Love Song for Michael King

The Penguin History of New Zealand cover is a picture 
of an inlet, scuffed by tussock, and a fire trailing smoke 
like a censer touching the white cloud far above it 
at the beginning of the tree-line pushed up close 
to the feet of the hills. In the background is a taller 
range of hills, and if you know the country 
there’ll be another taller one over the horizon. 
The sand of the inlet is decorated with driftwood, 
and in between the tussock pokes out heads of flax 
with pods ready to drop. The light could be early morning 
or evening, it isn’t sharp enough to be fully day. 
The sand of the inlet isn’t covered by water, 
and it snakes sideways to where the smoke begins. 
Who lit the fire? There isn’t a lot to tell. 
Michael King’s name is below the picture 
on the paperback. The vegetation is bending 
from right to left and inland, so this place is 
on one of the west coasts, given our prevailing 
nor-westerly flow. I guess near Greymouth 
because it seems so empty, and I’ve been there, 
seen ghost stumps sticking out of the morning 
mist long after this illustration is set. The trees 
were hollowed out then, a cluster of towers in cloud. 


Robert Sullivan, a Honolulu-based poet, teaches creative writing and Maori literature in English at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. He is of Nga Puhi, Kai Tahu, Ngati Raukawa and Galway Irish descent. His latest book is Voice Carried My Family (AUP 2005).