Poetry

On sandwiches and other lunches

it’s 11.52 
and I’ve long ago eaten my lunch of cheese 
and lettuce sandwiches.

I could have added slices 
of tomato or cucumber, 
but then the bread gets soggy
and wet bread is like
cold jeans in the morning. 

sandwiches are a family heirloom
passed down from my mother
who always made them, 
with odd fillings too, like baked beans 
or lasagne. 

there aren’t as many sandwich eaters now; 
we’re all grown up 
with our credit cards and mortgages 
and lunches 
with rocket salad on the side.  

at university 
I bought nachos from the cafeteria 
once a week, 
served by Polynesian women 
who ladled mince and hot cheese sauce like a syrup   
over corn chips in a polystyrene bowl:
a meal that sticks in the memory

                               —and now I'm tempted 
by hot food from the pie warmer:
the chips, the sausage rolls, the potato tops, 
the kranskies and deep-fried sushi.

because if you’re going to buy lunch 
it should be hot 

and life 
can’t be all sandwiches 
in Tupperware containers. 
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Poetry

Hot bread

Every drop-off then was the smell 
of hot bread from the ovens 
behind the factory walls, made grey 
in the memory by it always being wet
and dark, head-lights on. 

When I drive past the road today
the smell of fresh baked bread
still breaks out of those same walls, 
now Newberry’s Funeral Home,
where the ovens are hotter and sealed tight. 

For no more than the symmetry, 
it’s at Newberry’s I can be dropped-off
on a weekday, when there’ll be a fight 
for parks, and everyone oblivious 
to the smells and memories of years ago. 
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Poetry

Beneath Hikurangi

Cicadas singing 
in the fire of the sun. 
We used to think 

they lived so briefly 
and it was too easy 
for the mynahs 

to catch them 
in their yellow beaks, 
hold them for a moment, 

still singing; 
no wild struggle or hardly 
a change in pitch.

After we learnt 
they lived for years 
underground, it wasn’t 

so bad. Now, listening 
to the cicadas 
in the crystal space 

of early summer,
the hill, always there, 
cut-silhouette on the horizon,

we’re happy enough 
in our grand mediocrity.
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Poetry

Arriving

We can’t get it right 
      like Newton—we search 
            for patterns to lay it down 

in best durable forms 
      [laughter]: watch the sea 
            deal with rocks, 

feel the sand between 
      your toes. Does it matter 
            that Antares can consume 

663 trillion Earths? 
      Monstrous weight, that can, 
            if you like, be lifted 

by the work of bees: 
      a miracle none foretold.
            Let’s say of art 

that it thinks differently
      about the shape of mushrooms 
            we picked together 

on Saturday—we don’t know 
      anything about them, 
            except two hours of fun 

in paddocks: the biosphere 
      and adventure ours. No one’s 
            going nowhere 

but the infinity of our own 
      creative purpose, arriving 
            at a place unknown.
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Poetry

The gods in my shed

When Apollo says he knows 
whether all the grains of sand in the world 
add up to odd or even, and that he knows too
the measure of the oceans, and the number 
of insects that crawl the earth, 
and the days of cities and empires, 
or how many waves are curling now
about to break, 
or that he sees each butterfly 
flapping its wings 
and knows where every ripple goes, he is saying 
we do not know 
and that we should revere the knowing 
which is forever beyond us, 
meditate on it daily, pour water on the backs of goats 
if we must, to remind ourselves
what we do not know, and never can. 
That is the function of the gods
I still keep on a shelve in my shed.
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Poetry

Olive pressing

Seventeen years, mostly ignored. Finally, 
we learnt to press the olives from our tree into oil, 
a process which widens out 
into a world of infinite connections: 
				the universe of stars 
and dust. Such that I hardly know how to say what we did. 
Perhaps, like Homer, we’ll discover in writing 
something smarter than ourselves. 			        
						       
							First, we blitzed 
the olives in a food processor, which bounced on the bench, 
rattling and shrill-screaming, as it spun the hard stones 
and oily flesh into a khaki mash 
that smelt divine, 
like the dark loamy earth 
		between the thighs of Papatuanuku. 

Each batch 
we scooped into a large pot and heated, until 
this indelicate mixture began sparkling like morning dew
on a pile of dung. 

						You can thank the sun 
for sending water to the mountains, and for it 
								to fall 
back into our laps, 
though it took men like my grandfather wielding the levers 
to build the dams 
with steel cracked from red earth, combined with gravel 
and cement squeezed from soft grey clay; 
the hill at Portland almost gone. 
		     
						 And all this flows 
to the turning of the press 
made from ageless aluminium, everywhere and nowhere 
in the Earth’s crust, journeying now into space…
								and held tight 
in our hands, to wrench the oily liquid from its fibrous body, 
as alumina is wrenched from bauxite 
using the holding power of alpine lakes. 
		                  		  	
					            	Oil rises to the top, 
best left overnight in a jar that you can dip 
a ladle into and funnel through muslin cloth. 
What’s left behind is an acerbic liquid any gardener 
will deploy with pleasure
to cut off those obstreperous weeds in mid-growth. 

In a ceramic jug the oil will stay peppery to taste; 
a wealth stored, to be drizzled 
on the familial bread, 
		  	 and spilling over 
				    	onto the plate bounded 
by its raised rim.

With the last pieces of bread, 
we soaked up the thin pools of golden oil 
and licked our glistening fingers—
like shining Gods we are, for a moment.
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Poetry

The stonewalling shag

The shag declined to be interviewed, 
wouldn’t allow a photograph, said she knew nothing
about the fish carcasses.
“Ask the throttle-and-munch-em sea riders 
who were here last night.” 

She didn't have a song,
just a certain way of puffing her chest,
of being exactly where she was:
the rock pools, the purple crabs, 
the decomposing seaweed, the curve of the bay. 

A rock higher than the high tide, an easy take off, 
these were her piper and pilchard.

“Off the record, my silence was inevitable 
considering my original disposition 
to dive down under the horizon into the quiet.” 

After a long pause, 
while still looking out to sea, she said: 
“It's like this, those carcasses were of fish I knew
in the way that you used to know the sky at night.” 

“Take what you want from that, 
I don't really care.” 

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Northern Advocate Column

New Zealand’s Climate Change Commission still puts growth before planet

New Zealand’s Climate Change Commission a few weeks ago released its draft advice to the government for consultation. The vision statement describes the future Aotearoa as a veritable utopia. This future land of ours will be “thriving,” “equitable,” “inclusive,” and “climate-resilient.” Carbon emissions will be low, we’ll have a “flourishing bio-economy,” and we’ll be “respected stewards of the land.” Transport will be “accessible to everyone equally.” Everyone will live in “warm, healthy, low emitting homes.” There will be “very little waste”, and energy will be “affordable.” Sounds wonderful doesn’t it? All we have to do is follow the advice of the report’s seven co-authors. 

Some of that advice is good, like getting heavy freight off our roads by using rail and coastal shipping. And if the government were to take up the commission’s recommendations, new road construction would stop, and spending would be immediately diverted to the electrification of rail and public transport. The more I read through the report, however, the more I started to question its underlying assumptions. A major problem is how carbon emissions are calculated, which forms the whole basis for the proposed emissions reduction targets. Our emissions are those which are physically produced in this country when we travel domestically, fire up factory furnaces, and light our gas cookers. And when the country’s 10 million cows burp. Anything we import into the country isn’t included in our emissions. 

According to the Climate Change Commission, a significant chunk of our transport emissions can be reduced by importing electric cars. They advocate phasing out the import of petrol-fuelled cars by 2032. The point is, the carbon emissions generated by the manufacture of all these electric cars won’t be included in our ledger. Though we’ll be the ones using them. Electric vehicles and their batteries are made with metals, plastics and raw materials sourced from around the world. The mining and manufacture of those materials are heavily reliant on fossil fuels, not easily replaced by renewable energy. Suppose the electric vehicles are then made in Germany, China and the United States. In that case, a substantial amount of the electricity used in the assembly will come from coal and gas-fired power stations. There are limits to how much low-cost renewable energy those countries can produce to cover the energy needs of their heavy industries. 

It’s not just electric cars. New Zealand will have to import solar panels and wind turbines to generate the increased electricity we’ll need. As a country, we’ll be shopping our way to net-zero carbon emissions, consuming products with a high component of fossil fuel use in their construction and transportation. Effectively, we’ll be outsourcing our carbon emissions to other countries, where it will be their problem. 

Another issue with the commission’s report is that our agriculture sector’s carbon equivalent emissions are dealt with lightly. There’s no call to regulate herd numbers or impose costs on our leading export earner, dairy. Farmers will largely find their own way by fine-tuning current farming practices and using new technologies. If every country goes easy on their biggest export earners, global emissions reductions will never progress at the necessary pace. 

The Climate Change Commission is proposing we do something to reduce New Zealand’s emissions, but not too much that economic growth is adversely impacted. This is spelt out in passages in the report. It’s admitted that only a certain level of emission reduction is “possible at home” and that “offshore mitigation” will be needed. That means industries offsetting emissions by purchasing carbon credits overseas or investing in “carbon sinks,” like forest plantations in Siberia. The need for offshore mitigation assumes that other countries can do better than us. If all countries take this attitude to protect their economies and lifestyles, overall emissions reduction is clearly impossible.

The Climate Change Commission’s report is an overly optimistic vision of “green growth” that relies on importing high technology products and offsetting the emissions we’re unwilling to cut. That way, our economy, the commission predicts, will still grow 60 per cent by 2050. If the world economy grows at that rate, carbon emissions will continue to rise globally as a result of the massively increased energy demand. And the worst-case scenarios of catastrophic climate change will be inevitable.

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