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A Scrap-BookAllen Curnow
Close
Close

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.
Blood sample of Peter Monro, where do I
come in? The book doesn’t say. Might as well ask

this heart-murmur I’ve got, how Edinburgh rock,
chipped like a golf ball cleared Arthur’s Seat the day
after Waterloo, first bounce Van Diemen’s Land,

holed up next and last a thousand sea miles more,
Ngapuhi country, MacGulliver’s last landfall.
Not by this light. The rain pisses down, the tide

crawls up the creek, reads the mangroves’ million false
scents. No way out of the Mata but by water
neither gig nor canoe can live in tonight.

II

Puts pen to the recto, lovers have left no room
on the verso, who damply dream of gravestones
and each other’s names May mine alone attract

thy pensive eye! On a night like this, God help
poor sailors and lovers too, and the Reverend
William, who wishes it all further. As if

the Mata weren’t further than ever God’s writ
ran till the day before yesterday, and He
outnumbered thousands to one by the iwi

of the tangata whenua, and outgunned since
the musket spoke with tongues, not without a bang.
And writes against the wind, fishing for a poem

gilled in the drift-net of his mind, and pulls up
‘Music’, hymnodist Wesley’s ghostly sixain
warning! Addiction can endanger the soul

and steal our hearts away from Thee. And subjoins
The Saviour, lover of storm-bound souls, starred
twice with a criss-cross ink-blot, In Hoc Signo.

III

Lifts the pen and listens for the wrath to come.
Hears nothing but the clock striking some small hour,
the crack of a kauri branch dropped by the gale.

The lovers are as dead as they ever dreamed.
Mildew has freckled the page, dulled the once-gilt
edge, browned the black longhand. All the lights are out,

it’s blowing like the hammers, the power lines are down.
The scrap-book sheds loose pictures of lost homelands,
times long past, northern steeples and thatch, Maori

stockades. Detained at the Mata, what else does
the book say? The radio confides the latest
rape and Rugby. Another branch thumps the roof.

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