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BooksApril 14, 2020

Lockdown letters #19, Glenn Colquhoun: Jesus pokes a dead stingray with a stick

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

‘The surf sounded like Eden Park on the end of a try. The gulls were diving. Laughing. Giving us the finger.’
Read more from the lockdown letters here.

Dear Jesus

It’s good to see you. I suppose it’s been a hell of a weekend for you. Must bring back some pretty shitty memories. I thought of you the other day. Wondered if you might be an essential service? People will be wanting protection. Jobs. Healing. Et cetera. It’d be quieter on the Lotto front though. Not so much pleading from the Warriors either. I suppose the haters will still be out there. Wondering about the catastrophes. Viruses. A hurricane. Shane Jones. People can only take so much I suppose. I’m not sure they see your limit. The brokenness. Carrying the weight of every human heart.

If I had my way I’d offer you a lump of driftwood in the sun. Bring you a Coke. And just sit beside you. Absorb sky and sea. Bake you a loaf of bread maybe. Cut it into slices. Make you a sandwich. Peanut butter. Or cheese. Slab it with shards of butter. Finish things off with a Fruju. I’m a sucker for succour.

I took a walk Easter Friday. Looked out for you everywhere. The churches are down at the moment. All I have is the beach. I set off early. Just after sunrise. The moon still up. Packed a few sandwiches. An apple. A bottle of water. The first place I found you I called, I. Jesus has his toe bitten by a crab. Well, I’m not sure it was a crab. More a shrimpy thing. They were jumping all over the place. Left trails in the sand. Like a zip. Spiralled off into circles at times. Made you slap around a bit.

I saw you again at II. Jesus takes off his shoes at the Kuku river mouth. The water came up to your thighs. It carried the chill of the morning. I held your pack above my head. Didn’t expect the current to be so strong. The sun was low in the east. The surf held all the cares of the world.

A little later on we bumped into each other at, III. A gull shits on Jesus for the first time. This one was a bit of a surprise. You had your head bowed. Picking up a shell. Never saw it coming. Looked up afterwards. As though someone had tapped you on the shoulder. I decided not to tell you in the end. I watched the mark dry to a crust on your back as we walked.

I followed you to IV. Te Rauparaha and Jesus eat pipi at the mouth of the Waiwiri Stream. Te Rauparaha’s always been a pipi man. Lived around here once. Knows the spots. Showed you how to find them with your toes. Reach down. Open them with a twist of the knife. He’s a hearty slurper. But I thought he seemed subdued. Talked with you for quite a while. Lost a son and daughter just over the dunes here. Ambushed at Papaitonga. I find them here quite a bit. Somehow you knew to be gentle with him. It is death. It is death. It is life. It is life, said the surf.

A few steps later we were surprised by V. A seagull shits on Jesus the second time. Hell, that brought things back to Earth. This one landed smack on your left foot. Luckily you were in bare feet. Washed it off in the water. Difficult to blame the birds I reckon. It’s their place after all. I can never work out if they’ve got it in for us or not. Biology can be like that. No respecter of persons.

We walked for quite a while after that. Before we got to our next location. I called it, VI. Colin McCahon paints Jesus approaching Hōkio Beach from the south. I wish there was more imagination to it than that. It covers the basics though. I get jealous of Colin McCahon sometimes. It seems childish to say. But he feels like a favourite. As though on the eighth day you let him paint the land. That’s what I put it down to anyway.

Later on I waited with you at that place I called VII. Jesus stops and listens to a riroriro. No one else heard it to be honest. We were all busy. Talking among ourselves. The surf sounded like Eden Park on the end of a try. The gulls were diving. Laughing. Giving us the finger. All of a sudden you stopped. Turned your head. As though a widow had caught you by the robes. I was pretty struck by that.

I named the next spot VIII. Jesus eats a cheese sandwich. You wouldn’t have noticed it but a crumb fell on to the sand. All of a sudden Samuel Bloody Marsden up and builds a church over the top of it. Called it St Cheeses. But it could just as easily have been St Jesus-Shades-His-Eyes-From-The-Sun or St Jesus-Takes-A-Leak-Between-Two-Dunes. That’s Marsden for you. He’s such a suck-up. Good with driftwood though. Goddammit.

IX. Jesus finds a TV on the beach. This one was pretty puzzling, I have to say. I’m still shaking my head. I found you crouched over an old black plastic TV.  I’ve seen fridges on the beach before. Chilly bins. Old nets. Buoys. But never a television set. No one takes these things lightly though. It might have been sent from another world. I started to bang on about responsibilities. People. Recycling. You held up your hand. The television glowed. Felt holy. We sat together on a piece of driftwood then and watched the final episode of Married at First Sight. I caught a tear in your eye. Wondered if you’d ever been in love.

X. A seagull shits on Jesus for the third time. You’re fucking kidding me. GO ON. GET OUT OF IT. Filthy fucking birds. GET AWAY. JEE-ZUS! Un-be-FUCKING-lievable.

Sorry. It took me a while to calm down after that. Gulls remind me of the angel Gabriel at times. Arch-winged and anointing. The devil too I suppose. They can fall both ways. You took it better than me. Went to bathe. I found you by the water’s edge. Looking down. Preoccupied. As though you were talking to the future. I called that place XI. Jesus pokes a dead stingray with a stick.

You didn’t say much after that. Just walked a while. Buried in your thoughts. I couldn’t bear it. Jabbered about a shipwreck somewhere nearby. Came across it when I was younger. We passed a mum sitting on a towel. Her son played beside her. Digging. She said he was trying to find it. You told me to carry on. I called that place XII. Approaching Waitarere beach, Jesus prays over the wreck of the Hyderabad.

I think by then we’d done our dash. It had been a long day. The legs were tired. The sun burnt in. “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” you blurted. It was a bit unexpected. I mean I mainly needed flour. But I appreciated the sentiment. We stumbled into a pufferfish then. Dried out on the sand. You lent down and smiled. Whispered something. It flapped about a bit. I picked it up and carried it to the sea. We called that place XIII. Jesus brings a puffer fish back to life.

After that we headed home. It was a good day all up. Apart from the gulls. Got a bit moody at the end. But I put that down to the west coast. I couldn’t have asked for better company. I thought for a long time about what to call that last station. In the end I went for XIV. Jesus leaves a footprint in the sand. I thought it went with all the other scratchings we’d found there. Those shrimpy trails. Paw prints. Tide marks. Birds. Crab holes. The sand was where we had our say. Compared notes. Made points. Left thoughts. Warnings. Poems. Art. The odd piece of music. I went back down the next morning but it was gone. An entire world swept away. In its place I found another. And a whole new set of messages I needed to work my way through.

Take care, JC. It’s been good hanging out. Go well. I hope I see you again soon. Don’t forget to look after yourself out there.

Keep going!