Not a Kipple today. Kipling is good, very good, but my thoughts are much more local, and the unofficial poet laureate of Dunedin, who died in exile on the Wanganui River, Baxter. I’m having considerable trouble finding the date of this. Baxter is unfashionable at present, but he understands the countryside of the North Island and Otago. The central Otago he is describing here has gone: the rabbiter’s huts are now subdivisions, vineyards and ski runs.
I prefer my memories of this world from the family trip when I was sixteen: the roads were unsealed, dusty, and the settlements sparse. Central Otago used to be empty. I look for the stolen paradise elsewhere
There was a message. I have forgotten it.
There was a journey to make. It did not come to anything.
But these nights, my friend, under the iron roof
Of this old rabbiters’ hut where the traps
Are still hanging up on nails,
Lying in a dry bunk, I feel strangely at ease.
The true dreams, those longed-for strangers,
Begin to come to me through the gates of horn.
I will not explain them. But the city, all that other life
In which we crept sadly like animals
Through thickets of dark thorns, haunted by the moisture of women,
And the rock of barren friendship, has now another shape.
Yes, I thank you. I saw you rise like a Triton,
A great reddish gourd of flesh,
From the sofa at that last party, while your mistress smiled
That perfect smile, and shout as if drowning—
‘You are always—’
Despair is the only gift;
When it is shared, it becomes a different thing; like rock, like water;
And so you also can share this emptiness with me.
Tears from faces of stone. They are our own tears.
Even if I had forgotten them
The mountain that has taken my being to itself
Would still hang over this hut, with the dead and the living
Twined in its crevasses. My door has forgotten how to shut.
James K Baxter
And if, like me, you have to live in the city, don’t live there.