Escape to the Southern Ocean
Here I will stay, she said; be done with the black north, the harsh horizon rimmed with drought – Planted the island there and drew it round her. Therefore I find in me the double tree.
Judith Wright, “For New England”
The sailors laughed as she dropped over the side
not tragic at all – another excuse for mindless mirth –
she swam and she floated ashore with the tide
let loose the handhold of kelp, stood and looked around her.
Here the green winds, wet fog banks and mosses,
Here I will stay, she said, be done with the black north.
Each spring – each autumn – a sail five miles out,
but she never signalled nor cried to greet
the grey ships who laboured or flew – or failed,
leaving their shreds in unmarked deeps.
And she never forgot
the harsh horizon rimmed with drought.
Sea lions stared down from twisted trees
when she took white sand and outlined the ground
with chips of Blue Willow, one sector of land.
Half-recalled psalms surrounded her when
she rested, hands on her knees. She
planted the island there and drew it round her:
Now she must ride out storms, cajoling the spindrift
into pillars to anchor the shape of the bay.
The stars say there is not much time left.
Foxfire chivvies the waves to the south,
white nights snake through the smoke-gold sea.
Therefore I find in me the double tree.
Approaching the Shore Line
It is decreed: south winds resurrect the sea;
east and west cross, north winds reconnect the sea.
In a surfeit of civilisation, King
Canute thought to call the waves to order:
seven maids with seven mops to correct the sea.
We ourselves are always rising, sinking, rising –
are we tides who ought to intersect the sea?
The summer surface is yellow, flat as a legal pad,
drenched with chapters we cannot read,
a draft of a book whose words infect the sea.
We drown in the depths of our legislation, but
it is decreed: south wind resurrects the sea.
We are as usual rising, sinking, rising –
The flow runs rills across so many levels:
who can approve today’s bathymetry?
Porphyria and Carrageen are dried-out muses now –
they are red and deckled ghosts who still respect the sea.
Mary Cresswell is from Los Angeles and lives on New Zealand’s Kapiti coast. She has retired from being a natural history editor and now wanders around planting spinifex. Her third book, Trace Fossils, was published in 2011.
Photograph by Jonas Seaman.