In darkness, redcoats marching out to the Pekapeka block. It cannot be true. But imagine for a moment it is. Two women stand almost in the same place which is the rim of an old volcano. One is remembering her father stepping out of the blockhouse when she was a little girl going down an Irish road wherever they were just then. The other is stunned by a memory of fruit falling in a dark garden, soft sounds in long lines or sweet juice over stops and starts. An orchard? A volcano?
Neither can be sure because the ground is shifting. They pick themselves up and go on, unaware of the jolt that has put them on the same page and will now tie them to this place, whatever it is. One watches the shadow of a long skirt ripple ahead of her in the afternoon wind. The other has almost reached home with her quire of clean white paper, walking uphill from the shops around the quay. There is dinner to get, the washing to be folded, but no children so there is time for everything connected or unconnected with the red jackets of the soldiers moving along the Devon road in darkness or in daylight.
I love him, she thinks. I vocate, says the other, haptic with risk. Each sits with her head in a pool of lamplight, mind and fingers flying over the mending of works and days, now and then, yes and no. They have torn up the pegs, they dispute the sale, they build a fighting pa on the ridge to the south west, Te Kohia, and draw fire from the valley running down to the bony sea. This is the beginning, a transfer of words for deeds with tails as long as kite strings in a clear blue sky. She folds the creamy sheets of paper and pulls red silk after the needle that pierces and pierces the fold, binding, stitching, tying together the new pages of a little book, a booklet really, pliable, plausible, something to fold down and begin writing. The valley in the dark, the ridge abandoned. The lamplight, the flashing needle, the words I will write from the orchard that is a volcano. For you have shown me the valley in the north and its river running down to the sea where redcoats, militia and volunteer rifles are landing to begin the work of destruction. One moment I am in a dark orchard. The next I feel the ground shake under my feet. I am a soldier’s daughter, fled away from my father over the sea and finding him again here in the new land.
What shall I write? Where should I bury my flashing needle with its red silk tail as long as kite strings in a clear sky?
I found it in a dictionary and look it comes true these days with peaches with intricacies of step and step afternoon tea with dancing
Prune plums bloom blue in the leaves. A holiday morning, the cutter making her way over the harbour towards Quail Island with a load of picnickers, bonnets and shawls and a row of bunting just visible under the billowing sail, high voices of children palpable to an attentive ear. The distal edge, a fingernail of sea and sky in this new place, late summer and the leaves of the orchard still thick with fruit.
My name is Dorcas Carrell and I was born in County Clare on the edge of the great western ocean. When I was nine we sailed with the regiment to Canada, when I was eleven I lost my mother and my sister there. Quebec, Sault St Louis, Montreal, back down the seaway to Halifax and out to St John’s, another edge. We were always moving, out and back, out and back, the sound of waves breaking on a rocky shore. I was eighteen when I married one of the gardener Carrells, twenty-four when we reached his brother’s acreage on Jackson’s road above the harbour in Lyttelton. We fell easily among nieces and nephews to whom I taught their letters and how to draw the delicate shapes of plants they brought for my herbarium. Seeing their pleasure in the folios on my worktable, I thought to make small books from butcher’s paper tied up with string in which they might draw and paint for themselves. We are gardeners, bedding down below the ferny ridges, looking south across the harbour to an island in the arms of an island, west to the rim of the caldera and beyond to the distant mountains. We are orchardists, bringing ashore the sea-wracked saplings, binding them to volcanic soil, making shelter against winds sweeping off the ice. I am a gardener of stars, I tell the children on clear nights. See, here is my garden and there are the stars, stellata, stellaria, stellissima. My pretty taxa.
It is afternoon. I see the children collecting sea eggs on the island, picking their way among the rock pools, squealing as the octopus shoots away from a hand that has come too close. The gaff does its work and they hold up the purple shadow still dripping ink and writhing, its three hearts salvo, salvo, salvo. Bodies lying in the fern above the Waireka stream, the beachwalkers under fire, regulars at the Whaler’s Gate turned and gone back to town, bluejackets after dark storming an empty pa. Who tied the notice to the gate of Henry Brown’s farm, clear cursive lines flapping in the wind? Whakarongo mai, whakarongo mai, e te iwi. A sign, a panui, a protection. Listen, listen all people. The road to the Minister and friends must not be trampled upon. White scarves. Aunt Dorrie on her hillside above the sea. The bows of the cutter lift as she turns into the wind.
plum under the blue bloom prunus spaces the sky came through saying the dark leaves open summer's catalogue we began keeping and can't finish
Dear winter it is 5.15 a.m. I take the short line, snapped or cut but never broken. Out of the cradle endlessly rocking I follow the long line, a valley running down to the sea. But rocking has stopped and the ships, Erebus and Terror, are caught in ice. The dark rule of history skips a beat and it is winter on the harbour looking over the rim of the caldera at distant mountains. It is winter in the northern valley where the fortresses Onukukaitara and Puketakauere stare down the flooded river, asking for trouble.
Rocking has stopped and the ships, Erebus and Terror, are caught in ice. Slowly they circle the frozen islands, and their names are mountains as well as ships. Slowly they circle frozen islands that are not freed in spring by the cracking of ice that rushes downriver to the seaway. Slowly they circle in a sea of ice that holds them fast, Erebus and Terror lost to us whether mountains or ships or figures of dream circling just beyond waking. I heard the ice come down the river in spring, says one. I saw the snow mountains beyond the buckled rim of the harbour says the other. A body of water, says one. A sea of ice, says the other. Erebus and Terror at the bottom of the world. Erebus and Terror at the bottom of the sea. If I wake from my dream of winter, will I see the river in flood, will I see snow mountains pouring over the buckled rim of the harbour? Will I see my lost mother and sister?
Dear winter it is almost light and the guns have opened fire in the flooded valley, anxious to redress looting and killing on both sides. A garrison moves out and is split in three between the two hills, Onukukaitara and Puketakauere. But the defenders lie in rifle pits outside palisades that shudder under the impact of each new explosion. Onukukaitara the bait. Puketakauere the hook. The defenders lie in wait. When the trap springs it is too late to get out of the gully, it is too late to get out of the swamp, it is too late to retreat with the dead and the wounded. The black cross of Te Atiawa flies in triumph on the hilltop this morning. The river is in flood.
I am Dorrie in Lyttelton, daughter of a soldier, wife of a gardener. My mother is an armful of lilies, my sister a stone angel. Erebus mother, sister Terror, you pour over the rim of the flooded valley this morning.
darling the boat was a murder though I must smile and say it was nothing out of the ordinary the world turned upside down and beloved faces veiled behind ocean spray you won’t remember the voyage from Halifax but mama’s white face haunts me still and the rocking of a boat is the rocking of a dark cradle in my brain
So they are burning the villages. Manukorihi and Tikorangi north of the river. Kairau and Huirangi to the south. There was a sharp engagement near a large grove of peach-trees at Huirangi with some of the Atiawa under Hapurona. The bush and trenches which sheltered the Maori tupara men were raked with grape and canister shot. Cattle, sheep and horses are driven off, cultivations destroyed. Columns of black smoke rise over the coastal plains by day. Fires blaze by night. Manukorihi the singing bird silenced. Huirangi the food basket overturned. Only in forest clearings do the gardens show spring growth to the people of the river.
The same spring brings white blossom to the orchards on the hillside in the south. Foam she thinks. And the other almost immediately My lovely Salem, and they are out on the harbour with a cargo of saplings for Pigeon Bay, Okains and Akaroa. She forgets the dream of pulling the lifeboat over a frozen sea, forty pounds of chocolate, boxes of tea and tobacco, on oak runners as heavy as the boat itself. She forgets how they came to rest, a body in the bow much disturbed by animals and another in the stern. Two guns standing loaded against the inside of the boat all those years later when the search party found them. She forgets the papers strewn around the boat on its sledge, defeated in the outward journey, defeated now in the return to a place where the ships lie off an island that summer could not reach. She forgets the silver forks and spoons on the throats of those who watched the sailors die without asking for help. She applies herself to the surfaces of white pages covered in black ink. Sometimes they carry her own words and are very fugitive. Sometimes the words come from so far away she cannot be certain of an origin. Sometimes they fall on her ear in another language. And sometimes they are newsprint issuing Wednesday and Saturday from a shop on the quay, relaying the burning of villages by the force that marches out each day from the blockhouse at Camp Waitara. She knows about reprisals. About keeping the peace. My life had stood, a loaded gun.
But perhaps she is also like this, bows lifting as the swell at the heads takes her out of the harbour on a bright day in spring. Eyes of the mother look up from the bed of the ocean, this ocean or that ocean, watching the keel of the cutter pass overhead. Eyes of the mother looking into Paradise.
Kettle and Kickinghorse the rivers roar, Fiddle and Bow full of themselves full of snow full of us in blossom time and dangerous with melt, heading for a ferry at Shelter Bay. We salute apple trees, peach fuzzies, the drawing by all hands that words the question. When will I see you again?
Sweet briar, mignonette, lavender, honeysuckle and violets. At five o’clock on a beautiful clear morning the General’s column left the town. I am Dorrie, very earnestly digging in the garden of the old stone vicarage. A tear-shaped hill at dawn of day. The Reverend Mr Knowles wants his asparagus thinned, his new potatoes lifted from the warm earth, his runner beans picked from the tall frame over which they scramble towards the sun. The only sign of life a thin wreath of smoke ascending peaceably in the morning air. A kitchen garden may hold flowers and herbs. Sound of the surging sea. A flower garden may hold medicines as well as roses. Come inland and let us meet each other. I am Dorrie conjugating the southern seasons of flowers and vegetables, inflorescence and dehiscence, on the hillside above the harbour. Fish fight at sea! Mrs Knowles wants her borders weeded, her vines tied up, sprays of briar rose caught back from the shingle paths they festoon. Come inland and tread on our feet. The cool of the morning. Make haste! Make haste! The warmth of the day. A cart road cleaving the hill Mahoetahi. The cool of the evening. Dropped flat on the ground and every man followed his example. Who are these like stars appearing? The bullets went over their heads. Who are these of dazzling brightness? A Volunteer who had joined in the charge on the southeast end of the pah fell mortally wounded. My knees are parallel with the earth on which I kneel. He was the son of the Reverend Mr Brown and not sixteen years of age. My back bends over the hoe and the spade. On the Waitara side of the pa there was a great deal of mint and long grass. My arms gather up trimmings and clippings, my hair is full of drifting blossom. Now came the most desperate work of the day. A life curled in my womb is no assurance of the breathing child, but I may hope. A shell had a most beautiful effect, the natives rose out of the swamp like birds, and were shot down or bayoneted, as they would not surrender. Marrow, pumpkin, squash. Reddened pools of water. A kitchen garden. Throwing away blankets, caps and in most instances their guns for I did not see them fire one shot after this. A sanctuary. But set the fern on fire to turn out any skulkers. Who are these like stars appearing? At twelve o’clock noon, the bodies of the three chiefs and three natives who died from their wounds were buried in St Mary’s Churchyard, the funeral service (in Maori) being read by Archdeacon Govett. Who are these of dazzling brightness? The bodies were placed in coffins and buried in two graves. Violets, honeysuckle, lavender, mignonette and sweet briar.
grows wild grows bees bleeding bees heart
She is taken up with a length of baby. Weeks stretch out and she cannot hear the war in the north over the delicate racket of the double heartbeat. Lewis for a boy, Isabella for a girl, that Irish road passing her door again. When the sickness wears off she writes poems and adds watercolour drawings to the folders of the herbarium. She forages with the children over hills covered in tutu and fern. She is still Dorrie, beloved aunt, still centre of the world on the hillside above the harbour. But her eyes dream, her fingers fly invisible kites, she is not always quite on the ground when their voices break into her thoughts. I will go the length of it, she promises herself. This time the line will become the circle it is looking for. This time.
It is January when the redoubts begin imploding into her quiet. One, two, three, pushing across the plain. Then a long sap begins menacing the uplands. Four, five, six, and Huirangi falls to the sweating men in the trench that moves forward each day behind its enormous roller of supplejack filled with earth and fern. February, No. 7 redoubt draws a bead on Te Arei, the Barrier, and the digging and skirmishing begins again. Behold, No. 8 close under the pa near the precipice on the cliffs above the river.
Later on there is sweetness reported. Here, Jack, here’s wai for you. And shyacking. Lie down, Hiketi Piwhete, we’re going to shoot. Sometimes a request: Homai te tupeka, Tiaki. When in response a packet of tobacco was thrown over into the Maori trenches, back would come a basket of peaches or a kit of potatoes.
But hear Our Own Correspondent, from fallen Huirangi. These hills, which are covered with scrub, face the sea, and extend from the left bank of the Waitara four or five miles in a southwesterly direction. On the breast of one of them stands the pa which is our present object of attack. The hills occupied by the enemy were in front, a curved line of dense bush at some distance on our right, and the Waitara valley and river on our left. On the 12th inst., a force marched into the valley for the purpose of destroying such native crops as might be found. Nothing could exceed the wild beauty of the scenery on each side of the lovely river as it swept by banks alternately high and low according to the abrupt and varied windings of the stream. Along its banks were numerous little groves of karaka, peach trees, fern trees, &c., and no one could gaze on the scene without regretting the necessity of carrying the sword into a spot so formed by nature for peace and happiness.
eating big juicy Queens with red hearts quick blooded quick tempered oh quick save this hurt to the quick say this they’ll learn patience at last losing or exchanging juice and hearts for stones
Their heads were decorated with white feathers in token of amity, and they would occasionally take out one and present it to an officer as a mark of respect. They looked very well and were remarkably cheerful. Some of them invited the soldiers to go for fruit. The two women look at each other, astonished. This orchard. That volcano. The rich earth that connects them. Their hidden words, buried, put by or not yet written. They listen. A few of the men went a short distance beyond the karaka grove to the right of No 6 redoubt, and saw a number of whares, all occupied, and surrounded by little plots of cultivation.
I looked at him and heard him say. Two 8-inch guns, two 8-inch and two 10-inch mortars, as many cohorns, one 24-pounder howitzer, and a 12-pounder, and one 9-pounder field piece. His voice is a cannonade. We put the horses in and start with the wagon before daybreak. Darkness on the Sumner road.
I looked again and heard him say. These, falling with a ponderous weight, bury themselves in the earth and explode like a mine, throwing up the ground on all sides like a little volcano. His voice is the bombardment it describes. I look for the hunter upside down in the sky over the top of the hill. Spaces the dark leaves open.
I looked at him and heard him say. Smoke from our rifles and that from the enemy’s muskets mingling together and mounting upwards in a common cloud which, ere it cleared the earth, was followed by another and another in quick succession. His voice is an altar for the hills wreathed in fire. We are below the pass, the sky lightens, the team snorts and sweats. We walk now to lighten the load.
I looked again and heard him say. It is so high, however, as to command a grand unbroken view of the wild picturesque valley of the Waitara, and of the rich country on both sides as far as the mouth of the river, where the steamers can be easily seen riding at anchor. His voice is a space the dark leaves open. We rest the horses as the sun comes up. It lights the drowned crater and those who stand on the rim of the old volcano, breathless, uncertain, hidden by circumstance. Stratagem, siege train, embassy. The white flag, the red flag, the white flag again.
Their heads are decorated with white feathers in token of amity. He is astounded. They are not. They take him behind the lines for fruit. We are dancing on the edge of a volcano.
there on the breast of Ocean little fascicle bound for the black island of sunrise vitreous distances announce you to the citadel clear across the stations of the amber route there she has her home and her dancing-lawns lift and fall small shadow on the breast without substance or moment you strike the shape of a sail against my living skin
Chris Pugsley’s ‘Walking the Taranaki Wars’ (New Zealand Defence Quarterly 1995-96), James Cowan’s The New Zealand Wars (1922-23) and the files of the Taranaki Herald and other newspapers 1860-61 supply historical background and certain voices here. Others, including Ron Silliman, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson and Fanny Howe, cut in from PennSound’s PoemTalk (2007-14).
The poems closing each section are mine, repurposed for their role in the imagining of a nineteenth-century woman writing on the outskirts of empire as bitter racial conflict erupts around her. We are connected (she is the sister of my great great grandfather). We are disconnected (there is no trace of her beyond a few bare dates). But she came to the place where my poetry begins. She heard about war in places I knew as a child. What might be chanced? What double binding of circumstance might produce one to (or for) the other? If ever you need to say something (the voice is Dickinson’s), tell it slant.