Tuesday, June 1, 2010

My First Test

My First Test

In the country silence I went down
for a pee at the edge of the darkening
lake. Sudden movement in the rushes
then rigidity, a bird or was it a bough
half as high as I, stark, immobile.

Gently I gestured the others from
the car. Quietly they came & we
gazed amazed at such nondescript
magnificence. I breathed "What is it?"
"A bittern" said my uncle. Still
it didn't move. We left it to its vigil.

Back home I burst in to Mum
"We saw a bittern!" Much later
I told her the All Blacks had lost.

Harvey McQueen

How do poems get written? In one way this one was easy. A few days ago I posted Judith Wright’s ‘Egrets’. Suddenly from some subconscious source this one popped into my head. I honed it in my mind, told Anne about it before I went to bed – she puts my mask on nightly. “You’ll forget it.” “No, I won’t.” In the morning I put down a draft and here it is, barely altered.

I have only seen a bittern once. That time. And the wonder of its still lingers. Nature’s fascination. To be so close to such a big bird and it so well camouflaged. Lake Ellesmere took on a greater significance. Canadian geese, black swan, duck and pukeko, yes. They all flapped away. But this mysterious bird didn’t. It froze, and expected us to be the ones who moved.

There’s another dimension. Even throughout the war, rugby had been played at Little River. It was part of the life-blood of the community. The men went on one side, comments were frank and free. That’s where my grandfather took me. The women and the elderly stayed in their cars on the other side. Tales were told of George Nepia and other heroes.

So the war over and my first test. We were very subdued on the way home from Lancaster Park. Our guys had been beaten. And then the miracle of the bittern. Suddenly, the universe was radiant again. Something exciting to be shared, above all with who else but mother.

I wondered about the title. A bit pretentious? But accurate. And it was a form of a first test. In what was my soul interested? A bit of perspective as we head for the hoopla of the World Cup. And I’m not talking of Graham Henry’s men.

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