The perfumes of Arabia
To be counted among the perfumes of Arabia,
cassia and frankincense and myrrh
and the dried out sticks which we have learned
from the Phoenicians to call cinnamon.
They are gathered by large birds which carry them
to their nests made of mud on mountain precipices
that no man can climb nor woman.
Eventually the nests collapse under the weight
of the sticks and thus the cinnamon falls
to the ground and from there we collect it.
This is how things were. This is how things are.
It has not rained here for two years.
The trees and the grasses have died. The rivers are dry.
And I find, my dear friend,
that I have not the heart to tell you more
about the perfumes of Arabia—except for this—
the whole country exhaled once a more than earthly fragrance.
Bernadette Hall’s most recent publications are Life & Customs (Victoria University Press, 2013) and Maukatere, floating mountain (Seraph Press, 2016). In 2015 she collaborated with the Christchurch artist Robyn Webster on a project called Matakaea, Shag Point, which featured at the Ashburton Art Gallery. In 2015 she received the Prime Minister’s Award for literary achievement in poetry and in May 2017 is to be invested as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature.
Bernadette comments: ‘I would like to have been able to write a poem such as Tusiata Avia’s “I can't write a poem about Gaza” but all I have to offer at the moment is a long look back and the perfume of roses.’