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An Unclosed Door

Allen Curnow, 27 June 1991

... Freshened by any wind, sanitised with pine and cypress, the slaughterhouse is cool as a church inside. High rafters too. A gallery. The hooks hang ready. Nothing else intercepts the day’s late blaze across the Seven Sleepers’ chins and Cooper’s Knobs, on this point between adjacent bays, only a blotched light can get past, as the wind in the trees, fidgeting to the doorway ...

Another Weekend at the Beach

Allen Curnow, 22 April 1993

... Turn left at the sign. Lone Kauri Road winds down to the coast. That’s a drop of about five hundred feet. Look out for the waterfall, the wooden bridge, the mown grass, the pohutukawa glade. The western horizon will have slid behind the mask of an eye-levelled next eyeballing wave. Park here. Proceed on foot. The spot has barbecues with MALE and FEMALE dunnies in a figtree thicket, wrong hemisphere, implausibly fruiting ...

Investigations at the Public Baths

Allen Curnow, 7 November 1991

... At nine fifteen a.m. on the first day of his eighty- first year. Why don’t I first-person myself? I was hoping nobody would ask me that question yet. The strong smell of chlorine for one thing, one thing at a time, please. For instance, there’s always this file of exercyclists riding the gallery over the pool. Bums on saddles, pommelled crotches ...

Investigations at the Public Baths

Allen Curnow, 18 October 2001

... At nine fifteen a.m. on the first day of his eighty- first year. Why don’t I first-person myself? I was hoping nobody would ask me that question yet. The strong smell of chlorine for one thing, one thing at a time, please. For instance, there’s always this file of exercyclists riding the gallery over the pool. Bums on saddles, pommelled crotches ...

An Evening Light

Allen Curnow, 4 August 1988

... The sun on its way down torched the clouds and left them to burn themselves out on the ground: the north-west wind and the sun both drop at once behind the mountains. The foreground fills with a fallen light which lies about the true colours of absconded things, among which I place this child whose tenth birthday happens to have been my father’s, that will be a hundred years next Thursday ...

A Time of Day

Allen Curnow, 7 January 1988

... A small charge for admission. Believers only. Who present their tickets where a five- barred farm gate gapes on its chain and will file on to the thinly grassed paddock. Out of afternoon pearl-dipped light the dung-green biplane descended and will return later, and later, late as already it is. We are all born of cloud again, in a caul of linen lashed to the air-frame of the age, smelling of the scorched raw castor oil nine whirling cylinders pelt up-country-smelling senses with, narcotic joyrides, these helmeted barnstormers heavier scented than hay, harnesses, horsepiss, fleeces, phosphates and milk under the fingernails ...
... Somebody mistook the day, or how will we have found ourselves denied entry, by chained gate, padlocked bolted door of an empty dark shed of a hall, miles from the next town- ship, as many from the last lit lamp? The night itself unpunctuated, no Southern Cross, no Pointers, no cartwheeling, hand- standing giant Orion, aka Urine (born cauled in a sacrificial Boeotian cow’s pelt, pissed in by no fewer than three grateful gods) no moon ...

The Game of Tag

Allen Curnow, 20 October 1994

... AFRIKA POET HERO DODGER FELIX DEVOE CURSE EXIT CICERO BEASTIE SAINT THANKS FOR THE TAG AFRIKA POET ’93 Graffito, Lone Kauri Road Seven thigh-thick hamstring-high posts, embedded two metres and cemented in, where the side of the road burst into bird space, tree-toppling all that plunging way down. A clean-cut horizon shapes daylight. A gap ...

The Kindest Thing

Allen Curnow, 3 July 1997

... Rear-vision glass   knows what comes up out of whatever   concealed exit I’ve left behind   me. These cross-country highways hide little   for long, and least when driving east   one of those bright spring mornings. Green   acclivities drop back. Sheep with them.   What comes up next comes fast, the ute   probes left, probes right (how can hurrying   mirrors keep up?), overtakes me   with a long blast storms past into full   view carrying at gathering speed   what was concealed, only heard, the dog   half-hanged, roped by the neck, raving,   clawing at the tailboard forefeet can’t climb   back over, hind- legs cruelly danced   off the tar-seal ...

Ten Steps to the Sea

Allen Curnow, 1 January 1998

... I Repeat this experience wilfully. Instruct this experience to repeat itself. II With or without vicarious detail for all verities of this place. Me too. III Plenty of that already. Kikuyu grass underfoot, thunderheads, purple- patched sunshine offshore, onshore the high dunes, the hollows of wetted sand, rabbit shit. Foot of a cliff, arm of a stream where fallen yellow bloom degrades ...

The Cake Uncut

Allen Curnow, 17 February 2000

... i Not him – he’s where no fears can find nor torments touch him – it’s his Mum has the details, who told the head- master, who talked to the press.            Dad only just gone for the takeaways at KFC, when he says – quiet, sort of sudden, you’d hardly know it was him speaking – ‘Can’t wait any more for Dad, I’ve got to go now – no, just tired again, like yesterday’ – that was when I knew how it had to be, like he said, now ...

Looking West, Late Afternoon, Low Water

Allen Curnow, 6 January 1994

... The typical tidal range, or difference in sea level between high and low tides, in the open ocean is about 2 ft(0.6m), but it is much greater near the coasts. Desk encyclopedia Our beach was never so bare. Freak tide, system fault, inhuman error, will it never stop falling? After dark, said the tables of high water and sunset pasted on the wall, which don’t deceive ...

A Scrap-Book

Allen Curnow, 7 December 1989

... I The light in the window blew out in a strong draught only to return wearing a black mask, behind William Woon’s chair, which he draws up close to the desk. A roundhouse swing from the nor’east rocks the plank walls from blocks to purlins. He trims the Miller Vestal’s ragged flame, lays the scrap- book open by the burning oil, finds a clean pen, writes Detained (flourishing the big D) at the Mata, Mr Monro’s, during a gale of wind, October 4,1841 ...

Fantasia and Fugue for Pan-Pipe

Allen Curnow, 6 July 2000

... i Engaged too long too chastely. Was that it? Anyway, she broke it off, my father wrote ‘Pan’, earliest verse of his, to make it into print over his name, the god revealed as Tremayne M., Syrinx as Maud. Twenty-odd pages further on, more forgotten poems between his lines and hers (called ‘Song’), both plaintively lovelorn, obscurely set down between Oceanian winds and water ...

The Bells of Saint Babel’s

Allen Curnow, 10 June 1999

... After those months at sea, we stank worse than the Ark. Faeces of all species, God’s first creation, cooped human and brute, between wind and water, bound for this pegged-out plain in the land called Shinar, or some- thing. Give or take some chiliads, I’ll have been born there. Saint Babel’s tower with spire (sundry versions of that) stuck not far short of a top (Wait for it!) gilded to catch first light or last flame flung by the torched snows farthest west ...

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