Tony Beyer

Unknown seas


after their chromosomes
               had passed through
several generations

deepening the bronze tinge
               of their skin
Odysseus and his crew

arrived on this shore
               (long hull hauled
up the sand shelf

by manpower
               woven sail furled
against the mast)

thus gratifying the ocean god
               and the wind god
whose names change

at each point of longitude


in this hemisphere
               the stars occur
at different angles

in arrangements
               supposedly unknown
to the sailor’s eye

yet this is the hemisphere
               of sailors
more water than land

and the stars
               are familiar companions
knotted in their sequences

along lengths of twine
               for navigators’ fingers
to follow in the dark

all the way into the known


wairua if anything
               is the spirit
of the sea

italicised for
not foreignness

but to
               take it further
wairua a compound

so deeply annealed
               its constituents
are opaque to us

blood beat
               against the resolute
meniscus of the skin

the tides’ unguarded lapse and swell


Tangaroa makes men
               of boys and reduces
men to boys again

the sheer height
               of his mobile mountains
crushes courage and ships

those adrift for months
               at his pleasure
return unrecognisable

eyes having taken on
               his colour
skin embedded with salt

nearly all of them
               after resting
set forth again

knowledgeable about his mercy


noir stairwell
               in a pre-quake
South Island hotel

modern and up-to-date
               in 1930
and nothing’s changed since

high-ceilinged bathrooms
               steady tap-drip
worn through to rust

bulbous light switches
               swallowy radio
voice half-heard

               where seafarers
endure their separation

from Poseidon’s embrace


lazy late 18th Century

three blue men
severally accessorised

on the blue bridge
behind the blue fence

with the tree’s glazed tresses
overhanging them

all an ancient culture meant
to the grim potteries

(Britons had of course
outgrown their woad phase)

from its Victorian heyday
part of a strategy

to balance trade deficits
by pushing opium

to comical little heathens
with pigtails

the fake legend
extended its tendrils

over my deceased aunt’s
beloved dinner ware

a few remnants of which
crated once in straw

conscientiously indestructible
lean on our kitchen shelves

Tony Beyer's Anchor Stone (Cold Hub Press) is shortlisted for the 2018 New Zealand Book Award for poetry.
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