A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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September 2008, vol 4 no 3

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Jeffrey Harpeng

Death and the Maiden

The beautiful lady is dying and we are drinking tea in the failing light in her numbered days.

The weight of the fact anchors the kitchen from drifting away. Hear the anchor chain creak.

The current is strong as genealogies, which threaten to undertow us out to deeper water. The room is anchored and the chain is rusting. Water is coming under the door. A second glance shows neither of these things.

The house is on a long rise sloping down to Parnell Gully. Iron rails run the hairline crease. Deep green moss and fern hang from the darkened side wall rock. The far side pretends it is the beginning of a great forest a child would draw as swirling green.

The dying lady's name is a low cloud and we are living on an isthmus riveted in place with volcanoes. Out from the headland that confirms the harbour's place in the world a couple of rivets thunked down in water. One is spoken of as being still hot under the collar. At least it holds our subtext in place. Earth is rolling into night, black water to the horizon...

moon...and below
a freighter's northbound darkness
it's long reflection;

...black water to the horizon, and beyond.

The dying lady's name is a low cloud made of ectoplasm, made of play dough, made of grey cellophane crumpled by a deaf child, made of steam from a boiling kettle that got up a full head, hauled up anchor and steamed away, to the north, to Cape Rienga, of course.

The spirits of the tangata whenua jump off at land's end and fly to their ancestral home, to Hawaiki. There they spend the everafter macheteing ends off coconuts to make hairy cups for a cooling drink. At the foreshore sun-browned children glisten in the water, splash in the reef-sheltered waves.

That is not the dying lady's whakapapa, not her genealogy. A white plastic tube made of something fluorescent will suck the emptiness from her when she dies. She is dead. Her name has been eroding for a quarter of a century. She will shift in, back with her parents to die. She is dead. She was beautiful,

in that late night
part of my forgetting
...her name

Notes: Cape Reinga: the most northerly point of New Zealand. Hawaiki: where the Maori canoes began their migratory journey.

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