Friday, 24 September 2010

the importance of being

Sights like the bandaged tower above and the yellow crane at the ready, are common in the city of Christchurch after the major earthquake that hit them early Saturday morning three weeks ago. Sad to see in this normally tidy inner city, piles of concrete, bricks and masonry, crippled and broken buildings, roads blocked by orange cones and tape and the common sight of people wearing safety vests and wielding clip-boards as they carry out building inspections. In the suburb of Halswell where my sister lives, piles of silt from liquefaction have appeared in all sorts of places, including the cemetery.

The Christchurch Gardens were a blaze of spring colour from flowers seemingly unaffected by any upheaval of the ground they sit in.

Everywhere you go people are talking about the quake, continually de-briefing after the horror of the sudden, severe, early morning roar and shaking, by comparing notes, asking others how they fared and always, the inevitable thankfulness that no lives were lost.

Everyone has a story to tell and as it happens, the collation of some of these stories is the job of a second cousin of ours I recently discovered was living in Christchurch. It was great to meet R. My sister and I sat and had a coffee with him at a small cafe by the Avon with daffodils nodding in the breeze, something daffodils do best. Christchurch is known as the Garden City and is perhaps at its best in spring. Despite the earthquake, the flowers were evidently unfazed.

We were in Christchurch for my mother's 80th birthday and it was the first time the family were all together for a few years now. My sister's arrival from Perth was a surprise for Mum, and despite several boo-boos (one major one on my part) we managed not to let the cat out of the bag, so that Sue's sudden appearance on Friday was truly a surprise for Mum.

After-shocks in the two weeks after the quake were continually rumbling and rolling. Not a nice reminder for people and a cause of stress, as well as loss of sleep. At last count there have been over 700 shakes recorded. While I was there I experienced about half a dozen quite severe ones that made me feel as if I was in a small dinghy being roughly rocked by someone with a cruel sense of humour.

On the Saturday night, to save a strain on my sister's accommodation, we stayed at Robert's sister's place. Despite their house being over one hundred years old, they hadn't suffered much damage. While there, I felt what I thought was probably an after-shock when I heard a mysterious knocking rattle from the window latch. It was either an after-shock or their friendly, resident ghost.

My son tells me that in my family teasing and mocking is probably a form of endearment ...  but at times I felt I was shown a little too much endearment. However, I survived. Robert quipped that we should be called the MocKenzies - perhaps an apt title.

I am now back home with my life back to what I consider as normal, even if some of my siblings would not consider going to a poetry reading as normal. The reading we went to hear was one with Richard Reeve as the invited poet. As I listened to him read his poetry, the beginning of a poem of my own began to form. Strangely enough, it literally evolved from the table-top I was staring into as he read (just don't tell my family that!)

red formica
(for Richard Reeve)

In the table-top's red
formica's cloudy forest,
I see paisley shapes,
random patterns.
I see Marilyn Monroe,
Joan of Arc, bracken, a skull,

a dog, a lizard, a deer. Words
are not found there but a story
neverthelesss about formica,
its levels and layers of paper
or fabric, compressed
then laminated, a replacement

'for mica' and its name
stolen from the Latin
for 'ant'. Formica, the smell of it
after it had just been wiped
by a warm, muslin dishcloth
conjures kitchens and rain.

Formica can be yellow, grey, pale
-green ... but my favourite now
has to be this red
and its frozen, paper faces
with chiseled cheekbones,
tormented smoke, frightened trees,

wasp waists, here in this cafe
listening to Richard's poem
pummel rancid consumerism
and modelled he said on Dante,
his Inferno, his version
of a particular hell.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

P.S. Southland still retains the Ranfurly Shield despite a forceful attack by the Auckland rugby team to wrestle it off them. Go the Stags!


Claire Beynon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Claire Beynon said...

Hi Kay - thank you for this reflective post, especially your sensitivity towards the community in Christchurch. Tough times... and thank heavens for those beautiful spring flowers whose appearance 'on time' and 'as usual' seems particularly poignant this Spring.

Terrific poem - I was sorry I couldn't get to Richard's reading. As always, your line breaks are spot-on! (My favourites? 'Formica's cloudy forest' and the way you separate 'pale' and '-green'.

Looking forward to workshopping with you at Martha's this afternoon. Love, Claire x

Catherine said...

I avoided going into the central city in the week after the quake - parts were still cordoned off - and then we were away for two weeks, so I have yet to face up to the bulk of the damage.
Aftershocks are definitely diminishing, but seeing the damage to favourite buildings will be an aftershock in itself I suspect

Kay Cooke said...

Claire - Thanks Claire - as always your comments and impressions encourage and gladden. :) It was a great workshop wasn't it? Looking forward to the Oct one.

Catherine - Something so sad about the devastation ... my heart goes out to you guys.

Marja said...

A nice poem. Yeh our city has a lot of scars It is going a long time to fix it all again. We where out of town for a couple of days and were startled by every movement. Luckily the shocks are getting less and less
Nice spring pictures

leonie.wise said...

that's a great poem!

thanks for also sharing the photographs and an update from Chch. it's hard to imagine what it must be like from all the way over here!

Lydia said...

Oh, how delightful to look at these glorious spring/summer images while we are well into autumn now. The baby chicks set my heart free! These are wonderful pictures, and it was also interesting to read more about the earthquake at Christchurch. The news coverage of it here was pitiful.

Love the poem.

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