48° 14.5’ S, 168° 18.76’ E

sea

(Person Overboard, 70 kilometres South of Stewart Island, New Zealand, 24 January 2004)

It’s not a sea. It’s ocean.
Brood black skies and so cold it burns.
Vo Minh Que, 22 months of ship time, no kid,
picked up by the whipping line and tossed
like a doll into four metre swells
from a floating death sentence called the Tasnui,
slopping around due south of Rakiura.
They call them factory trawlers. Too glamorous by half –
shitbuckets splattered with rust,
with a tangled shitbucket heap of wires, gears, mesh.
Vo Minh Que, 33 summers deep in life,
remained visible for one to one and a half hours.
They threw three lifebuoys, ten lifejackets, fishing floats,
while he floundered, kicked then slipped away.
Down below, the factory floor knee deep with carcasses.
They slide around in blood and brine
while men rip fish heads off with buzzing blades.
Vo Minh Que, Vietnamese national,
no home town mentioned, no outrage,
no diplomatic incident reported.
His last link the sweaty office
of a crewing agent far from this sightless deep.
They pack bruised flesh in ice,
sweep the excess into the waves
for a trail of seagulls to scream over.
The report from the maritime office
was tidy and concise.
Vo Minh Que, your memorial is archived data,
and perhaps the tears of a mother.
At about 2000 hours, when the deceased
was no longer visible, the crew heaved in the nets
and informed the shore authorities.
Under Korean flag state regulations,
no records are required to be kept
on treacherous strands of wire.
Vo Minh Que, whose last haul dragged
writhing fins and gasping gills from benthic gloom,
whose hands placed this white flesh on our table,
and whose long days profited someone far away
from this place of endless wind and salt.
It’s not a sea. It’s ocean.

(From Ambient Terror)

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Port Chalmers

Port Chalmers

Photo by V.Billot

Port, Dogtown, Koputai, names good and ill,
you look outward to oceans, waiting for the world.

Cruise liners and log boats snuggle your wharves.
A thousand trunks of Pinus Radiata are matchsticks

piled before your crow’s nest lookout,
the channel a blue stripe down ruffled green fur.

Ships glide through the throat of the harbour,
models inserted into the glass bottle of summer.

Nudged under the crook of cliffs, a camel hump
scattered with draughty villas and stone churches,

where wharfies in orange overalls pop in
for a flash coffee, or pie from the dairy.

From ships we live, proclaims your bronze plaque:
and now in place of wool and frozen mutton

are megacubits of golden butter,
and the determined tramp of tracksuited pensioners

embarking from the Princess of the Seas.
Steam curls in fluffy ventings from the flanks

of your looming woodchip mountains,
while the permanent hum of industry pervades you,

wasp yellow diggers growling across yards,
lanky straddles speed-looping the terminal with boxes

to stack and stow in perpendicular precision.
When I was twenty, buzzed on magic mushrooms,

we walked around the fence to Back Beach,
watching giant machines in shadowless glare,

feeling the subterranean drumming
of a goods train clambering through your tunnel.

Now a bark and a cough as monster trucks change down
on George Street, where crusty old hands

mix with tryhard metropolitan newbies, and cultural tourists
wandering the retro boutiques and studios

where bohemians assemble in creative endeavour.
The grey page of evening is inscribed

by the querulous drone of free noise guitar improv,
the demented squawk of a feral rooster,

and the clink of beer bottles from the rugby clubrooms.
The channel lights wink the way home

in a cheery salute of green and red.

Beyond the sea: New Zealand’s ports at risk?

The following article on New Zealand ports and maritime issues was originally published in Foreign Control Watchdog issue 123 (May 2010), the magazine of CAFCA, and is also available online at their site.

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