An Amazing Week in New Zealand

Bill Manhire

So for six days he crusaded
and on the seventh he flew to Australia.

Athletic Park, April 1959:
a southerly straight off Cook Strait,
the microphone bandaged in gauze.

Here in Balclutha there is quiet sunshine
and we sit on the grass,
waiting for the voice over the landline.

Our togs are back on the bus.
We have been promised
a swim afterwards.

Come forward. You come.

*

Thus in the capital
the Christ folk watch and pray,
they have bibles and binoculars

and they shake their hymn sheets
in goodly company
while we sit still and listen only

Come, you come

to the tall undeniably handsome man
(who is 40 but looks 30)

with an easy, friendly manner
and a sound-system
flown in from Melbourne.

His face goes by on the tram.

*

His face goes by on the bus
Lord Lord yes
past shops with unrepeatable prices

but I am not
going forward. I am sitting
here on the grass

constructing my hut in the pines,
planks with a sway,
high life on a windy day.

I am sitting here on the grass
watching the old wolf,
Akela, finger his hip-flask

*

and I smile. A scout smiles and whistles
under all difficulty. Wicked Shere Khan!
Stupid Bandar-log! I am pure as the rustling wind.

But how to read Nature’s secrets ...
The feathers and fur on the ground,
a rabbit lying there like a glove ...

What is it evidence of ?

*

I’m going to ask you to do something hard and tough. I’m going to ask you to get up out of your seat, hundreds of you, get up out of your seat, and come out on this field and stand here quietly, reverently. God has spoken to you. You get up and come. I can hear you in your heart. You want a new life. You want to live clean and wholesome for Christ. The Lord has spoken to you ...

*

But I want to remember
the three hundred things
a bright boy can do ...

the boy as this or that,
chorister or scientist,
the boy as magician

sweet talking

the girl doomed to cremation
and the cries of spectators
who see flames and smoke

then bones and a skull, then there’s
only their own applause

*

for everyone’s safe of course
and the boy’s busy investigating
more astonishing

things: invisible ink
and a musical ring,
a puzzling and wonderful chicken,

while Christ comes again and again
in the clouds, cumulo
nimbus, the wind and the rain, riding

those parallel lines that end
in a point, in a friendly warning:

‘Dear King Prempel. You must give up
human sacrifice and slave-trading.’

*

Lift your eyes from the page.

God’s glance is a wind
that goes through you,
mysterious language

that teaches a scout to see sign
in a tangle of stars
or a twig or two

while lipstick on your collar
(your first record)

tells its tale on you, black
with that yellow label

and you follow the narrow trail
through falling leaves,
sign after sign leading

to where the ground is level
at the foot of the cross,
and there is Billy on his knees ...

You see Billy Graham up here.
But he is not the main actor.
The main actor is the one who comes to hear.

And look! the pickpocket returns the wallet
and Billy gets to his feet,
surprised but friendly.

He has the vigour of three men.
He shakes your hand before he strikes.

A smile and a nod.
A smile and a nod.
He’s giving the glory to God.

*

The boom of bronze over the landline.
The West coast farmer stops milking his cows.
A boy stops making strange noises.

But how do you ‘get right’ with God?
What is soteriology? All I know is
people are changing their lives today.

We’re ending the old life of sin.

*

That’s it ... that’s it ...
come on ... there are others coming ...

Just as I am, without one plea
But that Thy blood was shed for me

sing it again softly as others come ...
say that eternal Yes to the Lord.

*

And Fay the Widgie ... How is she?
Bright lipstick! My word!

All brazen façade and crazy parties,
leopardskin pants and a pony-tail.

But now her parents are puzzled.
Where is their self-centred daughter?
She hasn’t gone to town.

Come on. You come down.

*

The publican wants God as a partner,
the businessman, the wife, oh
the girl with scars on her wrists
taking her baby to God

the shiftless drunk no one trusts
who lives in a packing shed
the days are weeks and the weeks are months

Doreen and Fay and Don the borstal-boy

and God is not a clean shirt but a clean body
lifting from the pool
alter a width underwater, the dazzle
of water pouring back. So

that after you stop saying No to God
you feel one hundred per cent.
You know you’re

in trouble: you know
you need help
from the tender-hearted Lord.

*

The boy as ventriloquist –
the distance and resonance
of approaching noise: man

in the chimney talks
to the man in the roof, both puzzled
by those muffled cries

from the cellar. Then you make a mistake,
then make the effort to make
crowd-pleasing music,

the pangka-bongka of the banjo
the zhing-sching of the cymbals
the plim-blim of the harp

steady beat of the heart

or the Jew’s-harp: whanga-
whonga whee-whaw
whoodle-onga eedle-ongle

whow-zeedle oodle-ee whay-
whonga whaw: almost impossible
to do, like the roar

of an excited crowd, the sound
of winter skaters, a choir singing
as the folk go forward, one

by one, now come, you come ...

*

One thousand miles of miracle
lead to where the ground is level
at the foot of the cross

and here we are on our knees
inspecting the world of loss:
broken twigs, a hair,

a scrap of food,
big sign and small sign, let
nothing escape you,

trampled grass, a drop of blood,
a button, a match, a leaf
thing like a glove ...

But God is not here,
not in sunshine, not
in God’s open air

but somewhere altogether elsewhere

in dark accumulations
in winter macrocarpa

*

in the needle of sound in a circle
Lipstick on your collar

the nervous current of the tiger’s claw
the windy cry from the pack

*

Akela! Akela!

*

who takes another swig
then sucks on his Life Saver

whow-zeedle oodle-ee
whay-whonga
whaw ... Lord

Lord, I am
not going forward.