Encounter above the Hurunui

A cloud river above the Hurunui
and on the plane there are two Māori bros –
one sitting with me until he could shift
to the seat just behind with his brother,
long lost, of course, they’ve not met up in ten
years and now happen to clamber into
this cabin almost together. They’re both
in love with Hope, the flight attendant: Well,
why not, who wouldn’t be?…she’s got to be
the prettiest flightie I’ve seen in years,
the first of them says, a wisecracker with
his well-timed one-liners, he was down in
Lyttleton last night doing stand-up, an
open mic, I should be on TV, says
he, and he should, but is a fisherman
who works for Sealord, goes out on the Dawn
Something, whose skipper is Chubby Someone
or other, a good man, he says, the cloud
breaking up as we head north across the is
of the island – the is of it. I’ve got
my sunglasses on for the first time in
weeks and Hope is now serving us bottles
of water, I saw you make eyes at her
behind those sunnies, Haddock says – his name,
the first one who was sitting next to me –
as she passes to the back, But, she’s mine,
Cliff – I’ve lived in hope of her for years, and
now she’s found me, you’re not stealing her, mate,
Aue, the younger one says, you’re dreaming,
bro, you haven’t a hope in hell, Nor heaven,
for that matter, I add, as she passes
back to the front, In fact, you’re hopeless, pal.
Aue, he grins and laughter falls away
through the fuselage to the bony folds
of mountains below, where we gaze down at
the line of a long white road, the dust an
etching of someone’s intention to move
across the big land, it must be the man
who helped himself to what had been before,
who took block and tackle, a new straw hat
and two teams of oxen to break the place
open, fetched water from the crooked tarn
and wondered at times where it was going,
this road – or where you are going, poem,
or where we’re all going, the big question
that no one can answer, not the shadow
of the plane, a black cross that moves over
the land like a gun-sight, nor the white clouds
of river broken up, nor my mother
who walks with painful awkward grace, Did she
recognise you, Haddock asks, who’s learned that
I’m back from seeing her, Yes, Well that’s good,
so I guess she just farts when she walks, right? –
Of course not, I say, though sometimes it’s true,
as he well knows and I cannot deny,
so laugh with him and his dark laughing eye,
the great city of his audacity,
as he gestures down at the land’s ascent,
says: It gives the meaning to being here,
mate, or something like that, he who’s going
soon to sea, his brother to court for gun
trouble, It’s you and Tama Iti, āe,
I say, and I like Jesus with these two
jokers at my shoulders, going with them
in this cruciform plane, we’re all counting
cars on the highway now, the shelterbelts
of Wakefield, we are going to the end of
the runway, we’re gazing at Hope’s face.

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