In New Plymouth,
the sea is most often lead,
the horizon a lie of escape,
the windwand a measure of warning.
A stone church sways seasick in grass,
in waves of gravestone,
and a cursed stream hides through the town
like an eel in watercress.
At the backpackers there are chalets
beside that concealed black ribbon,
where pale flayed gums
groan and rattle,
crowd you into their cramped wet valley,
where the weather keeps you prisoner
under banks of saturnine cloud,
lodged with seemingly unpleasant companions,
with an old breast-less woman,
whose dead mouth flat-lined long ago,
who is also waiting in transit,
but unable to free herself from
the incestuous orbit of the mountain.
Is it the purity of that snowcap
that attracts such an unclean spirit?
Karma drawing our misery together
as the strands of eels in that cold creek
plait and rise to feed from scraps?
turns like a dervish —
the Turkish owner
cuts down its side
and catches slivers
in a crescent moon.
His Japanese wife
trots like a marionette
blood in a milk pail
plum dark eyes
dots by a shodo brush.
She aches from grinning
bows and bears away trays
passes benches painted
white as cherry blossoms
for health inspectors
and dreams of a fishing village.
The Welsh kitchen-hand chops chicken.
Happy to be useful for something
he hums a long-gone folksong
boils floor-mopping water
in a sosban fawr.
They all work together now:
bringing, combining ingredients.
The Turk tests his English
chatting as he spices amber marinade
his hand in a jar marked 'Hints' —
crossed out, rewritten 'Herbs'.
Watchful as a minaret
he glowers down and spies
stray plastic not tidied away.
"I want no overseas object here," he says.
The Welshman corrects him:
"You mean 'foreign'."
When they laugh
they are a strange nation
stranded by fog on the window.