Book of numbered days: a sequence of poems, Rapa Nui/Easter Island, July 2012

Tags: Latin America, English Studies, White Rabbit, Gregory O'Brien, Rapa Nui, Hanga Roa, Fishing Boat, South East Pacific White Rabbit, earthly body, Rapa Nui White Rabbit, blue and green eggs, Grandfather clock, M. Jesus Joe, Little Fish, chicken coops, Victoria University of Wellington, Creative Commons, Facultad de Letras, nesting place, numbered days, Stout Research Institute, Latin America Gravestone, Pontificia Universidad Cat, collection of poems, Thor Heyerdahl
Content: English Studies in Latin America Book of numbered days: a sequence of poems, Rapa Nui / Easter Island, July 2012 Author: Gregory O'Brien Source:White Rabbit: English Studies in Latin America, No. 10 (January 2016) ISSN: 0719-0921 Published by: Facultad de Letras, Pontificia Universidad Catуlica de Chile This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 444 Castro Street, Suite 900, Mountain View, California, 94041, USA. Your use of this work indicates your acceptance of these terms.
White Rabbit: English Studies in Latin America Issue 10 (January 2016) ISSN: 0719-0921 Book of numbered days: a sequence of poems, Rapa Nui / Easter Island, July 2012 Gregory O'Brien1 Del Pacifico Sudeste Tangler of twine and fishing wire, we have woken more than once to the sound of you--salt-eyed, krill-enriched turtle-hungry--we have launched 1 GREGORY O'BRIEN is a poet, painter, essayist and art curator. He is 2015 Stout Memorial Fellow at the Stout Research Institute, Victoria University of Wellington. His recent books include a collection of poems inspired by travels in the vast oceanic space between New Zealand and Chile, Whale Years, and a book about New Zealand photography for younger readers, See What I Can See (both published by Auckland University Press, 2015). 1
Gregory O'Brien our boats across your scarred back, thrown our quivering lines beyond your curved horizon. It is emptiness that fills this earth hollowness this sky, but when I think of you, first I think of Neruda's swaying captains on their swaying hill. Following sea, running sea, great sea of the unmade mind you are always between islands, like this song, entangled in your own lines-- one part water, two parts sky--my distant head your unfathomable body. 2
At Tongariki We reach out and touch what is forever and what is forever beyond reach.
White Rabbit: English Studies in Latin America
Gravestone The same gulls wheeling above the cemetery at Hanga Roa trawling for the names of the dead. Each cry a half-remembered inscription lifted high above the headland.
Gregory O'Brien Tangerine Amelia sends me a star chart. No, I am mistaken, it is a map of underwater volcanoes-- a handbook of invisible seamounts above which the heart sends out its research vessels to collect samples and specimens, to record places of departure and arrival, this interminable shaking. My botanist friend, she questions my deliberations. The banana, she tells me, is hardly A Plant let alone a tree. Like ginger it is a perennial herb. I devote the rest of the day to eating mandarins, at least I think they are mandarins. 4
South East Pacific
White Rabbit: English Studies in Latin America
A hurried sky, quickening sea, a voice Curved planks of the sea turtle, a voice The cemetery dogs, a voice A fishing boat called M. Jesus Joe, a voice A baked chicken plucked from a lawn, a voice And another voice, always another voice in reply.
On Easter Island
The great voyages of Polynesian history, of Cook and Laperouse and Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki as nothing compared 5
Gregory O'Brien to the everyday transit, by Southern Pacific Gyre of one bucket, a left-footed jandal and two plastic containers marked 'Property of Sanfords, South Island, New Zealand'. Apparition of the head of a Chilean dictator as a moai, Easter Island Bonegrinder, toothpuller president of all our sleepless nights the eyeless moai of Rapa Nui stare down the prison-blocks of the years, your horse-drawn casket still churning dust, a mound of steaming manure overshadowing La Moneda. From this far province, we wish you a bad night's sleep, Generalissimo, may our volcanic unrest forever rattle your antique limbs and arthritic heart, may you be dissembled, chicken-pecked, horsetrodden, never to be made whole again in this or any other universe. 6
White Rabbit: English Studies in Latin America Elegy The disappeared are always with us, it is emptiness fills the earth. Luck Bird My feast day an occasion of some solemnity. It arrives, as any other, by sea--my nesting place and vantage point, from where I behold this world's wonders--a black cat eating a cucumber, the magnetic navel of a woman, a boy with dog meat between his teeth--and the song allocated each of them, the accompanying guitar made from the shell of a crab or turtle or armadillo. And, mindful of the implications of this, on the far mainland, ever cautious, a crab, a turtle and an armadillo. 7
Gregory O'Brien Hanga Roa The first night awoke to a lizard crowing like a rooster, a card game that sounded like rain on a tin roof... a dog had fallen from a tree, a house was built upon a horse. Guitar, Hanga Roa Eight-stringed and night-long strummed, you prove yourself a necessary accompaniment on these largest of evenings. Bigger 8
than a fish-scale, smaller than the sky how do your songs describe you? Wider than a sardine, narrower than the sea. Sing to us of how, in this world of untimely things, a man might also be defined-- half way between a grass skirt and a headstone, a mollusc and an ocean-liner. Mid-way between a hammer and wind-tossed palm. No, upon reflection do not tell us, Guitar. Sing instead only of your strings and not of how this world is strung.
White Rabbit: English Studies in Latin America
Gregory O'Brien Headstone lamps, Hanga Roa Midnight's luminessence, hilltop graveyard speckled with solar-powered bulbs glowing jellyfish, beacons for the renavigation of moonlit depths. Here on the sea floor of the slender-fingered ones we swim upwards the deep sea creatures we once were we are again. Conversation between a stone head on Easter Island and the weather balloon, Raoul Island 1. Stone head, cliff face you would have us bury our noses in rich volcanic soil or vanish beneath a whale-trammelled sea. Wedged between one world and the next, you measure time as we are measured 10
White Rabbit: English Studies in Latin America by it. Grandfather clock, waist-deep in the quarry of the self, you are both a man's idea of a stone and a stone's idea of a man, your unfathomable body swallowed whole by your distant, proximate head. 2. Wind-bag, balloon-brain each morning miraculously reborn, adrift in the updrafts, convections we tether our words to you, that we might be free of them, that they might plummet, mid-ocean, into the impossibility of our retrieving you. In return, we praise your aptitude, Icarus-bird, maestro of the moment scale model of this finite planet 11
Gregory O'Brien pale, woebegone, you are expelled from this incomparable blueness, summarised made smaller, enfolded inside your falling. Moai, Rapa Nui This is our place. You can't touch mourning it is mourning touches you. It's gone. It's here. The life everlasting, the life that suddenly never was. 12
The non-disappeared, Hanga Roa
White Rabbit: English Studies in Latin America
Monthly, the gravestones are replenished, overwritten in felt pen or chalk the occasional daub of white paint; at times a name will change or be revised, contested. No matter we are all in this together--on this seaward incline overlooking the afterlife. But all we can see from here lights of incoming fishing boats.
Gregory O'Brien The zoo above our heads When the creaking, bird-heavy clouds above Anakena shuffle their electrical selves, the nerves be frayed. I follow the flittering neurons as far back as Santiago Zoo on its hilltop perch, its low-flying population of chimpanzees with names like Nixon and Kissinger and the monkey with the shiniest buttons, Milton Friedman. Some evenings it is as if the contents of the Santiago zoo have fallen upon our heads. Yet, here on Rapa Nui, how mightily the mighty have already fallen that ruinous brigade of gods and ancestors the deflated balloon-man Pinochet and King George Tupou V, all of them face-down, upended and presiding over all 14
the blue and green eggs, the aerial chicken coops of Rapa Nui and the turtle-sun rattling the cages. At Orongo My stone head your earthly body our ocean.
White Rabbit: English Studies in Latin America
A children's song, Hanga Roa
Fishing Boat, Little Fish the swell is always taller than you, the waves 15
Gregory O'Brien more numerous. Thrown around in any weather, you drink far too much. Fishing Boat Little Fish, you trawl your own shadow. It is the plenitude of fishes that keeps you afloat, the constellations and electrical gravestones of Hanga Roa that guide you home. Fishing Boat Little Fish, your family above, your family below--creature of air and water, the oceans of the world are yours to ply, but today your only catch will be this song. 16
The sky above Rapa Nui
White Rabbit: English Studies in Latin America
Salt-grinder of stars peppergrinder of night what is it you listen for? Groan of a straining oarsman, mispronunciation of the Spanish language by the waves at Anakena my wide-awake head your sleeping body?
Church at Hanga Roa And so, Easter Island, I go out, but not so far as to lose sight of you; I go out not so far as to dream. And I dream not so as to leave your body
Gregory O'Brien but to remain there as one might a sloping field. The well-angled stone skims across water but labours on land as does man, that hollow egg or sinking Ship Palm-brained, run aground yet somehow always with us and in us. Remember the Luck Bird, installed crown-like on the Virgin's head-- unholy, yet somehow blessed. We are all such fortunate souls such eggs the Luck Bird lays for us. 18

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