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Treeless Eden, oasis of wealth

A treeless Eden
The polished wall of glass
Audacious storeys high.
At ground zero
Tin soldiers,
With professional smiles
Pounce on guests

Wheel off their cars
Wheel in their bags
With clean-jawed friendliness,
Keep the poor at bay.

Not quite treeless, though,
This oasis of wealth.
I spot the odd ornamental shrub
And even the occasional bird
Though only sparrows, it seems,
Beloved of the Lord,
Survive this sterile affluence.

What a nerve, leaving us stranded
Without slasher or compass
In this root-littered creek-bed
Bush lawyered and nettled by experts.

No cleft in the rock, my dove,
No fading sign at the summit;
Just a shop-window's curling note to say:
Hope's off on vacation.

So we trudge on through the swamp
Boots skidding on submarine slats;
Thigh-deep in lies and in smut,
Flotsam and jetsam en masse.

Pillowed master
The sun slides westward.
Silvering icy seas
Warming cold-blotched hands,
Shriving the skin of my soul.

Blue sky belying polar wind,
Green grass infertile land,
Creased smile the belch of pain:
Uncharted worlds.

Or do these steadfast, gurgling waves,
Kaleidoscopic magpie calls,
Dear friends' departing touch,
Betoken rhythms underneath

Which ear nor eye nor mind can trace,
Or even guess, but only celebrate?
Walk we this thin and silent ice
Because a pillowed master sleeps?

No joy to the eye, these slump-backed,
Blue-black, tarmacadam coils
Which hug the contours of the land
Clog up the wetlands, slice through fields,
Hack canyons through the stubborn hills.

The Romans loved their rigid roads
Hitler was prescient, too, Reichstrassen
Providing the Blitzkrieg
With clearways East and West.
Sieg Heil, Sieg Autobahn!

Our old ones preferred a human scale,
Criss-crossed the patient plains,
Meandered through flowing hills,
Trod pounamu trails or pilgrim paths,
Geared movement to the pace of the eye.

Our modern roads expect a free-fire zone,
Mow down opossums, hedgehogs, pukeko,
Poison the flowers and strangle any bush
Which might slow down our onward rush
To urgent shops and dreams.

Mere grace notes now the token trees
Which line the one way street.
We're focused on the A to B;
Until that doomsday dawn,
When oil wells give
Their curt and final wheeze.


Peter MathesonPeter Matheson is a leading scholar of 16th Century Reformations, based in New Zealand. His critical edition of the works of Argula von Grumbach will be published in 2010.


Topic tags: new australian poems, Peter Matheson, A treeless Eden, Hope, Pillowed Master, Roads



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