Read the story being discussed on Jesse Mulligan’s show on Radio New Zealand on 31 May 2018
‘Sailing ships’ (extract from ‘Speaking with my grandmothers’)
The Oriental put down at Petone
from where you were taken
by whaleboat to Evans Bay that spot
where merry ducks paddle their own canoes and darken
the clear shallows with their shit
your father brought
a Gaelic bible
one or two willow pattern jugs
a blue embossed milk jug
a mahogany table
one hundred acres of country
and one town acre
fifty chains of seafront at Lyall Bay
for some sovereigns and blankets
and beads and hatchets
and there’s the rub
your legacy a ring a vase or two
and a label you couldn’t
have dreamed I’d wear
and I’ve found only of late, like a child
discovering illegitimacy in a certificate
hidden in the bottom of a knickers drawer,
the contrivances of that rush for the great land
grab before the Treaty of Waitangi was signed; we can thank
Gibbon Wakefield for that, the sailing ship
rushing down to Cape Verde Islands past the Cape
of Good Hope and on and on
through the harbour mouth
arrival: 30 January 1840
the date of your birth as it happens
for you’d been there all along
what a gasp of relief in the salons of London
we beat the bastards with seven days up our sleeves
look, you’d laugh if it wasn’t serious,
as they say, the city mapped
out in tidy
across a terrain as yet unseen by its planners
and down dale
well, no, up mountainsides
and down passes,
this town of ours kind of flattened
across the creases
of an imaginary map
a touch of parchment surrealism here
no wonder the lights
all over the place
not a straight town at all
© Fiona Kidman, 2000
This poem was first published in Big Weather: Poems of Wellington edited by Gregory O’Brien and Louise St John, published in 2000 and reissued in 2018. It has also featured in Fiona Kidman’s volume of poetry Where Your Left Hand Rests, 2010.
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