‘Sadness and Shadow’, by Brian Turner

Few would doubt that New Zealand punches well above its weight in a number of areas, not least of which is poetry. Since arriving in this land, I have made a concerted effort to better understand its story. And while reading some the significant and lesser-known histories has been indispensable to that end, no less so has been familiarising myself with this land’s painters, sculptors, musicians, novelists and poets. Of the latter, I have particularly enjoyed work by Ursula Bethell, Glenn Colquhoun, C.K. Stead, Cilla McQueen and, of course, James K. Baxter. Recently, I also discovered the work of Dunedin-born poet Brian Turner, who was just conferred with an honorary doctorate by the University of Otago. Anyway, I’ve decided that this week here at Per Crucem ad Lucem I’ll be posting poems by Turner. Enjoy. Here’s the first:

Sadness and Shadow

The one known as The Leader said
If we can discern the difference
Between sadness and shadow
we’ll have unlocked the doors to peace.

So they trooped off into the hills
to a hut at the head of a tussocky valley
with snarls of matagouri in the gulleys
and vast shields of scree like grey-blue tunics
on the mountains all round.

And there they stayed. The sun shone
without libation, the wind blew whoo
under the edges of the roofing iron.
On nights when the moon was bright
mica sparkled in schist by the river.

In winter they went to be early
leaving the fire to burn sIowly
through the night, a dervish,
and the river muttered and shrank.
Mice scurried along rafters and squeaked.

Weeks went by. No one wanted to be first
to say it was time to go home. One
by one they died forlorn, unenlightened,
wondering where, exactly, they’d
come from, and if anyone was still there
wittering on about free trade
and indigenous rights, prostitution,
rugby and the demise of Friday Flash.

Bewildereds couldn’t understand why
technological advances hadn’t solved
age-old questions, removed dilenmma,
or why even the brightest people stumbled
when faced with the conflict between
personal expression and social obligation.

Eventually the sole survivor
walked out of the hills
but couldn’t find one familiar face,
so she returned to the hut
in the mountains and buried
the remains of her friends,
and she lay down beside sadness
and shadow and waited to hear
the lilting sounds of peace on the wind.

 

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