The word decays, breaks down with every breath,
Leaves sludge behind, radiates power or strife.
What is the half-life of a word like death?
Or the half-death of such a word as life?
Bring words together and the mass implodes.
Better to vent their fury at this rate
Than torque or buckler that in vault corrodes.
What is the critical mass of love and hate?

This is the word’s function, what it means,
Whether it stands for bombs or dynamos,
Destroys the marrow and distorts the genes,
Fuels rockets or irradiates a new rose,
Loving or hating, animate or dead;
To activate a counter, turn to lead.

from Inscription on a Paper Dart: Selected Poems 1945-1972 (Auckland University Press/Oxford University Press, 1974), © M K Joseph 1974, used by permission of Charles Joseph for the Joseph Family Trust. Recording from the Waiata New Zealand Poetry Sound Archive 1974.

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