Always on the cards
I haven’t been to Karachi. I’ve imagined it though.
I know they have problems there, and marriages
arranged by dealers, much as cricket matches
might be arranged. I know there are streets
more colourful than I’m likely to comprehend. There
are beautiful children with eyes no tourist’s
camera could resist, beautiful hungry children.
But that’s by the bye. I’m trying to find some
way to think of being dead, and it seems
not too absurd to consider it merely a place
I’ve never arrived at, but when I’m there, all I’m
used to goes on back here as it does, this minute
if you like, a car-horn jammed in a garage
round the corner, the heater I’m anxious if it’s been
turned off, a book with a bookmark’s lolling
leather tongue. It’s a matter of travel,
to put it blandly. Have you been dead lately?
I imagine someone saying, and answering, No,
but I still intend to, as I hope to visit Karachi.
-- Vincent O’Sullivan
Current New Zealand Poet Laureate, Vincent O’Sullivan is author of two novels, a biography of writer John Mulgan, and numerous collections of stories and poetry. He is also a playwright and, not surprisingly, his verse is often theatrical in its use of personae and dialogue, its dramatic entrances and exits. ‘Always on the cards’—which unfolds like a dramatic monologue—is from O’Sullivan’s latest collection Us, then (Victoria University Press 2013). As well as dissecting family and social relationships, O’Sullivan’s poems have a rare capacity to take on fads and lapses in the national character. Notably in this regard, his latest book includes a meditation on director Peter Jackson’s filmic recasting of New Zealand as Middle Earth. In the ensuing kitsch-fest, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit have been subsumed holus-bolus into the popular national self-image, aided and enthusiastically abetted by the tourism board and a score of souvenir-touting operators. O’Sullivan’s observations on the present state of cultural confusion are worth quoting in full:
This time in 3-D
The usual spilling of ten thousand
orcs, the magic swords, dismembered
stacks, a warg’s head bouncing the Southern
Alps. A grey unspeakably boring wizard
making his Baden-Powell speeches on keeping
order in the Shire, serving the cause
of peaceable hobbits and shining, pure-
fabricked, waterfall-elegant elves.
I yearn for a piece of human flesh stabbing
the dear life at another piece. I want us
as we’ve always been. I want Reality
for God’s sake, the way it was trickily made!