Whangaehu waters, hot-spilled from the cauldron
Of Crater Lake, swirling mud-green from the cup
Between Tahurangi and Pyramid Peak,
Sulphurous, sibilant among purer daughters
Of the snow-line,
Plunging eastwards down broken-faced ravines,
Boiling between razor-edged ridges,
Breasting a broken, blackened ghostscape
To desert Rangipo.
Where these waters slow their rush
And ease the dragon’s fire by draughts
Of ice-green melted snow,
Where the trickle multiplies a thousand times
In droplets, runlets, rivulets and drains
The mountain’s flanks,
Where gentling slopes spread out in plains
Of coarse-grained sand,
This desert, rich in myth, barren of dreams,
Abuts the cliffs which mark its eastern end.
No mystical origins are of this place,
Fires that ravaged here in mighty Tongariro’s reign
Left their mark in deeper scars on larger deserts;
But here in the span of an eye is seen
The minor ministry of Ruapehu’s ancient pain.
The basin of this desert, charred and burled,
Is a settling pan; frightful scenes
Were moulded out of gobs of molten rock,
Plastered out of time by mud eruptions,
Frozen; wind and water-blasted,
Etched by element and circumstance beyond design,
Sculpted in the wrath of time.
Soothed to innocence these wicked weals
Grow gentle in a fragile familiarity,
Dust devils whirl, wind themselves up
In dervish dances, scoot about the plain
Like demented wisps of smoke
And disappear in ever thinning gray strands.
Testimonials of long departed streams
Wend their way in gutters and runnels
Of dust and rock-filled detritus
Along random, captious paths
Awaiting cloudbursts out of antiquity.
Seagulls flock and wheel from rookeries
That rose from seabeds long before the flight of birds
And scour the desert in garrulous mockery.
The desert shrubs hunch low against
The rigours of this fractured realm
Thorn-edged, brittle, unforgiving gamblers:
Manuka strives to gain a foothold where
The Beechwood oasis ends;
Tussock clumps itself up by gathering
What earth escapes the wind in solitary mounds,
Creating micro-climes for mosses and algae,
Breaking the featureless pan in an illusion of community,
Daring to hold on to life’s thin crust
That tempts the fire’s return.
An invader in rich, green livery of Karioi
Marches here unregimented from its forest lines,
A youth of doubtful parentage and robust genes
Which grasps life with tenacious vigour,
These stands of pines, contorted In their haste for growth,
Spread like plague and swamp the slower growing rustics.
Theirs is no welcome sight, they abuse a frail ecology
And blight its natural state
Between the trees that ravin the landscape
The hulks and wrecks of rusted steel
And day-glowed drums litter craters
Of near misses where fins of bombs
And shards of strangled aluminium glitter
In the noon day haze.
Shot and shell have shattered silence
And blasted holes in whatever fancy took
And cartridge cases, canisters and packagings
Like wrappings from a toyshop
Are strewn in cluttered confusion.
The scream and crump and whiplash crack
Resounds as quavers in a music sheet
Of tank-track lines; vapour trails
Mark the fluted, hollow shriek of combat planes
Lacerating lunge from darkening skies.
The silent mountain looms beyond the range
Of guns and bombs, and broods;
This trite parody of human might
She glowers, in her guts effusions surge that shame
The most destructive man-made powers.