Otago Gold

Take the train. This one departs
for nowhere in particular promising
to return. It’s a matter of time
keeping to this schedule we’re in
for plunging rocklines, rails that
etch themselves round grasping
verticals big as countries, tunnels that
thread would struggle through.
The carriages have those platforms
each end lovers meet on, or villains
exit backwards to their deserts.
We hang on with cameras, safe
from either, taking in the loco’s
chirping diesel, the clicking wheels,
the squealing track. A widescreen
journey, made each day since
men cut the line. The river ripped
the gorge, exposed the fleckered
ore, brought fever – greed exposed
the land to eyes hungry for wealth
now gone we now inherit. And
scale returns, the townships
fallen, consumed by poverty and dust.
Only the train persists, a final
artifact of life in photographs,
a journey through a gorge where
water fast conceals imported trout,
where glittered sunlight in the
pools, on littered eager flecks.
No longer need – the line stops,
brinking the edge of land that
only giants could have made.
Massed grasses whisper on hills
that rise and fall forever. Wherever
looked it spells Otago gold.

Norma’s Enigma

The organist reads a paperback
As Elgar marches through the orchestra
Labelling his friends, giving them their subtleties:
Their inner calm, their petulance, their
Braggadocio at twilight. It’s about
Distances – the percussionist at his
Timpani, bruising the air – while violins cry
And bases purr like cats. It’s a workout
Of connections, of masks behind faces
Bringing everyone the edge of tears.
In this Hall, twelve thousand miles
From England, the imperial voice has cleared
Its throat. The paperback has disappeared
And deeper than a vault she sounds.

It’s Your Duty, Lad

The airside Smiths gives up a book of verse –
Poems of the First World War, and half
a dozen volumes labelled “Cats”.
They’re in a corner, hiding for their lives.

This side security – checked-in, case-free;
belts off and back; we stuff the junk
of travel safe in pockets, the threat of terror calmed.
No chance for stanzas, rhymes and iambs

to have dodged the scanner’s eye.
Or place for metaphysics or neologism
along the traipse and transport to the gate.
But halt! Ignore the final calls,

departure boards, the reasons to airborne
somewhere else. Don’t search for ironies
amongst the savage threat of duty free,
for assonance amongst pelucid stacks

of gin, for similes that tick from watches
big as moons. Go buy that book of poems
from the Somme, and just be thankful that
the shop’s computer chose it for the shelf.

27 Dollars

Selina Tusitala Marsh
Pasifika poetry warrior


in a city
a hotel
a book of black
black tiles mirroring
for minutes after reading
i am disturbed
breaks up into
I am blank
but i have
no pen to write
back cover stretch the
images that try to
the world
one phrase i cannot read
a sticker’s there
it is the price of verse

Lucifer, the Archangel

The Round Room. Almost overlooked Victorian
passions, pastimes, pastels – the stucco sentiment,
the pride of steam, the brotherhoods. In the centre,
Lucifer in bronze, Epstein’s metal fused
with difference – great wars have beaten out
the alloy, have taken up a mythic that is
brutish, new and sexual. A future, and a past.

The space is here for gathering, an entrance,
and a place to meet. This day, the first of many
schools have gathered beneath the startled wings.
The hands afraid to touch; the careful foot that takes
a step; the nakedness that knows no shame.

Eager girls are warned about their task, the need
to have a watch on time, the mobile phones
that may not see the light of art or day.
They’ve hours to spend with sketches, in their
badges, blazers, blue shirts, neat school ties.

A later party comes, they’re older – boys
with phones – girls who huddle, smirking.
Their teacher gathers them below the pinioned
gaze. Her German accent is refined and taut.
“You’re here to seek the stories of your past.”
She offers them a city gallery’s diaspora
of Cultures, Faiths and Races. They’re eager
for their liberty and swirl away. We talk – one teacher
to another. “My little ones would love the art in here –
but these just don’t care,” she says. Not having
any Group to organise, I’m on the side of hope.
Three lads are posing for their phones
with Lucifer, their temporary friend. “Don’t give up
on them. They’ve found a moment to engage!”

We laugh, exchange farewells, and disappear
in search of falling light, of favourites lost,
of pictures taken, slow becoming oaks.

Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery – January 2019