Latitudes of Exile


It is not the world
it is not the gridiron of tank
tracks on the asphalt noon
the parachuting smoke
the desperate lists of ordinary men
who spoke out and must
must not be found

it is not the chipped enamel plate
of unsalted rice
put out of reach on a gaol catwalk
the pacing governor
who waits to speak
not sure which way the coup will turn
it is nothing to do with these things
though they are terrible
terrible because
they witness our own signatures

You can only say Pablo Neruda died
in the same week that these things happened
– for whom they were never things –

who hid out in the tungsten country
when gulling tongues instructed the valleys
to give up
when orders came to execute the rain

whose poems also passed from place to place
pages becoming like the hands
that passed them on
soiled with the white earth and unbound

It is the end of five days talking
long into the awkward nights of spring
when equinoxial winds shake
the window frames
when thornbush and desert graze
skies underground
filled with delicate wings anemone
castiron hulks love poems
abandoned machines embraces
meetings after separation river stones
bunches of lilac

it is the end of these things

they rise different
to the untenanted minutes
of another day
breaking over the adzed sea
paddling in the grey
shallow pools of our fixed phrases
like migratory birds
making a living here on the mudflats
menacing nothing.

from Latitudes of Exile (McIndoe, 1976), © Michael Jackson 1976, used by permission of the author. Recording from the Waiata New Zealand Poetry Sound Archive 1974.

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