Sam Summer

Sam Summer
a prospector in the Depression whose cabin still stands on Mount Crichton,
above Queenstown

Not so odd if the war took it –
His eye for gold.
‘A different gamble,’ he thinks
Pulling his face against the razor.
Not that he’d ever seen
More than a grain at a time
Winking through the gravel in his pan.
The ticket to heaven (if the tales were true)
Found by the old prospectors,
Blasting half the hill with Black Powder
To open a vein and gain the toast of Queenstown,
Had never been his.
What luck he’d had
Just enough to keep ten orphan mouths from clamming.
So a squaddie’s pay seemed the better bet
With dependents named and cared for
If you paid the ultimate.

Odd the tired mountain now his haven.
Dead the wild-eyed diggers
Sieving their tailings for dreams.
Dead the oaths and bleak blasphemies
Rolling the barren slopes and gullies
When hope’s mask drops.
Jerusalem the Golden a pale dream
Since shouldering a rifle,
Red-hot from sluicing all movement
Round after round
Into mute sludge.
All lost.

No loony on the hill
If she visits once again.
Too big now to ride her brother’s shoulders
His hands wrapping her ankles
Her grubby toes wriggling
Squealing every time he turns his face
Against her scrawny, kiddie’s legs,
‘Your bristles, Sammy, tickling me!’
He’ll watch for her today.
Wait for the slanting light
To glint the gold in her hair
As she stops
Catching her breath against the climb
Just a dappling beneath the beeches.
Seat her on the log before the cabin.
Hear her marvel what he’d cleared for veg
The old sieve put to good use
Riddling the patch of stones.

The blade rasps against his stubble.
The boys (long gone) would laugh
To see him half presentable.

‘That is has come to this.’

The Long White Cloud, poems from Aotearoa