Poem – C K Stead

The year was 69
(for Sam Sampson)

Reading your poem
and re-reading my reading
I remembered the bar
Colin painted for Maurice
in the studio
among trees
below the house
above the inlet
at Arapito Road
with a text that said
because there is a constant flow of light
we are born
into a pure land –
and the words had to curve with the bend of the bar
and the flounder net down there among mangroves
pulled round by the tide.

The year was top-and-tail/ it was soixante-neuf
when Tricky talked to Neil and Buzz on the moon
and Dave smoked pipe dreams in Ponsonby
and Colin painted
on wallpaper
‘All mortals are like grass’
and Maurice made the most of one summer’s dolphin
and with Barbara made a beginning
and with Beverley an end.

The vomitty green and velvet blue of the bar
I remember
and the one word ‘Ahipara’
painted in black
book-jackets pinned to the wall at irregular angles
and the inner Manukau stillness
sliced by cicadas.

Vietnam was always there
we breathed it and lived it and fought it in our sleep
and despite the moon
making America great again
and Strawberry Fields supposed to go on forever
it would not go away
My Lai stuck in the throat
and Agent Orange and the Tet Offensive
and could not be dislodged.

No end in sight and yet it would have to end
and the air of the age was full of the soothe of sex
the iambs Dave tried to hide and his secret rhymes
scent of the dope that would drain
his Keatsy brain
and Hanly’s garden
and Wedde’s golden girl.

It was the year of the Rooster
year of your birth
with its beards and hair and students’ unwashed dishes
when songs had words you could remember
and tunes you couldn’t forget
when for all the self-destructs and all their tears
the world could seem
still an enormous room
still an extravagant promise and
an unfolding dream.



C K Stead

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