We remember …

‘Perilous’, precious, this life, these lives, these deaths for which

we now all gather under the sky’s great cloak to mourn.

i.m. Victims of the Christchurch Earthquake, NZ,  22nd February 2011 – Jan Kemp
Words for Christchurch

Words for Christchurch: Andrew Bell

Andrew Bell was driving through central Christchurch when the February 22 quake hit. These are his Words for Christchurch:

THAT TUESDAY

Driving down Lichfield Street,
that banal, modern automaton achievement,
concentration supposedly on total road awareness, defensive driving
only, deep down, even cops would admit we’re
all over the place,
thinking about an apricot and chicken Panini
washed down with a
thought about the germination of a play
or was Roy (substitute any generic Euro/Pakeha name)
giving you the evil eye because you looked
at his missus just a little too long and lateral
or a million f****** other insignificances

When Mother Nature got one s***-kicking
surprise for you, Jack (or Roy if you’d rather)
and She gonna whip your ass with some p-wave
or s-wave or whatever-wave
and suddenly I thought I’d blown a back tyre,
but She was having none of it,
raining down masonry like it was a lolly scramble
of Death.

And I, a transplant in this city, a pseud
Southern Man,
weep to see it go down, to go down
on Kai Tahu, Pakeha, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese
and so on, not the Whitebread city it used to be,
not Skinhead Central,
going down, twisting in agony over Bridle Path,
writhing in pain through London Street
and the Square, not hip, Daddy-O,
but the heart of old, white squattocracy
torn out, that heart and
trampled underfoot.

We lost, we gained,
we waxed, we waned,
we came into the heart of what it means
to be human
and we were spat out by Papatuanuku
like seeds from a watermelon.

Words for Christchurch: Atka Reid and Hana Schofield

coverSisters Atka and Hana and their family were sponsored by a Christchurch family to move to Christchurch from war-torn Bosnia 18 years ago. They’ve written a book about their story, Goodbye Sarajevo, which will be published in early May by Bloomsbury UK. They sent these Words for Christchurch:

Christchurch has been home to our family.

When we first moved there from Bosnia it was the generosity and kindness of several Christchurch families that helped us through the tough times. We will always be grateful for that and Christchurch has a special place in our hearts.

We wrote Goodbye Sarajevo at the Christchurch Central Library. The book launch was scheduled to be in Christchurch next month, at Scorpio book shop, but due to the earthquake that’s been moved to Auckland. We do hope that once Scorpio is up and running again we will be able to celebrate the occasion with our Christchurch family and friends.

Our thoughts are with the people of Christchurch where most of our family still live. Our hearts go out to many people who have lost their loved ones, their homes and livelihoods and we hope that our story can give them a glimpse of hope and some comfort in these times of hardship. To quote one of the reviews:

Goodbye Sarajevo is a beautiful story that turns from sorrow to happiness, redemption, restoration. Goodbye Sarajevo shows that sometimes out of dire circumstances, new lives, new beginnings are possible.

Best wishes,
Atka and Hana
www.goodbyesarajevo.com

Words for Christchurch: Mark Pirie

Mark Pirie is a Wellington poet, editor and publisher who has a number of relatives living in Christchurch. He was saddened by the deaths of so many, especially fellow poet Rhys Brookbanks in the CTV building.  He wrote these Words for Christchurch.

WATER by Mark Pirie

For Mayor Bob Parker and the people of Christchurch

After the shaking
struck, Christchurch
was never the same.

Everywhere, people
rushed to help rescue
and remove the debris.

As if in a war zone
buildings crumbled,
collapsed, becoming

mere rubble. Businesses
and jobs lost. Lives taken.
Hearts broken in homes.

The age-old question
“Why?” Yet, the human
spirit began once more.

Students, farmers arrived
for the clean-up, the Mayor
helped restore the calm.

It could be weeks, maybe
months, but he was sure
they could rebuild, drink again.

Poem copyright Mark Pirie 2011

Words for Christchurch: Kevin Ireland

Acclaimed poet and novelist Kevin Ireland wrote these Words for Christchurch.

A house in Christchurch

The whole house fell around him.
First the books were flung across
the room, then the shelves splintered

and ripped apart. That’s what
he now remembers. A whole library
flying at him, to the thunder and slams

and hammers of hell. The quake had him
on strings as it jigged him outside
where next he watched windows, walls

and chimneys sway, split and pitch.
The curious thing is that for a moment
he saw the house take off into the sky

on a choking updraft of dust.
It seemed to levitate before
miraculously recasting itself as debris.

Cities are built to become
the rubble of another age.
As a connoisseur of ruins he comprehends

inexorable truth, yet he will never
bring himself to see why his house
should be among the first to go

or how his neighbours had to die.
He has always accepted that civilisations
have an end. But when

he was in Ephesus he did not witness
the old and gorgeous houses
being torn apart by devils

in veils of dust. He looked everywhere,
but did not see one brick topple
or a single book take flight.

Words for Christchurch: Jan Kemp

Poet and short story writer Jan Kemp sent these Words for Christchurch to us from Germany.

i.m. Victims of the Christchurch Earthquake, NZ,  22nd February 2011

Tunisia, Egypt, Christchurch, Libya, Japan,

a month of revolutions & catastrophes each one occurring

as we revolve, a bit askew, on our wobbly axis round the sun.

Each one, none less our own than our own; & of the smallest

we each know of a particular someone: we, a small

population, close-knit, here in this ‘far-pitched … hostile place …

fixed at the friendless outer edge of space’,

[Sonnet of Brotherhood, R.A.K. Mason]

someone whose name was on the missed list,

someone whose house was smash-hit or now red-ticketed for demolition,

someone the rescuers in Day-Glo-orange and hard hats

putting themselves on the line couldn’t helicopter out

from an upper floor, a punched-out window or find under

slabs of concrete and bricks that once clad the sides

of Durham & Colombo Streets. Like young city fathers,

the new skyscrapers among their nineteenth century

re-facaded elders, all now steel girders & plates & shards

made giant spilled Meccano, as if after a bomb had dropped –

the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächntis-Kirche in Berlin with its still-broken spire

left as a remembrance, a new one built no higher, from the ground up.

Will we leave Christchurch Cathedral’s spire as rubble or rebuild it

too as a sign, like the words: Monte Cassino, Gallipoli, Anzac, signs of what

we feel is and was our innocence abroad, whether or not the disaster

was human-caused or of natural force beyond control?

Who can take on Ruaumoko stirred up to such fury, striking at random to vent internal wrath

from our planet’s core even an earthquake god cannot be blamed for?

‘Perilous’, precious, this life, these lives, these deaths for which

we now all gather under the sky’s great cloak to mourn.

Jan Kemp MNZM, Kronberg im Taunus, Germany, Sunday 13 March 2011

Words for Christchurch: Mary McCallum

Author and freelance writer Mary McCallum – well-known to some as a frequent guest on National Radio – Wrote these Words for Christchurch.

Earth

For the people of Canterbury after the September earthquake, 2010

Day 1
it mobs us
leaves us
immobile

we are aghast and naked in the doorway
clutching each other, where’s the dog?
we are flying for the children, calling
their names, we are the woman up to her neck
in it, scrabbling for a handhold, calling —
the child behind her on the path stay there
the one she’s rushing to collect stay there
we are the boy running to the grandfather, calling —
we are the family watching the capsizing house

stay               there

earth in our ears
earth in our eyes
earth in our hair

Day 2
it runs its fingers
along the fences
and power poles
leaves behind
the sound
anxiety makes

there are
early births
and heart attacks
sleep flies from
windows like
featherless birds

Day 3
the faultline is the

break
in the spine and the

back

and neck
hip

and shoulder bones

adjusting

are the
after
shocks

Day 4
it nudges
like
a dog does
makes
the child vomit
makes
his little brother
shake
and shake and shake

the looters take what they like

the homeless take what they can

the mother says she can’t take anymore

the dairy owner says take what you like pay later

Day 5
it changes
the way we
face the world
that shop we
knew that street
we grew up in
that church
in Little River
we drove past on the way to our holidays

Day 6
the crane             drivers      are having a        field day
one  saves              a chandelier and        bows      to the applause
one unpicks a      wall brick     by brick      and leaves small
pyramids ready for       rebuilding    there are too many
toppled chimneys      too many buildings on their     knees
nothing can     be done about         Telegraph Road

Day 7
earth in our hair
earth in our ears
earth in our eyes

we are naked in the doorway
we are shaking like leaves
we are up to our neck in it

scrabbling for a handhold calling —

Mary McCallum

Earth

For the people of Canterbury after the September earthquake, 2010

Day 1
it mobs us
leaves us
immobile

we are aghast and naked in the doorway
clutching each other, where’s the dog?
we are flying for the children, calling
their names, we are the woman up to her neck
in it, scrabbling for a handhold, calling —
the child behind her on the path stay there
the one she’s rushing to collect stay there
we are the boy running to the grandfather, calling —
we are the family watching the capsizing house

stay               there

earth in our ears
earth in our eyes
earth in our hair

Day 2
it runs its fingers
along the fences
and power poles
leaves behind
the sound
anxiety makes

there are
early births
and heart attacks
sleep flies from
windows like
featherless birds

Day 3
the faultline is the

break
in the spine and the

back

and neck
hip

and shoulder bones

adjusting

are the
after
shocks

Day 4
it nudges
like
a dog does
makes
the child vomit
makes
his little brother
shake
and shake and shake

the looters take what they like

the homeless take what they can

the mother says she can’t take anymore

the dairy owner says take what you like pay later

Day 5
it changes
the way we
face the world
that shop we
knew that street
we grew up in
that church
in Little River
we drove past on the way to our holidays

Day 6
the crane             drivers      are having a        field day
one  saves              a chandelier and        bows      to the applause
one unpicks a      wall brick     by brick      and leaves small
pyramids ready for       rebuilding    there are too many
toppled chimneys      too many buildings on their     knees
nothing can     be done about         Telegraph Road

Day 7
earth in our hair
earth in our ears
earth in our eyes

we are naked in the doorway
we are shaking like leaves
we are up to our neck in it

scrabbling for a handhold calling —

Mary McCallum

Mary McCallum

Words for Christchurch: Kay McKenzie Cooke

Kay McKenzie Cooke is a poet based in Dunedin who sent these Words for Christchurch, sharing her personal connections to Christchurch and how the earthquake has impacted the lives of people around the country.

‘Makes you think’

I was looking forward to the start of 2011; I hadn’t found 2010 to be a very settled year. On one level, I put the unsettled feeling down to it being the Year of the Tiger. However, I don’t put much credence on such, so on another level, I just put it down to life.

An event that had started 2010 off for me, was reading at a poetry reading for Chinese New Year celebrations at the Chinese Gardens here in Dunedin. As it happened, it was also the day that my youngest granddaughter was born. Both her mother and her sister were also born in the Year of the Tiger; something that had been on my mind that dusty, windy day. One of the other readers there said, “The Year of the Tiger is meant to be a year peppered with sudden surprises.” I wondered what was ahead.

As the year progressed, on a personal level, surprises did seem to be happening; one of them was a wonderful, quickly-arranged visit over from Japan by our son. He had with him his nine-month old baby boy for us to meet (and hold and hug). There was also my mother’s 80th birthday in September to look forward to.
Then at 4:36 a.m. on September 4th, there was a not-so-good surprise. A massive earthquake hit Christchurch causing a great amount of damage, but miraculously, no loss of life. Luckily, all our family there were okay and their houses largely undamaged.

In the aftermath, we selfishly wondered if our mother’s birthday party, planned to be held at our sister’s place in Christchurch, would go ahead. Could we expect our 80-year-old mother to be alright there, with all those aftershocks and talk by geologists of the likelihood of another ‘big one’? However, my sister and her two daughters were okay, her house was okay, and she said, “Of course it’s still at my place.” The party went ahead and the arrival of a sister secretly flown over from Perth to surprise our mother, was a success.

While in Christchurch we experienced the fear of after-shocks and saw where broken parts of the city lay, cracked and shattered. I drove with my sister to go and buy supplies for the party. The trip took us hours because of slow traffic on damaged and blocked roads.

I thought about what Christchurch meant to me. My husband, Robert, spent three years at university there and after we got married, we lived there for a time. My sister has lived there for nearly forty years now. Early in the twentieth century, three of my father’s sisters (Agnes, Alice and Joy) in turn, moved from their home in Orepuki, Western Southland, to make their homes in Christchurch. They married there, raised families there and died there.

Richard Liddicoat, the Christchurchian who has invited writers to write in support of Christchurch, happens to be the grandson of one of those sisters; Alice. In September, 2010, my sister and I met him for the first time. I remember us sitting at a favourite cafe of his. I remember the owner hailing him as we walked in the door. (I wonder if that cafe still exists?) We sat at an outside table, and as we talked I could see on the banks of the Avon River opposite, cheerful daffodils bobbing normally in a spring breeze.

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Words for Christchurch: Brian Easton

Public Library, Christchurch, N.Z.Brian Easton, economist and Listener columnist, wrote these Words for Christchurch. He tells us of his reading life through books, the special place the old public library on Hereford street holds in his heart, and his hopes for that site post earthquake.

Dear Richard,

I could not write to anyone in the Christchurch public library about what is happening after the Christchurch earthquake. The library is too integral a part of me. Not the new one on Oxford Terrace but the old one – on the site since 1863 – on the corner of Hereford St and Cambridge Terrace, opposite the police station (it is still the site of the old YMCA for me) and with the Canterbury Club on its north (never been in it).

It is so central to my Canterbury and to my growing up there. Both the university and the Royal Society had their first meetings there. My grandfather would cycle all the way from St Albans with my mother on the bar to collect books. I biked there by myself the five kilometres from South Christchurch – those were days when it was safe for a kid, and pleasant enough too; I can still describe the precise route (including the variations, some designed to moderate a head wind).

I am not sure when I started. I must have been very young, for I recall taking Enid Blytons and Biggles from the spacious children’s library on the left of the entrance. I was dismayed when they disappeared from the shelves. My mother, who became a librarian – Hilmorton High School has named its library the Thelma Easton Library for her years of service, in which she paid particular attention to encouraging children to read  – told me they were removed because children kept rereading them and didnt move on. (Years later I found a copy of Up the Faraway Tree, but the magic I remembered had drained away.)

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Words for Christchurch: Emma Currie

Emma Currie is a second-year student at the Hagley Writers’ Institute.

State of Emergency

1.
Hazy lazy skies
fractured terra firma, fractured people
bathing in dusted blood
while buildings play dominoes.

2.
Candle wicks tired
lulled into foetal positions
ears to transistors
terror disseminated through airwaves
lives interrupted.

3.
Electricity lies dormant
if tears could be bottled no one would want for thirst
hiding helps embroider the truth
as the death toll rises.

4.
Hearts in hands
buildings on the ground
tarps billowing spinnakers
like basketballs rusty nailed planks
catch air.

5.
Powerlines swing
inviting nimbus to play jump rope
dust twirls like khaki tutus
rubble quivers playing statues
in the whipped wind.

6.
Anxiety is a hand held
trauma is hands and knees on the ground
destruction revealed
a scarlet red curtain raised
as dust and smoke settle
waiting, red sticker, yellow sticker, green.