December. Happy as a horse
shoulder-high in paddocks of grass,
come grasp the essence of this place.
Sort it out. You could do worse.
And don’t think you’ll simply traipse
the landscape, snacking on fine food,
there is no way you can escape
dialogue with the residents.
West of the Great Western Tiers,
“We’ve always done things that way, here”
masks a sensitivity
that can take strange forms: a too-high
voltage on an electric fence
(e.g.) shocks the cows. Can’t have that.
So pay close heed to what you’re told,
there is no room for idle chat.
They watch what you buy: avoid cheese
factories. They mustn’t ask
“Are you mainlanders?”, that easy
stigma by which they sort the world.
Wear disguise since you need to fit,
dress down, put on two or three shirts
one on another, hanging out;
no corduroys or chunky knits,
that’s what they sell to mainland folk
(“Mainlanders never get the joke”).
Once you plunge into the first
rippling, cultivated hills
rolling back from the ragged coast
note how a certain smugness fills
their fields with strange potato plants
—Dutch Creams, Bismarcks, Kennebecs—
hallucinatory pink poppies
(“Better than Afghanistan’s”)
and they can tell fields from paddocks
(There’s a difference? “It is this:
fields feed humans, paddocks feed cows.”)
Don’t be fooled by rows of crazy
flowers, extravagantly sown
between the paddocks and the road
—rock roses, real roses, daisies,
King Solomon’s fishing rod—
they celebrate subjugation.
While you yearn for bluffs and crags
History still lurks deep within
everything they say and do.
Once they massacred the blacks
by various means; now they set
about the wild landscape and
plainly haven’t finished yet.
They will drop old growth, then plant
more trees and cut them down too
in a chaos of stumps and limbs
waiting to be burnt before
another mad planting begins.
I should stop at this point, lest
you think I exaggerate. More
awaits you than I could list,
go and discover it. Good luck.
And while you dodge the timber trucks
laden with prey, here’s some advice:
if you should meet other cars
keep your hands locked on the wheel,
make eye contact, lift one knuckle.
At least they greet you as you pass.