Pictures in a Gallery Undersea



In Ladbroke Square the light on waxen branches –
The orange light through two veined leaves
Tenacious in frost.
Upstairs, she lit the gas,
And drew bright curtains on the whitened eaves,
And said (her hand above the slowly turning disc)
‘I shall never go back’.
Mozart in the delicate air
Slid from her glass, beat vainly against the cushions,
Then took off gladly across the deserted Square.
‘You too must stay’ (loosening her sun-bleached hair)
‘You more than I – you will defeat their fashions.’

Invisible fins guided her to my chair.

Pictures in a gallery undersea
Were turned facing the wall, and the corridors were endless;
But in the marine distance, floating always beyond me,
A girl played Mozart on her sun-bleached hair.

So that wherever I walked on that long haul, midnight to dawn,
Stones of a sunken city woke, and passed the word,
And slept behind me; but the notes were gone,
Vanished like bubbles up through the watery air
Of London, nor would again be heard.


On steps of the British Museum the snow falls,
The snow falls on Bloomsbury, on Soho, on all
Cradled in the great cup of London.
On all the lions and literary men of London
Heaping in gutters, running away in drains
The falling snow, the city falling.

Snow behind iron railings drifts, collects,
Collects like coins in the corners of Nelson’s hat
(Newbolt from a window in the Admiralty shouting
‘Umbrellas for Nelson’ and waving a sheaf of odes)
And down the long avenue.
There, through her aquid glass
Circumambient Regina, turning slowly from the pane
Is seen imperiously to mouth ‘Albert, my dear,
How do we pronounce Waitangi?’
And snow descends.

There I met my grandfather, young and bearded,
With thick Scandinavian accent, who showed me
Directions to the dock; and later departed
Bearing me with him in his northern potency
South. Earth’s nether side in night
Yet hardly dark, and I under this day
That’s scarcely light.
Flakes descending, dissolving
On the folds of a cape
on a single blue ear-ring,
On a bowler beneath the great trees of Russell Square.

from Straw Into Gold, Poems New & Selected (Auckland University Press, 1997), © C K Stead 1997, used by permission of the author. Recording from the Waiata New Zealand Poetry Sound Archive 1974, supplied by the University of Auckland Library from the CD CK Stead & Barry Southam (University of Auckland, Special Collections)

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