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He Tangata Kī Tahi April 10, 2013

Posted by newsthatstaysnews in Uncategorized.
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(Maori for a man who speaks only once, i.e. is good for his word)

Somehow, my friend and I each come to describe the Coromandel. She sees a deep blue sea and low, round, rolling hills, above which is a long white cloud. I see a tarantula sleeping under a hat.

Hers is an accurate and relevant description, and a good segue to Aotearoa, Maori for ‘land of the long white cloud,’ and another name for New Zealand.  In a way, its clarity and directness feel familiar – I wonder if good nonfiction writing is habit forming.    I fear that suspect poetry certainly is: I might say my descriptions tend to try to capture something nontrivial or nothing at all.  She better describes it as characterized by either timidity or swagger.  At any rate, like using too many commas, it is far too deeply engrained in how I think about words to do much about it either way.  For what it’s worth, I stand by my description, but I would also be the first to concede that if you’ve never seen the Coromandel, it will be of no use to you. Even if you have seen a tarantula doze under a hat, it won’t help you in the least to picture the scene before us.

I think about this at other times. At some point, we swim in a small cove. The water is cold, and the volcanic rocks beneath it are sharp, so I get out.  The tide is rising and the beach is steep, so with every big wave gravel rolls up higher, then tumbles back down at the ebb. It’s not as delicate as the sound on the beach beneath the island’s world war two gun emplacements, because it’s missing a higher wind-chime clattering sort of noise. We discuss this a little bit. It sounds a bit like gravel sliding, but it’s rounder and more polished, and besides this sound is unfamiliar. It’s a little more like grain, like when you pour rice into a cup, only a little richer in a way I still can’t characterize.

When I sit beneath a pōhutukawa, I think it looks like an old a withered grey dragon, claws sunk into the cliffside, ridges and scales emerald green. It twists , and it dries, and it threatens to flake like dry skin. When I stand on the beach beneath the guns at Stony Batter, I think about the distant pale blue coromandel, the unnaturally regular slope of the little island on the left, looking for all the world like a great bullet train rising out of the weeds. I think about the golden hills beneath the guns, scabrous with evergreens.

I try to imagine what it would be like if I felt this urge to capture in words often, much less if I felt it around people. It would be overwhelming.

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