Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Cilla McQueen’s ‘Gossamer’

Gossamer

 

1

 

It’s muttonbird time, oyster time –

tītī      tio

autumn, amber sun, long shadows

 

Gazing for ever down the long main street

towards the Club Hotel, Sir Joseph Ward in white marble

whose mother, Mrs Hannah Ward Barron,

arrived from Melbourne in 1863.

Her business was shelter – she had a family to support –

first a store for gold miners at Greenhills,

then when the railway came through in 1867

to ‘the southernmost railway station in the British Empire’,

the Railway Hotel,

which after fires, rebuilds and renovations

became The Club.

 

What was your life in Bluff like, Mrs Ward Barron?

In your warm hotel of welcoming shelter

comfort and laughter

you were at the heart of the town.

 

2

 

It seems that History is full of holes –

flaws – moths’ jaws –

gaps

 

in the ruined building

might we find

a HOLE to let us in?

 

Not pretty – that’s neglect, but the old bones are there.

Additions and alterations, a united front.

 

Across the road the skate park, green space

where the Railway Station used to be – end of the line –

still is, but for the oysterbeds.

 

Demolition will leave a mighty gap, a gummy length, a tooth on either side,

new Post Shop at one end, old Post Office at the other

 

What of the authentic? What is it?

What has been lost,            is being lost               so easily

 

or do those      very Holes       Protect us?

 

3

 

Same place, a later time

1997

a wedding breakfast at the Club Hotel

where Mr Flynn the publican regales

Bluffies and bemused Dunedin guests

with oysters, crayfish, muttonbirds, paua,

alcohol of all varieties

alcohol of all varieties

a large pork roast on the festive table

seen legging it up Gore Street

before the speeches were over

music, dancing, shouting, laughter

alcohol of all varieties

all

night

long

 

4

 

Grey plaster, ornaments, architraves deep ochre.

Two-storeyed, across the top: CLUB HOTEL.

Sixteen arched windows, columns, balustrades,

(a seagull perching on the roof)

Behind the façade, an accommodation

of four old buildings joined by corridors and archways,

refurbished, renewed, enlarged

in all or in part –

 

four times up in flames – wrecked, blackened

empty window arches, sky

in 1903, among the losses, valuable manuscripts

in the possession of Mr Joostens;

in 1914, three fatalities,

a ship’s carpenter, found ‘in the tangled wreckage of his bedstead’

a hotel porter ‘who saw service against the slave traders of Madagascar’

a railway employee who hailed from Lumsden.

 

5

 

Layers of pearl inside a paua shell,

the past within the past.

 

Back and back in the timescale of Motupohue,

Time’s long warp              holds strands together

history going into holes         memories lost

naturally         it rots, frays       flaws in the weft

of language

heard and spoken.

Time stops, changes, wraps around

a cloak of old names, old blessings, curses,

for there would have been curses.

 

Silent now the ancient

voices

 

6

 

A force-field shimmers around the Club Hotel,

a lizards’ nest of histories,

tales still telling

in the empty building.

 

Spirits from the past still in the place.

(old gold light in the west)

 

All the years of language and laughter

still tucked behind cornices, wallboards,

in flakes and grains of dust.

A spectral sign in empty windows,

on dusty doors,

please do not disturb

 

*

 

 

Cilla McQueen

Motupōhue, Bluff

 

 

Cilla McQueen MNZM has lived in Bluff since 1996. During her life as a poet and artist she has published fifteen poetry collections, three of which have won the New Zealand Book Award for Poetry. She was the second National Library of New Zealand Poet Laureate, from 2009-2011. In 2010 she was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry. Her latest book is Poeta (OUP 2018).

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