Three stanzas for Christchurch

Tess Ashton

15 May 2015

Three stanzas for Christchurch

Three stanzas for Christchurch  

(taken from two larger poems written towards the end of 2009
and before the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011)

Christchurch Girls’ High School girls by the Avon in 1968

we danced
through hagley park
from tennis court to school
girls falling

like amazonians
to tiny avon’s charms
threw jungle calls round weeping trees
swung ropes that rang the bells

the dream of swan and stream
had us in its spell
our phys-ed teacher lingered
let the ballet play

deep limey banks
stalled the call
to wade the sparkling road
chucked the ball mid-stream instead

skimmed toward glimmers
of light ahead
recollection, refraction
threw it back 40 years on

close by, afternoon-empty
classrooms breathed
greek guardians hovered
between school and pond

layers of living words
whirling adrift of books
girls limbering-up
licks of river green that summer

red and orange flames late autumn


The fire - Christchurch Cathedral

When I saw the strange flares yesterday
in a cheap African wood-cut
black peasants swirling with sky-borne water pots
long-swung arms welcoming the desert

the rhythm of first nation people
already warring in my gut
a message going out in
a drum-beating time smouldering
the ridge-line
of me

I’d been thinking of
Christchurch Cathedral
a catacomb for flights
round mystery’s realms
where knees

tender and grimacing on stable straw     
soften the ancient mats
temper souls
then it seemed the flames licked up          

the starry cathedral sky
scattered sparks of desert sand
merged into an orange molten hand
fingers coloured the gleaming night

Spirit madly at work
painting the whole town red                      
living light thrown in swatches round                     
the grey billowy stone

then the out-breath
of the diamond show    
a freely wandering sky
no slim pointing spire                    

or light-daubed dark stone            
instead scorching searching eyes
reached from the plain of rubble
and gazed upon the wide-arcing blue

those who hadn’t knelt
the prism floors too


The River Avon

a city centre was held captive by a quiet dream
a river that rarely overflowed
so deep its parent banks
burnt a tedious hole in the heart of a peninsula

dreams so stagnant
caught without a tide
yet time on its side to break out on the left and the right
for a fountain to break the well’s deep dark

to shock the stream
move it to the wide windy ocean
the resonant fire banked up in me
could be this fountain ready to burst

to scourge the plains
the rising spread of daffodils
the centuries’ old signal along the banks
fragrant trumpets calling the tune

and after the blaze the azure sky will turn
the green shadows of the stream
into a reflection
of blue  of blue   of blue

in christchurch where the river glows
and sparkles tolling like child bells
between high parent banks
like a well forgotten

then losing its place
its moorings
runs away carving its own sweet path
the worry of a songbird

created in its wake
toward its true home
the boatsheds  the tearooms  the botanic gardens
the coalescent riverside offices and pearlescent stately city homes

green backyards that run to the edge of near drowning
my sister raked safely in to port
the family lawn
witnessed from a low clerestory window
through which children peep

when they sink beneath the tide
to flow within the deep.


©Tess Ashton

Image Window, Annette Woodford