Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Tuesday Poem: The Wahine

Kay McCormick
Photo acknowledged to the Dominion and Sunday Times newspapers.
Published on The Wahine website

The Wahine
Sunk by a storm, April 1968

walking alone you hear all of it
every power pole a-crackle with cicadas,
the sea rattling stones in raw hands,
weatherboard houses crying rust, a dog
hoarse at the end of its chain, the groaning
of a half-built boat,
                              where the gate is
where the sealed road
ends, where the coarse hills fall to their
knees, where the sky pours into a bay as
deep as houses, where we stopped
once to see the savaged sheep, marvelled
at the blood on the white wool, the twist
of its neck, where there’s the pull and push
of the Strait and the rocks bend dumbly to
take it, in the small suck between pull and
push –  

the sound of the truck that day
labouring on the shingle

the loose shoe falling

                                          Mary McCallum

Photo caption: 'Steward Frank Hitchens lies shoe-less and unconscious on the back of a Landrover making its way north along the Pencarrow road, his legs hanging over the rear of the vehicle... Burdan's Gate, where ambulances were parked and waiting, is about a kilometre ahead. Note the condition of the road. Survivors on foot, most without shoes, had to walk for miles through rock debris washed down from the hills by the rain and thrown up by the seas.' [Thanks to the Wahine website for this.]

Frank Hitchens was one of the lucky ones. In his story on The Wahine website, (scroll down), he notes that 47 of the 223 people thrown up on the rocks and beaches along this coastline were killed. 

I walk this road regularly as I live nearby. My brother turned one the day before the storm that claimed the Wahine. I was at school, we were sent home. My father was a radio and TV reporter so he spent the day reporting on events. A friend, Steve, broke through the police cordon and ran to help the people coming ashore. He saved lives. 

The day the Wahine went down, is one of those days in Wellington where you know exactly what you were doing. 

Do visit the Tuesday Poem hub for a fabulous poem about dance written by Jo Thorpe,  and links, via the live blog roll, to a stack more Tuesday Poems. 


TK Roxborogh said...

Again, another heart poking poem, Mary. I do look forward to them. My writing students have gone but I do hope they continue to check in each Tuesday to your blog.

Catherine said...

Yes, I remember vividly. After being sent home from school, I was in my living room on the hills above the west side of the harbour watching the ship go down and the fleet of small craft heading out to pick up survivors.

maggie@at-the-bay.com said...

Eastbourne is your poetic canvas Mary. I like "power pole a-crackle with cicadas".. lovely.

harvey said...


Like the poem.

I was in Hamilton that day. Teaching. Lunch-time radio - Wahine anchored in the harbour, riding out the storm. On the way home called into the local garage. 'The ship's gone down. Large loss of life.' Like Pike River a nation numbing event.

Helen Lowe said...

Great poem, Mary: very powerful. I remember seeing the wreck in Wellington harbour when I was very small; we were crossing on another ferry.

Elizabeth Welsh said...

The sense of sound seems incredibly heightened in this poem, Mary. It is rather electrifying, as is the photograph. Thanks!

Pam Morrison said...

I enjoyed this poem a lot Mary - all those sounds, then that insistent movement and rush of your 2nd verse - like an unpredictable wind, or the unearthed flapping of feelings after a trauma, like this was to so many.

Eileen D. Moeller said...

What a great poem! I love the repetition, the litany of intimate details about place. It has a chanting quality that seems to enact the ride the photo suggests, and the awful anxiety in the whole expereince. Thanks, Mary!


deb www.lifebeyondstuff.com said...

Hi Mary

Do you think all disasters are indelibly imprinted on the memories of those who live through them? Or is this so vivid for us because as New Zealanders we have lived through so few?