Of Tempests and Lost Fishermen
I love storms and tempests. Weather...! – enchanting you with it's lashings of character and wild, intemperate ways, not just climate with it's bland and predictable days of unremitting sunshine. People grumble about Auckland and it's mood swings – sweeping winds keener than grief; great columns of cumulus banked up and towering out there on the sea's horizons; here a random rainbow; over there to the West blue skies and the promise of imminent summer. Mornings you step out in a thin shirt, bare-armed, whistling a cheery tune, then a winter blast sweeps you away and you rush back inside, muttering in retreat, rummaging through your stuff for a whole new wardrobe.
Veterans of Auckland's riotous, all-seasons-in-a-day onslaughts wear a simultaneous assortment of summer light/winter warm/plus rain cheaters, peeling off or multiplying whichever, depending on the vagaries of the day. Shardul and I once vied and went all winter long in shorts – who would seek sanctuary in long trousers first? - but a high price was paid with chillblains, red noses, knees aching in the furnace of cold. This week in our city has been superb – hailstones as large as duck eggs thundering on our roof, winds howling in every crack and crevice, a pea soup fog blanketing the nearby ranges, then the long lovely nights of unrelenting rain.
I ventured one morning, a foolish insomniac, out to the West Coast, a 45-minute pre-dawn drive through mist and foreboding gusts of wind, the car rocking under each assault. The sea was a cauldron of white caps, sand almost shredding flesh from bones in the blast, a maelstrom of whirling, buffeting, fearful wildness, an exultant, elemental dance of nature. A little poem is called for . . .
The oceans are uprising
malign dreams of a new dominion
massing leagues of pitiless green
summoning the armies of the sea,
rebellion! breaking free of coral reef and shore
– the old constraints –
borders breached, swept asunder.
Listen to the drumming of the surf
the sea's hexameter beating
a dark night invasion . . .
The rain was howling off the sea, razored and burning my hands, waves gleaming like swords and savaging the dunes, not a living thing to be seen. White foam was piling up on the high tide mark, white and yellow suds scudding up into the dunes, wind-borne –
oceans are rising
battering headlands, invading sleep,
cadavers tossed ashore like dolls
broken in your vengeful savagery
Yes a litter of dead things, starfish, broken crabs, a small hammerhead shark, a flounder or two flung up, banks of bladderwrack and kelp torn from the seabed, the flotsam of fishing gear – buoys and ropes and a Wellington boot.
Destruction and fear
Lord of the dawn
are thy unholy empire.
Bind me you would
in your siren's hair –
lashing kelp, roiling sand –
drag me down to your
green, green deep.
Awaken things of earth
the hour of reckoning comes
malign, a dark avenger
howling horizontal off the sea . . .
Huge ocean rollers, shock troops of the sea, were pounding a nearby promontory, spectacular explosions of foam and green cataracts sluicing off the rocks – but you avoid venturing too close, fishermen get swept away here every month. Sometimes their grieving widows stand on the shore and weep, clutching their children and sobbing at the sea.
You grin, a frozen rictus mask
while tides rage, lay siege.
Everything shrinks in the desolation.
The gulls are battened down
on the rugby field,
a full mile inland
and every dog is whining at it's door.
On weekend evenings the families of the drowned fishermen sometimes stand on the headlands jutting out into the tides where their fathers and husbands were lost. Many are Maori people who believe the souls of those swept away will linger there, a stone's throw away in the ocean. They call out to the sea, to the souls there.
Trussed up in long ropey tentacles of brown kelp, the husbands drifted ashore here on night tides, pale, sightless, still clad in their thigh-length waders, a full week after tumbling off those treacherous rocks into the boiling sea. Under the balm of a now calm evening sky, the families summon their trapped spirits, mop each others eyes and huddle together for comfort.
Time is no healer and words are useless in their void of grief, but the sea and the sky soothe them for a while and help them to endure.