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Ten Steps to the SeaAllen Curnow
Vol. 20 No. 1 · 1 January 1998

Ten Steps to the Sea

Allen Curnow

284 words


Repeat this experience
Instruct this
experience to repeat


With or without
vicarious detail for all
verities of this place.
Me too.


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
September sickness.
El Niño weather.


One wild, white
arum leans landward a little, round
which in its pool, drip-fed off
a slimed rock-face, is arranged the sky
for inspection.


A remark
for the rising sun. I see
by what blinds me.


Telling us about
his cancer, he said: ‘They can control
the pain till there’s well really
no pain, but then there’s no reality.’
He said: ‘I try to balance
the two, as little pain
as possible, as much reality
as possible.’


One moment before
that cloud bursts and the flash
flood swipes, I’m across
safely, seeing stringers, planks,
gadarening down into the tide
which rises to receive them. There
goes our bridge. How the upstream
railing splintered, the deck duck-
diving, you’d never know now.
Good as new.


The pain is the dog
not heeding the whistle, on account
of scenting a rabbit or an old
turd, his own possibly, or snuffing
ashes of a Sunday campfire because of
the slab and the grate provided there.
Will he follow?


Up and over the sandhills? Not much
help in the sea’s habitual heave,
sprawl, grumble, hiss.


In reality,
no. A step in the right direction.
The pain is this wind, which blows the whole
time, uncontrollably.
In your face.

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