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Rangitiki

 

The Maritime Museum, Bluff

Take me back, old ship, a third of a century
to when you carried me half way round the world
to these islands. Six weeks we sailed
what took one night one day in flight,
your picture chanced on this museum wall
linking these two journeys of my life.

Your funnels pictured here pristine and cream
whose sooted tips blurred in the heat,
your great brass steam-whistle I used to clean
high in the hub of the oscillating sea,
the tall mast I once climbed tremblingly
to free the Company Pennant from the block
lonely at bird-height gently pendulum’d
by the swell of the dream-time sea.

There’s the fo’c’s’le head where I stood
my watches in splendid eyesore isolation.
Remember the flying fish ghostly and luminous
dancing the bow-wave through lonesome nights,
and the awesome sway of the Milky Way
roofing the ocean’s heaving black-sheet cot
rocked in the gimbals of the universe;
and the silent bell that tolled no other ship?

Remember the waterspout trumpeting out of the sea
erratic as a slowing top, mad whirl of water
and wind gasping for sky and the rain that followed
solid as forty foot waves on the bow?
Remember the whales arching their backs to dive,
hoisting the shining gibbets of their tails,
and the dolphins leading us in to Christobel
where vultures glowered from a chain link fence;

the Panama Canal with its wheeled mules
tugging us up the steps of a hundred locks,
cut through sheer rock with dynamite and death
where molten sun drips on the mountain tops?
Day and night we climbed that bridge of land
high above two great oceans to sky-filled lakes
edged with green and arched with throbbing gold,
then slid at last down to a different sea

Remember the Pitcairn Islanders rowing and singing
far from the distant smudge of their exile land,
their wind-browned smiles coming over the bulkhead
with pineapples and bananas to trade for soap,
and spiders, which came secretly and free.
Remember the pineapple punch we laced with lime juice
and sipped to the songs of Connie Francis
sprawled on the hatch-top canvas on hot nights.

Rangitiki. Last voyage of my childhood.
You gave me the sunrises of the four-to-eight,
the stunning sunsets of the eight-to-twelve,
the exhilarating aloneness of the twelve-to-four.
Only a picture on a wall, old friend, scrapped
in the following year, like the boy who sailed you.

 

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