To conclude our week-long series on Greymouth writer Peter Hooper: two poems by his former student Jeffrey Paparoa Holman, from his new collection of verse, Blood Ties.
Poem for John Pule: the last days of Peter Hooper
Stoned on Waiheke
on Pule’s grass
that was a surprise:
“Well, yes and no, Jeff, because you know
I’d long seen iridescence everywhere:
in the rain on people’s souls
and the shine on rusty tracks
where coal trains thundered.
When I lived for a while up the Grey Valley
in the night you would hear them above the rush
of the river, hauling all those miners’ dreams
to warm the city.
It wasn’t that I needed to be stoned.”
Fêted by the Auckland crowd
who thought you must
be dead by now:
“That’s true, it was a complete surprise
when I went there and came right out.
People who’d read the novels back in school
came up and hugged me.
It was like they’d seen a long lost father
return from foreign wars. Yes, indeed –
I was Ulysses, for a moment, at the last.
I have John to thank for so much, you know.
Art and artists kept me sane.”
Back in the bush
and soon to die
there on your own:
“I admit it must seem a lonely death
but I came prepared. I had shared the feasts
of love and grief, there was no more left
and my bowl was full.
I’d been reading Po Chu-I again
that day and as I closed
the book, still breathing, everything
seemed right and good: sunset
soon, a rising moon.”
Re-reading you (Peter Hooper, 1919–1991)
I traveled back to the Coast
from London, for an Easter
school reunion, tracked your
grave to Karoro, but the sexton
said you weren’t in the book.
Moving south to Hokitika on
the Ōkārito road, passing flax
arrows, lichen-bloodied wooden
bridges, I found you’d never
been laid in an orderly plot.
Typical bloody writer: had to wring
maximum suspense from the least
promising material. A four year old
corpse long burned to ashes, so
tenderly – with no traces – scattered.
That Hokitika gravedigger read the face
on my Dylan Brixton ’95 T-shirt, snorting,
“Seen him at Western Springs in ’78:
he was bloody crap!” His ice cream dribbled.
“Ever heard Jimmy Barnes and Chisel?”
I left him to his Snowflake and his bones.
I found a copy of your Selected Poems
in Smith’s Bookshop, Manchester Street,
Christchurch – snapped up for $4.50 – and
three lovelorn copies of Strange Children.
Read your poem on Eliot’s death in ’65
and one with you homesick in London.
Then the torture chambers of Huia Villa:
a mother, your mother, marooned on a
blank antiseptic island of chlorpromazine.
I found no trace of your vital signs.
I stopped the car at Poerua.
Your image stained the lake.
Your signature dripped in the bush.
Blood Ties: New and Selected Poems 1963-2016 by Jeffrey Paparoa Holman (Canterbury University Press, $25) is available at Unity Books.