A Time of Day

A small charge for admission. Believers only.
Who present their tickets where a five-
barred farm gate gapes on its chain

and will file on to the thinly grassed paddock.
Out of afternoon pearl-dipped light the
dung-green biplane descended

and will return later, and later, late as
already it is. We are all born
of cloud again, in a caul

of linen lashed to the air-frame of the age,
smelling of the scorched raw castor oil
nine whirling cylinders pelt

up-country-smelling senses with, narcotic
joyrides, these helmeted barnstomers
heavier scented than hay,

harnesses, horsepiss, fleeces, phosphates and milk
under the fingernails. I’m pulling at
my father’s hand Would the little

boy for selling the tickets? One helmet smiles
bending over yes, please let me,
my father hesitates, I

pull and I don’t let go. Neither does the soul
of the world, whatever that is, lose
hold of the load, the bare blue

mountains and things hauled into the time of day
up that steep sky deepening from sea –
level all the way west again,

this paddock, the weight of everything, these people
waiting to be saved, without whom there’s
no show, stay in place for ever.

A hand under each arm I’m held, I’m lifted
up and over and into an open
cockpit Contact! Gnome-LeRhine

fires ninefold, the chocks kicked clear, my balaclava
knits old sweat and foul oil, where tomorrow
was encloses me now.

from Early Days Yet: New and Collected Poems 1941-1997 (Carcanet, 1997), copyright Allen Curnow 1997, used by permission of Tim Curnow.

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