Rāhui: Autumn Lockdown Journal


Australia's heat map in January
glowed every which way, red, purple, black,
and our skies were made yellow by trans-Tasman smoke,
while scarcely less fraught were dog-days of February,
as arrivals drifted through airport duty-free,
in a haze of competing perfume spritzes,
and reports came of a strange virus out of Wuhan,
pale horse and pale rider.

Always to islanders danger comes over the sea;
heat sensors found fever in arrivals from Iran and Italy;
then there was talk of superspreaders,
of clusters in Bluff and on cruise ships,
that made us all nervous.
Some spoke of the sins of the borderless
world being visited upon our people.

Corona once meant halo, but now universal contagion:
viral status only rubbed out by strict sanitisation.
This changes everything, virologists claimed.
The Ides of March announced our new New Year,
when Pasifika was cancelled and things became clear.
Mad psychic weather with moonboots on was closing in,
though it was an Indian summer and days were fine.


As Anubis weighs the heart of the deceased
against truth's feather and counts the cost,
in the Egyptian Book of the Dead,
so the New Zealand Government looked ahead,
and blinked, then said, this is a time of crisis,
and an end to all speculation: full alert, Code Red.

Jacinda arose with the down-home hippy vibe
of a primmer's teacher, newly promoted to principal,
guiding toddlers on a bush walk during a storm,
which has suddenly grown very dark and bleak
from what it was at the start of the week.
Jacinda Influencer, knocking the lid off
and getting to work with the Can-Do mentality,
puts out an order for an imminent lockdown;
her forehead furrows, all must prepare to go to burrows,
or to warrens of burrows, and isolate.
Press Gallery questions coil and whip at sore points,
each answer a lightning rod for more questions.
We are all caught somewhere between a fever dream
and a model predicting rapid escalation.

My ballpoint slides over this journal's white paper
the way a wave's crest is crossed by a surfer,
to leave a foam of excitable scribbles.
Hers is a prohibition, a proclamation, a rāhui —
go hard, or go home: so long, farewell, haere rā.
With a sense of imminent apocalypse and angst,
Kiwis are given just two days warning
of intent for all to move to live as shut-ins.


Sovereign nations briskly airlift out their citizens;
Aotearoa seals itself within the salt-lick
of Te moana nui a Kiwa, as if, like a cove
bent on skullduggery,
Covid-19 could come ashore at a cove,
under cover of darkness, bearing seeds of strife.
Grasped reins of sea-horses, clouds raising anchor:
everybody's clearing off, you bet your life.

The Response rigmarole is trusted: we must prepare,
and anyway it has all bought time,
to have the whole country swing on a dime
and shelter as one, within local habitations.
This is a dog-whistle sheep round-up issue:
herd the mob together and get them to trot.

Forty-eight hours, town's already looking bare,
as a single seagull sculls up George Street,
slowly its wingtips rise and dip;
soon all towns will be silent and queer
as a five-cornered square with emptiness.
The cancel culture is everywhere.
Abyssinia: in a while, crocodile: after lockdown.


Visitors grab their things and run,
the abrupt surge inwards has begun,
leaving the outdoors to the outdoors,
to roving magpie, ravening possum, furtive wallaby,
the antic rantipole stoat that darts bushwards,
the swamp harrier that airily rides a skyhook down.

Oh to sail like a falcon over Franz Josef,
its bluey white ice, to the grizzled silver
of braided rivers in their mournfulness,
coasting leeward of the Alps, one more time.
Those braided tresses rise out of the skull
of Hine nui te Po, mountain-white in the night,
and quiver, for she humps earthquake weather on her back,
and each silver braid flexes its own track.

As we close New Zealand's showroom curtains,
it seems an advantage to be distant islands,
even though it's only a small world after all.
A shiny vacancy of rental cars surrounds Queenstown,
and ghostly tumbleweeds bowl along her streets;
no cafe now does cinnamon toast to go,
and no snowflakes swirl out over the lake.


Alert Level Four's all padlock snick, shove of rusty bolts,
lawns being mowed, home repairs being done.
Fear is a plume of airborne droplets;
you may try not to inhale, but that's bound to fail;
best not to go anywhere, just stay here.
Home-alones zone out with headphones.
Travel agents decommissioned; tourist hordes demobilised:
big oil offshore sucks it up through a straw.

Autumn in lockdown's something half-criminal,
half heroic, because, by breaking the rules,
you could get someone infected, even kill them,
so the country expects all to do their duty,
while fallen leaves turn a russet brown,
and rosella parrots flit between branches.

There are briefings daily at 1pm on the TV,
where, calm and collected, Doctor Bloomfield nixes
the bravado of masks, unless you're hospital staff.
Stilts and oystercatchers patrol our beaches,
checking up on invertebrates beneath the sand.


Compass needle feels dead set; might get more deadly yet;
couldn't get much higher than Level Four;
how sombrely introspective each face looks.
From front windows, teddy bears, more and more,
stare at the dormant glooms of suburban streets.
All the shopping malls have gone quite quiet,
just rumbling of trucks sidling into docks,
bringing container-loads of perishables:
hot cross buns, well as fruit and vegetables.
April Fool's Day, Bauer Media folds our best bets:
North and South, Woman's Weekly, Listener magazine;
though journos storm on Twitter, Bauer has no regrets.

Evening skies from the back porch, halfway to nowhere,
go from yolk-yellow to bark-ochre to starry dark.
Sometimes there are borrowings from Tiepolo:
clouds like pink cherubs on a palace ceiling in Venice.
Other nights, the raging orange of Jeffrey Harris,
capturing some high operatic drama;
or else the chill diluted blue of Joanna Paul.
Each dawn brings its own eureka,
and panning the bright fine gold of autumn days.

Experts predict a graph rising like Kaikoura,
towards mountains of the whited dead;
and every frowning emoji on a computer,
stalks the double-fault of eldritch metaphor.
It's closing time in the gardens of the West;
lamplights are burning out all over Europe;
and the virus is a riddle wrapped
in a mystery inside of an enigma,
but we are assured that its code can be cracked.


On social media, shrill trolls moan and mutter
their throw-shade conspiracy schmutter,
but if all the conspirators' theories
were laid end to end to the moon,
I think you're gonna find
they still couldn't bend a single spoon
with their hive mind;
and only Jeff Bezos can levitate
Bill Gates to the pangolin eldorado
at the end of any Amazon rainbow;
while Jacinda Stardust twinkles benignly,
like snow on cloudpiercer Aoraki.

Jacinda Alert, she triggers the alarm,
hammers the message, and nails it home
with the force of a judge's gavel,
to orchestrate the polyphony of God Defend New Zealand
for a godless age; and globally there are requiems
and outlooks grim, while numbers of the dying
go on climbing; and Neil Gaiman
chats about loving the slow pace of life here,
and how he'd like to stay and stay,
then immediately breaks bounds and flies away.

As Covid-19 shuffles closer, like a phantom plague of skinks,
we sink into the domestic like mudfish in dried-up wetlands.
So we might read tomorrow in the tea-leaves,
in the smoky taste of lapsang souchong,
or in the gumboot taste of Choysa,
through days of warmish mild weather,
while leaves wind-beaten to bruise-yellow
drop simpering out of the trees.


Māui's fishhook glitters in the sky at dusk,
and earthshine lights up the lunar disc.
In midnight's silence, ghost-calling owls mope,
and mercy errands are dashed on by health workers.
Daylight, from dewy grass, brings forth field mushrooms,
and the pale brown caps of Blue Meanie shrooms.
In Wanaka, they are hurrahing in the harvest;
this year it's a bumper vintage crop.
The grape-pickers are unemployed guides and climbers;
above the must hovers a kind of delicate dust,
that settles its motes through the vineyard air;
while chilly gusts flap the golden tapestry of leaves,
as if to chase out some deeply hidden dragon there.

Here in Dunedin, from within the cocoon we call home,
we contemplate the burl of a Barry Brickell pot,
in which garden flowers unfurl,
and ponder the coronavirus froth
that gargles in compromised lungs
like a mustard gas attack at the Battle of Verdun.
They are pulling the plug out on old-timers
where healthcare's overwhelmed,
as we learn when we nurse to our bosoms
the glimmers of data streams,
held mesmerised and hushed by our screens.

Hedgehogs do battle on the back lawn
like mighty mammoths,
lit up by a torch in the small hours;
and by day there's the humdrum business
of dishwater down plug-holes,
and the smell of bread and biscuits being baked.
And everyone plays detective or enforcer,
even dobbing in the wayward Minister of Health,
after photographing his whereabouts by stealth.
The TV has turned into a kind of tureen
ladling out brown Windsor soup into the bowls
of the masses in the Sabbath calm of every evening.


To venture forth for fresh air, like a witness,
is to see each person englobed in amber, on their own island,
or else in lockstep with a significant other,
or with well-exercised dogs;
and then closer, half turned away, apprehensive,
to make a wide berth, give you the swerve like a fata morgana;
and blackbirds, those grave-footed mincers,
haunt wastelands brambled with neglect,
while sentinel thorns surround ramparts of rock,
below a shuttered and barred church,
yellow-striped Level Four notice pasted to the locked door.

Easter, and children place Easter Bunny cards
in bedroom windows, while cats doze
and vigils are kept by toy figurines
lying abandoned in front yards
where finches flitter,
as some of the young and restless chafe at quarantine
and barge in groups through desolate car-parks,
as out of the blue air spins a kererū feather,
and day after day is sunny.

Ebikes whizz by, saddlebags loaded, 
the cyclists wearing sunnies and gloved and masked 
in splendid isolation.
Iso-bubble drivers are edgy in rear-view mirrors,
in solitary confinement for the duration of their trip,
supermarket-bound before quickly back to lockdown;
and George Street is becalmed at eventide in a brownout,
as if powered down near zero on the grid,
but traffic lights still blink and police cars glide.


Moon is underwater, drought is in the land,
Covid-19, curious term, now one we all understand.
No country's neutral, all in thrall to the catchy virus,
and the spectre of economic anarchy haunts
both populist and globalist narratives,
from Britain to Brazil, by way of Washington,
Orbán Bolsanaro to Boris Putin,
Duterte Modi to Marine Trump.

The Anzac Day fanfare is subdued this year
to standing unified apart,
at the front gate, in faint echo of a brass bugle,
as red fills the sky and sunrise flashes on
the instant bronze age of house window panes.
Bright berries glow like drops of drawn blood,
and is that The Last Post catching on the wind,
or just the wheezy hinge of the unlatched gate?
Or is it the cry of the Covid-19 barbarian at the gate,
trying in its pesky microbe way to aggregate?

Some couch-surf all day in an anti-viral fug,
others putter round, play Candy Crush, or want a hug.
I hear Ashley Bloomfield, voice of pragmatic calm,
suddenly say, with a Dalek's krark krark:
Eliminate! Eradicate! Exterminate!
For that is what the Covids hate!
And then his voice pitch-shifts back to normal,
on RNZ National, the sensible public official,
giving his Daily Briefing on the need for vigilance.


At last we're descending to Level Three,
a quota of freedom for you and for me,
and it's very nearly May, up in the hills,
we in our sunshot bubble admiring Red Admirals.
They nest on nettles then dance arrestingly away,
as noon burnishes the long-stemmed ragwort,
pestiferous grand-daddy to all the young ragwort;
and bracken winds spiderwebs down to the clay,
here by the shine of the wind-punished tussock;
and hark, hark, to the lark that trills,
above roofs, Stadium, and factory mills.
Weatherwise, the clouds turn dressing-gown grey,
as we get in our car and drive carefully away
from others, following distancing that must be obeyed,
or render perilous the whole blockade.

From Michigan in the USA,
we learn of protestors who boast that they
are willing to take a bullet for their neo-liberal beliefs
in the right of consumer choice and the right to Live Free or Die,
and that to follow rules of social distancing
is to be brainwashed in a Communist laundry,
with your mind pleated and steam-ironed to uniformity:
net result, virus spread increases and more people die,
the uncanny like wildfire leaping from host to host.
As P.M. Ardern said, it's a pandemic, damn it —
and you assemble at your peril and your loss.

Trump, at first, advised Americans just to relax,
and carry on with eating to the max;
and then he changed this soothing tune,
for a sinister dirge of blame and blame again,
anyone he thinks is lame, or in his way.
Although a proven liar,
he promises a miracle cure,
and drinks his pepped-up quinine
with a horrible equine whinny,
making tasty smacking noises through tiny lips.
Never say never, but Americans ever
need to trace the Rona with a scanner,
then hit it with lockdown's hammer till it's done,
or the menace will go on menacing forever and a day,
and America's very fabric continue to fray,
in a kind of Fantasy Sci-Fi Horror Thriller Show.


Now the month of May advances,
the skies are bright and clear,
Orion's belt turns, the Southern Cross blazes,
in this Plague Year.
A black river careers deeply through the gorge,
as the last embers of sunset are snuffed out;
so it's bravo to frontline nurses both here
and overseas, while our teams largely prepare
to stand down, as we get ready
to go down to Level Two on 14 May,
when you can get a takeaway from a cafe
to take home;
and while at first no more than ten
at a pinch can be together,
if the logging of new cases stays steady at nil,
then in a week or maybe a fortnight,
a hundred souls can gather
as their birthright,
without fear of the long tail.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson,
who has dispensed largesse of money
for the sake of the economy,
on Budget Day promises further subsidy.
Hopes are, that, thanks to track and contact trace,
the least person will not be found out of place,
before the next wave breaks
on a further shore for a more weary nation.

So the future's not what it used to be, nor are we,
and here we go, here we go, here we go,
or rather here we stay;
and is that Teddy on the window sill still,
and will we go back to Level Three,
and will there be jobs for you and me, after lockdown?
This is the end of autumn, the end of May,;
and we are backing into a Southerly,
towards the warmest winter ever,
while in the garden in the sunshine,
a heavy kererū clings,
like a happy homing pigeon
to the branches of a favourite tree;
and by the sugar nectar feeder a bellbird sings
and a bumble bee bumbles
and the tūī argue at high frequency.
I read online in USA Today that American
columns of the sick and columns of the dead
march in ever greater numbers.
As humans, we are always approaching and leaving normal.
Deep breaths then, and a slow and even breathing.
Breath is a vapour. Skin is a porous border.
A poem is a kind of respirator.

- David Eggleton