The Situation: Carolyn McCurdie

The Situation 2021

Tēnā koutou katoa

‘The Situation 2021’ is a continuation of ‘The Situation 2020’. A kind of Poet Laureate's Choice of work from Aotearoa New Zealand poets for the Poet Laureate blog. Essentially, it will be a portfolio of poetry, posted over the next while, from a range of poets whose work I have enjoyed reading recently: interesting poems for interesting times.

David Eggleton

Along Imaginary Lines of Longitude

At night this city beach disconnects from time

and place. You step from the street to the sand

and the town recedes – flux of tyres on wet roads,


wind-swung streetlights creasing the puddles,

laughter cut off by a door slam – all leak away

like the muted nag of old worries.


Winter wind licks your neck,

chews and worries your hair, your sleeves,



The tide’s coming in, slow forward, slow back,

and stern with the weight of all the world’s water,

weight of the drowned, and the not-drowned.

They’re out there, heaving, restless, where the dark is neither

sea nor sky, and some of them are yours, your forbears.


Family links are thin, but your surname’s a patrilineal thread

from old Gaelic, meaning sea-captain. It’s a slippery fact,

greasy with guesses, assumptions, unlooped from bollards

on other islands, another hemisphere, but reeling you in,

among Donalds, and Dannys, and Marys, and Lizzies,

migrants to tenements, to unskilled work,

and bone-deep torpor of the dispossessed.


And further back,

through the wash of submarines, minesweepers, fishing smacks,

to the naval fleet of an Iron Age people who braved the Atlantic.


And tonight, you peer out at a blurred Pacific horizon;

you feel them, half-see them, lively, hoary, like spray,

like oar-churn, oar-flick, salt-rotted sails that flare and sink,

decks slick with danger binding the crew in unspoken,

ferocious belonging. Eyebrows low,

hands cracked, and stinging, holding on to come home.

Knowing how.


And because of that knowing, you exist.

If they asked: how are you so hollow, unknowing?

How can you live so unmoored? Neither you, the wind

nor the world would have answers.


No answers,

but you take off your shoes, step forward. Step again.

In comes the water, pushing, claiming; the cold’s a shock

to the braced touchpoints of your feet.

It’s not much. But it’s something.

A small, blood-felt connection.

— Carolyn McCurdie

Carolyn McCurdie biography

Carolyn McCurdie is a Dunedin writer of poetry and fiction. She won the 1998 Lilian Ida Smith Award for her fiction, and first prize in the  NZ Poetry Society International Poetry Competition in 2013. Her poetry collection, Bones in the Octagon was published by Mākaro Press in 2015.

Carolyn McCurdie. Image by Doug Lilly.

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