Saturday, June 14, 2008


A sleety spring day in the English end of Akaroa. A length of clean newsprint is taped to the bay window of a weekend rental. A 4B pencil traces the skyline of the southern harbour, rim and ridge and inclines to the sea, the sea line, houses, and trees in plantation and scattered.

spring trees
no two buds the same
your voice
Sunday morning, I walk down to the bakery. There is a road between it and the sea front: shell and stone beach under a low stone wall. Sleet drifts. It melts at contact. It is flavourless, it is icing sugar on the harbour’s hilltop rim. I want to clean my glasses, to clear that luminous grey smudge, that grubby tarp, that weather smudged and mouldy horse blanket, the sky.

In the moment the monologue is thin.

in my hooded jacket
the sound of my jacket
and walking

The Comte de Paris is at anchor in the harbor. Sails furled, a few rolled clouds are snagged in the cross spars. The Comte de Paris has decking of shoreline and hills and a hulk of blue grey water, is transparent, a heart ghost. Longboats have been lowered and row shoreward. The Comte de Paris is a faded glass plate negative. The view predates the camera. It is 1840. In a few months Pytor Illyich Tchaikovsky will be born. Somebody in the longboat is humming the bones of a melody from his Pathetique.

One word is thistle is the dagger of an exclamation: ‘Bitch!’ Thistle-down in the updraft of time.

A winged heart-flight higher, even Germanic consonants usually snapped to attention become soft as a kiss, ‘Liebchen’, the beloved becomes a cherub, the flush of life in a dear one’s cheeks, the light of the inner life in a flush.

icy wind –
loves flush or

There are poets in the bakery, drinking coffee, breakfasting on pastries. One is buttering a croissant. Ten years from now he will tell me about his dieting and medication and jogging in a race against cholesterol.

A thought has come ashore from the longboat, a ghost in the liquid air of invention. He is my wife’s grand grand granpere. It is already 1847 or thereabouts, the settlement has moved on from canvas. He is strolling north to the French end of town to visit a friend in Rue Grehan. The house will later be called Rose Cottage. In the living room there is a plate glass view into the wall shows the mud straw construction. A hundred years and more there are roses.

Rose Cottage
pruning roses she
prunes a thumb

On the low stone wall above the beach, there are a couple of rusty cauldrons once used for rendering whale blubber. They gather leaves, gather wind-drift, gather trash. My imagination rivets great copper handles to them, and a hotplate of magma rises to brew Turkish coffee. I spice it with cardamom and sweeten it with a sugar-bag of sugar, enough coffee, enough coffee to string out the minor gods of place, to stew all time in a sweet brown swirl. Let that be d drunk and the ensuing dream be a clear blue sky and us walking, a child here and another there. How they run ahead.

The harbour rim is a caldera, twelve million years old. An occasional tremor ripples the landscape. Seasons have poured into the harbour and receded like the tide. In a high altitude photo of Banks Peninsula, Akaroa appears little more than a lichen tracery on a crumpled map.

On the ride home, on the climb up from Deavauchelle out of the long harbour, we pass the sacred spring, I am told is tucked in a wooded bend on the climb. We never stop there. It is always a few words in passing, as if it was never there.

Rolled up in the back seat is a tracing of the harbour's southern rim. In the carpark of the hotel at hilltop, a small fright, a dark glimpse in the periphery of vision, a gent dressed like it was eighteen forty- something or other.

the descent
to the future

by Jeffrey Harpeng
Macgregor, Qld., Australia
first published in Quarter Past Sometime (2007)

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