A burning tyre, Nuku‘alofa

With guavas and Pablo Neruda, we came 
to the greenness

of this land, but our attempts 
to meet the king

came to nothing. Confined to the blackness 
of my shell, I was a crab

tied in red string, well-positioned 
at the royal feast, but not

as I would have wished. 
That I might speak

briefly with his highness 
of such things

as weigh upon me. To the foreshore 
I fled, while in the distance

his crab-shaped crown shook 
its pincers at the sun.

Unfathomable morning, 
these things heavy

upon my heart, I sought counsel 
amidst the graves

of his ancestors—four corners of the sky 
held in place

by volcanic boulders—and beneath 
the unmoving clock faces

of his kingdom. Minute hands, hour hands . . . 
I waved my pincers

in bafflement. Together, you and I 
sought instead

the company of shellfish—those lowliest 
citizens of this island—

in the mudflats where immigrant families 
competed with pigs

for mussels. Later, you were a weather balloon 
that you might gain

his attention, but as the day wore on 
you were caught in an updraft

above the Cathedral of 
the Burning Tyre—and it was not a done thing

to be higher than 
his kingliness.

Nightfall, we were both 
brass instruments

of the Royal Army Band—that we might 
phrase our questions

in a language he understood. But, 
for the sound of ourselves

we could not hear 
a word of his reply. Not for

the sirens of a sinking ferry, brakes 
and stammering exhaust of royal carriage—

a London cab crossing 
the potholed kingdom.

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. He spent 2015 as Stout Memorial Fellow at Victoria University of Wellington, 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), Citizen of Santiago (Trapeze, 2013), a collaboration with photographer Bruce Foster, and See What I Can See: New Zealand Photography for the Young and Curious (AUP, 2015).

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Arts Laureate recipient profile at the Arts Foundation
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