The Warrior Ethos
He wanted to live and rule, forever. Startling then
to see in the St James, replicas of his spirit army —
copies, of course, of the ones dug up — to see them young
and very human, hair etched into sapless clay,
hands half-clenched around absent weapons
as if vouching for snow, and lined up in rows,
the first line firing, the second ready to take their place,
the third, loading up the bolts.
killing fields, necropoli. (It’s to do with our capacity
to order each other, obey). In the St James,
in the blood-light of the afternoon foyer,
each warrior face is uniquely crafted so that I think,
of course I do, of ‘the singular lived life’ —
its shocks and blooms — care in that kind face,
this one cast in utter calmness
as in a windless lake, as in gazing at herons,
as in a complete absence of mayhem.
would be placed jade cicadas. A pig slipped into their hands.
on fire’. Waiting at one’s ease for the enemy to tire
they knew was a good strategem.
generals in chariots beat drums: Advance!
Archers in battle robes sprung arrows from their bows.
ant-nosed money, bronze fish money, money like cowrie shells.
no dagger-axes curved at the end, no small light crossbow,
long heavy spear.
The many ways ‘horse’ was written became one.
He wanted to live and rule, forever.
rivers of mercury traced the known map of China.
a hundred and thirty chariots, five hundred and twenty horses.
in the form of a goose, garlic head wine vessels inlaid with gold,
to the marvellousness of now, I re-enter
the vivid street. She’s still there that woman
at the window table of the downstairs cafe.
With her pressed suit and Apple Mac
she looks like someone who knows what she’s up against,
the way her fingers investigate keys
with the certitude of trains.
A youth, carved patu on his clearfoil chest,
walks for all the world as if he owns the joint,
which perhaps he does, as if his only care is caring,
which is how it should be — the tender way he wheels
his pram round couples sipping pinot gris
under coppery sun umbrellas.
They’re leaning back in their wrought-iron chairs,
she in her slippery dress, head tilted to the lovely sun
as if en vacances — the wine? the shoes? —
straps slung easy from her heels.
The sky above Starbucks — reliably even in late March blue —
frames banners which yodel Monet and the Impressionists.
Even their rippling leaves room for manoeuvre,
is all about overall effect. Not like this neon sign
‘Coming Soon, Duplicity’ stabbing out from the brick façade
of a place where a Tom Stoppard play is running,
set in Cambridge, Czechoslovakia and entitled Rock ‘n Roll.
There’s a rich smell of cooking, lamb shanks perhaps,
and swinging through the door of a sandblasted phone box,
a dolphin-sleek girl dressed in lollypink shorts.
She seems as if about to act on some radical, sovereign impulse,
as if her name might be Nina (‘Don’t put nothin’ in it
‘less you feel it’). I want to ask her what it is,
but somewhere, for heaven’s sake! —
above the clatter of glasses and muzak in The Jimmy,
above the shrieking of buses — a bagpipe playing.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jo Thorpe is a Wellington poet whose first book of poetry Len & other poems was published in 2003 by Steele Roberts. She gained her MA in Creative Writing from Victoria University in 2001 and is currently working on her second collection.
Jo is also a dance writer and critic and teaches Dance History at the New Zealand School of Dance. The Warrior Ethos was written after visiting the ‘Terracotta Warriors’ exhibition held in Wellington’s St James Theatre earlier this year. ‘Jade Cicadas’ takes its form from Michael Ondaatje’s book Handwriting. When I wrote the third section I was thinking about Cicero, who wrote 2000 years ago: ‘Those who don’t know history remain children.’