Guest poem submitted by Cat Pegg:
(Poem #1506) Rocket Show
As warm north rain breaks over suburb houses, Streaming on window glass, its drifting hazes Covering harbour ranges with a dense hood: I recall how eighteen months ago I stood Ankle-deep in sand on an Otago beach Watching the fireworks flare over strident surf and bach, In brain grey ash, in heart the sea-change flowing Of one love dying and another growing. For love grows like the crocus bulb in winter Hiding from snow and from itself the tender Green frond in embryo; but dies as rockets die (White sparks of pain against a steel-dark sky) With firebird wings trailing an arc of grief Across a night inhuman as the grave, Falling at length a dull and smouldering shell To frozen dunes and the wash of the quenching swell. There was little room left where the crowd had trampled Grass and lupin bare, under the pines that trembled In gusts from the sea. On a sandhillock I chose A place to watch from. Then the rockets rose, O marvellous, like self-destroying flowers On slender stems, with seed-pods full of flares, Raining down amber, scarlet, pennies from heaven On the skyward straining heads and still sea-haven. Had they brought death, we would have stood the same, I think, in ecstasy at the world-end flame. It is the rain streaming reminds me of Those ardent showers, cathartic love and grief. As I walked home through the cold street by moon-light, My steps ringing in the October night, I thought of our strange lives, the grinding cycle Of death and renewal come to full circle, And of man's heart, that blind Rosetta stone, Mad as the polar moon, decipherable by none.
[Commentary] I encountered this poem in high school and it haunted me for a decade until I found it again last year. I'd have to say it's the bit about the crocus and the rocket that rang in my mind. And 'mad as the polar moon'. James K. Baxter is, in my opinion, the finest of the New Zealand poets (since we have a population of only 4 million, he may need a bit of a description). Son of a self-educated farmer and a Cambridge scholar, he cultivated (lived?) an image of a hairy, yet cultured poet wedded to poverty. Much of his work has a deceptively rough-as-guts feel (note the many half-rhymes here), and he was fond of crude-sounding ballads. He also wrote some rather exquisite sestinas, so I feel the roughness was a stylistic choice. This poem doesn't show it, but he had a lot of Maori influences (Maori being the non-English-speaking culture of New Zealand) when this was somewhat unpopular with the Powers-That-Be. (He said in one of his poems 'His only crime was being Maori' or something similar.) Race relations are rather less strained than they used to be and I suspect Baxter had something to do with it. I'm writing this to give some context to how New Zealanders think of him - sorry it's so wordy. You can find a biography of him at: [broken link] http://www.nzbooks.com/nzbooks/author.asp?author_id=JamesKBaxter [Notes] 1. The poem would probably have been written in Auckland, a large city in the north of New Zealand, where it is quite warm. Otago is down south and rather chilly. 2. A bach is a small beach house, often quite shabby and used for holidays. [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]