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A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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March 2007, vol 3 no 1

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Jeff Harpeng

Birdlings Flat

A spit of greywacke, gravel and stone ground round as river-rock, infilled with sand and further inland soil, stretches south from the underbelly of that burst volcanic boil, Banks Peninsula. This stony spit landlocks an inlet, endstops gray water: Lake Forsyth.

On the lake old car tyres carved to garden ornaments have transmigrated, come back as black swans: small submarines, their conning towers necked with question marks. An old railway embankment dykes the lake's north shore, and terminates at Little River. The end of the line is all that is left of the line, the old station has been reinvented as a cafe, stroke souvenir shop. The platform is still out the back, a wagon on the tracks.

iron buffers
end of the line
we journey on

This narrative turned off a couple of clicks back, hung a right to Birdlings Flat.

The following photo is not in the family album. The shot is four-fifths sky. The sun has sloped below the distant Alps and blue diffuses into black. The sky is getting set for a comet or a falling star to wish upon.

Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight,
I wish I may, I wish I might wish upon this. . .

The photograph is four-fifths blue. A hand pokes in from the right of the frame, reaches toward the moon which is high and just off centre. In the hand, g-clamped between thumb and forefinger, a stone, which is dark or just dark against the sky. The held stone is posed to partially eclipse the moon. In the bottom fifth of the photo is a lump of hill. There is no annotation on the back of the photo, no entitlement for posterity. The horizon in the picture is out of kilter. Out of shot there are voices, how the sound of this one tilts me this way and another tilts me that, one child and another, and the woman's voice leading them back to the car, tilts me which way.

The Mitsubishi is parked over there, where soil has been rollered hard to top the shifty substrate.

We have spent a few windswept hours on the beach, hand mining wet stone for green, for ferrous faults: fate lines. We settle for some rounded quartz, abraded cloudy by sand. I find my white stone. It fell out of the book of Revelation, the stone with my secret name underneath. Both obverse and reverse are without text. A poem plays around in that idea for a while, for a few years, for a lifetime. If the stone were a minimalist sculptor's reading of my heart its every turn would show another's name written in invisible ink.

Down at the rock gurgle, shush and rush shore my daughter stepped out and back, sashayed with the sea, and in parting said, 'I'll come and play another day'. The pockets of my son's hoodie are potbellied with stones.

Back in the car we backtrack past the baches* that hug the back of the stony dune. Most are footnotes rather than grand tales. One or two are reverting to the shambles from which they were cobbled together. Browning decay of iron and timber leach together and slump against the salt spray wind.

We take the main drag (more drag than main) to its turn around end and turn around in front of the house of a friend we came to visit and missed. We leave a note.

on his doorstep
stepping out in hiking boots
grow forget-me-nots

Across the road a thick-branched bush bears no bloom, no green. Branches end in hands as if hands were in the gloves worn to direct the wind. A grimmer rendition, told, has those gloves as grabbing hands. The wit of an artist comments. Boundaries of old squatted properties along this stretch are fuel for feud. Now, statute is to descend and hammer argument into pegged out plots.

where dirt forks
from gravel a wind-plucked tree
wears forty gloves
winter comes ashore
just to shake hands

In the lee of the stony dune, his back fence, and his house, my friend has grown hedge walled rooms. A hammock hangs in the bedroom. Day and night and the seasons are the ceiling. This autumn shooting stars, to wish upon, chalk the night. Beyond his gate, in a slightly wider sky, a comet passes on a cloudy night.

The face in the moon is made of fallen wishes, think craters, which is one way of saying it. Moonlight ghosts a high ceiling room, no curtains drape the tall windows, faint sound of children's laughter, fades to ballroom music, a projector sound flickers in the cinema of dreams. How a place can be a ghost. And a ghost can be another way we see we hear ourselves. And our children are where our bodies forget what it is like to live in our bodies.

Craning at the rear window as we drive off, the kids wave back to the tree.

the day fading
we drive toward
the stony moon

beside the moon a dying star


*Bach: A New Zealand name for a beach hut or cottage, often established by squatting.