pacific, Whale Years, appeared in March 2015 from Auckland University Press. In his capacity as 2015 Stout Memorial Fellow at Victoria University of Wellington, he is working on a book that explores the relationship between poetry, painting and the natural environment. Other recent publications include Beauties of the Octagonal Pool (AUP, 2012) and Citizen of Santiago (Trapeze, 2013), a collaboration with photographer Bruce Foster.

O’Brien comments: ‘“The Return of Christ to Futuna Chapel” was occasioned by the recovery and reinstallation (in March 2013) of a life-sized wooden Christ-figure, which had been stolen from the chapel in Karori twelve years earlier. One of the undisputed wonders of New Zealand architecture, Futuna Chapel was designed by Māori architect, John A Scott, and opened in 1961. Forty years later, the owners of the building, the Society of Mary, controversially sold the chapel and surrounding buildings and property to a developer. After a period of dereliction, during which the Christ-figure vanished, the building was bought by a Trust and is gradually being restored.’

Poem source details >



Arts Laureate recipient profile at the Arts Foundation
The Kermadecs project
Auckland University Press author page
Further information on the actual return of Christ to Futuna