Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Tuesday Poem: "Irina"

In my luxury there is shame,
using my thin, Western excuses
to hide from my art.
When I read your story
I heard a trumpet of glory
and a stern rebuke
from a creativity so compelled
that, denied the tools of your craft,
you carved your daily poem in soap
and committed it to memory
before washing your words away.

When the days pass me
with the pen's call unheeded
and my reluctance comes
from seeing the word as a foe
then I'll remember you, Irina,
and how the word set you free
from the darkest confinement.

I wrote this poem in 1987 when I read an article by PEN about the release from a gulag of the dissident Russian poet, Irina Borisovna Ratushinskaya.


I come back to this old poem and post it now because, as a poet, I feel that I will need "the word" to set me free from the confinement of life in the Eastern suburbs of Christchurch which threatens to stagger on for months, even years. As quake-affected Cantabrians, we don't want pity, but we can always use some empathy, something my fellow Tuesday poets have in spades.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Get some love under your fingernails

"The best investment on earth is earth." - Louis J. Glickman

I came across this quote in my last year's diary when I was in the process of dispensing with another year. I don't have the faintest glue who Louis J. Glickman is, but I suspect he was fond of a bit of gardening.

Like many people, I lived in a lot of rental accommodation over the course of my life, but I am somewhat settled in a home of our own these days.

Ten years ago, when we spotted this house for sale it had many features we found attractive. The house itself is fairly prosaic and ordinary, certainly no architect's wet dream. BUT it had what many houses don't have these days, a quarter-acre section (or for the metric equivalent, roughly 1,000 square metres). Plus it was affordable and only about 1km from the beach.

The previous owners were transplanted from England and older than us. It was clear that they had favoured an English-style garden with roses and such which were not suited to our climate and had high water needs. Roses are lovely to look at, but we wanted a garden that would work WITH the environment not AGAINST it.



When stuff is laid out all over the floors of your house and you are doing the "trying to get your house back to some fit state", it is good to do something for which the results are immediate.

This weekend it gave me a particular solace to mow my lawns and weed the garden. Prosaic acts with such profound effects.

It's a corny cliche, but working with the earth is grounding, in a spiritual sense.

Sorry, not a tuesday poem


Driving down Lichfield Street,
that banal, modern automaton achievement,
concentration supposedly on total road awareness, defensive driving
only, deep down, even cops would admit we’re
all over the place,
thinking about an apricot and chicken Panini
washed down with a
thought about the germination of a play
or was Roy (substitute any generic Euro/Pakeha name)
giving you the evil eye because you looked
at his missus just a little too long and lateral
or a million fuckin’ other insignificances

When Mother Nature got one shit-kicking
surprise for you, Jack (or Roy if you’d rather)
and She gonna whip your ass with some p-wave
or s-wave or whatever-wave
and suddenly I thought I’d blown a back tyre,
but She was having none of it,
raining down masonry like it was a lolly scramble
of Death.

And I, a transplant in this city, a pseud
Southern Man,
weep to see it go down, to go down
on Kai Tahu, Pakeha, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese
and so on, not the Whitebread city it used to be,
not Skinhead Central,
going down, twisting in agony over Bridle Path,
writhing in pain through London Street
and the Square, not hip, Daddy-O,
but the heart of old, white squattocracy
torn out, that heart and
trampled underfoot.

We lost, we gained,
we waxed, we waned,
we came into the heart of what it means
to be human
and we were spat out by Papatuanuku
like seeds from a watermelon.

© Andrew M. Bell

Saturday, 12 March 2011

The Spectrum of Humanity

If there is one thing surviving a natural disaster (or two, although I don't mean to boast) teaches you, it is that humanity spans the gamut from the zenith of nobility to the nadir of venality.

Having lived on this planet for 54 years now, I long realised this was the case but extreme events serve to throw this concept into the full glare of the philosophical spotlight.

Here in Christchurch, we have seen countless acts of selfless heroism and everyday decency. We have been helped by neighbours we didn't know beforehand and strangers who came from all over New Zealand and all over the globe to help us simply because we were their fellow humans. I had a long talk with a man called Kevin who delivered to me a composting toilet at no charge. Kevin was a builder from Lower Hutt and he told me that when he saw the earthquake happen on TV, he didn't think just putting $10 in a bucket was enough. He got on an Interisland ferry and brought his pickup truck down filled with his tools and he started helping in any way he could. People like Kevin bring a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye and I'm not ashamed to admit that. People like Kevin and all the people who have helped myself and my family in ways small and large since the earthquake make me proud to be part of the human race. Their daily acts of kindness magnify like a rippling pool and all decent people who receive this kindness go out and propagate that kindness to others. Decency, love, compassion and kindness spread in a way I wish they could spread everyday in every corner of the world.

If only this love could spread out to Libya and everywhere where people are struggling for basic human dignity.

At the other end of the spectrum, those who could be exported to Libya to act as human shields and cannon fodder for the freedom fighters struggling to overthrow the madman, Gaddafi, are: the looters who take advantage of abandoned homes and businesses in Christchurch, the heartless profiteers who massively hiked up the prices of basic commodities or much-needed items such as generators (some were so-called respectable companies), the arsonist who torched a man's home while he was away seeking respite from the earthquake, the people who posed as needy and were given free goods at Recovery Centres only to go and onsell these goods in their dairys and last, but not least, the career criminals from outside Christchurch who took advantage of Air New Zealand's generous offer of $50 airfares to fly into Christchurch to do some looting and then fly out again with their ill-gotten gains. May you all rot in hell!