from Long White Cloud

Why is it on the Waikato 
all cattle seem to face one way? 
The weather’s from the west, it’s true; 
the rain, the wind. But then it may  
be something more subliminal, 
a vague awareness that they are, 
for all the slowness of the grass, 
converging on the abattoir.
It’s nice to notice how the Māori 
left the pressure of a name 
on mountains, rivers, creeks and headlands. 
The British could not do the same.  
Sailing in a tad too late, 
they found they had to be content 
with generals and kilt nostalgia, 
no longer meaning what they meant. 
The British knew that every swamp  
was set there solely to be drained  
and so their colonists ensured 
that very few such sloughs remained. 
At Mapua, the Mitchells found 
that ‘wetland’ is a nicer name – 
and so, with friends, they’ve slowly swapped 
their dry flats for a swamp again. 
Beware road signage in New Zealand. 
They make their poetry from it. 
END WORKS threatens Armageddon. 
Death’s more sudden with ICE/GRIT.  
Less severe but still a worry 
is that sign in mountain air, 
five thousand feet above the ocean, 
promising us SEAL REPAIR. 
We’re looking up your relatives, 
Scots who came here via Peru 
several generations back. 
Your father’s in their faces too. 
We’re talking over English tea, 
the photographs and family names. 
Who knows when we’ll meet up next? 
Meanwhile, this friendship of the veins. 


Geoff Page is a Canberra-based poet. The most recent of his eighteen collections are Agnostic Skies (Five Islands Press) and Seriatim (Salt, UK). His 60 Classic Australian Poems is due out in 2009. He made a reading tour of New Zealand in August/September 2008.