August 2002

Anne French


Anne French, born in Wellington, New Zealand, in1956, is both a publisher and a poet. Her first book, All Cretans are Liars (Auckland University Press, 1987), won the New Zealand Book Award for Poetry.  Only her most recent title, Boys' Night Out, also from Auckland University Press (1998), is still in print. She has poems in the Oxford Companion to Twentieth Century Poetry and the Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature.
He mihimihi    

Ko Chicheley Hill te maunga.
Ko te Ouse te awa.
Ko te Wash te moana.
Ko te Duke of Bedford te tangata.
No Ingarangi oku matua.
Ko Rakaia te waka.
Ko Piri toku matua,
ko Oriwa toku whaea.
(I whanau au kei Te Upoko o te Ika.
Kei te noho au kei Pauatahanui,
kei te taha o Bradey's Hill.)
Tihe mauri ora!



Seeking the Wild  

1: In Petts Wood

Woodhurst Avenue, Nightingale Road,
Lakewood Road, Hazlemere, Birchwood,
Woodland Way, Greencourt, Westholm,
Riverwood, Pine Road, Wood Ride—
as though they all lived in the forest still,
not in this sylvan grove of tiled semis,
as though Petts Wood were in a clearing
and Grendel could storm in at any time,
as though Sir Gawain rides still:

Into a forest ful depe, that ferly was wilde,
High hilles on uche a half, and holtwoods under,
Of hore okes ful huge a hundred togeder;
The hasel and the haghthorne were harled al samen
With rugh ragged mosse railed aywhere

And so I go by way of Crestview, Tent Peg Lane,
and Thornet Wood, across three bridges
and seven sets of tracks, across Great Thrift
to the top of Petts Wood and St Paul's Cray
Common, across the A208 and into Park Wood
in search of wildness and the ancient forest.

But find dozens of dogs walking their people;
and a Cornishman in moleskin trousers, with curly hair
and a lurcher, mending a fence, who recommends
that I try Cornwall or Wales—
and a flock of sheep
in a field on Hawkwood Estate where no one
may set foot (much less run around its grassy
perimeter for sheer joy); and a sequence of molehills;
with London a distant haze, and all the houses
and roads and railway lines dropped out of sight
with wooded hills as far as the eye can see
through the thickening morning air.

But the people out walking avert their gaze
and stare sightlessly to one side or the other
like polar bears in the zoo on hot Saturdays
rocking from side to side, longing for
impossible ice, and white-green distance,
trying to make the crowds disappear
in the sun's dazzle, and their cries and chatter
turn into seals barking and the creaking of ice.

I am a foreigner here, in my father's country.

I know the true meanings of wind, mountain, wild.

O wildness and wet, let them be left;
Long live the woods and the wilderness yet!

2: Cascade

Up Cascade track in summer. The air
in the forest is heavy. You sweat just
standing still. Fill your bottle and drink.

Start climbing. Through red beech,
over fallen logs, moss, leaf-litter.
Silver beech. Black. Thinner. Stunted.

Into grassy glades, valleys hanging
to the side of the mountain. Water tumbles
like a noisy teenager over rocks.

At the end of the second hour you leave
the trees behind. Still climbing steadily
though not so fast. Steeper. Steep.

Hand over hand in places, hauling yourself
over rocks. The sky is paler. A bare hour
till nightfall. Another narrow pinch—

a thousand feet an hour seems ambitious—
cramp gets you here, pins you to the rock
in a private spasm of pain. Pass the salt.

Light is draining from the sky as you haul
yourself over the lip, stand upright,
and look across the Travers Valley

to the mountains on the other side,
the marks of glaciation, the high-tide
line of beech along their flanks. The light

is fading. Night falls. Faster now.
The path skirts the black lake.

You dine on wine and fruitcake in the dark.

3: Coldrum Long Barrow

A slope below a wooded hill on the North Downs
with a bitter wind rising out of the east. It is so

small a mound, after all. The standing stones
have mostly fallen or been taken, but the stone

doorway is still as it was built. Beneath us,
under the hill, their bones: 'strongly made,

with long heads, showing a family resemblance,
perhaps a noble family'. (Class evident even here.)

The bodies of the dead were placed on a shelf,
then carefully cleaned and gathered

into an ossuary. More than three
thousand years ago they were laid here,

the ancestors, the ancient ones. So little remains
of everything they knew. I greet them in a foreign

tongue, invoking no gods but those of the mountain
above us and the river below. 'Ki ngä mate, noho mai,

noho mai kei waho i te ärai.' And whakanoa ourselves
with a little water, to leave things as they belong.



Anne French: Poetry
Copyright © 2002 The Cortland Review Issue 21The Cortland Review