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That Winter
Ōngarue, 1923

Airini Beautrais (The Institute of Modern Letters, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand)



That winter, light went sooner from the hill.
I walked my boundary fence, same way I had
for twenty years, and watched the boulders spill
onto the line. This spot was always bad.

I’d told them time and time again to make
a deviation, take my corner field.
But every time, deaf ears. What was at stake
was more than I would risk. Something would yield.

These weeks and weeks of rain and then it did.
One icy morning, keeping to the clock,
the Auckland-Wellington express train slid
around the bend, and met the latest rock.

The feeble headlight no match for the night,
the gas-line carbide-blocked, the engine hit
before the brakes were touched. The ugly light
of dawn lit up the wreckage, sleepers split

to kindling, rails ripped up, the boiler smashed.
Two carriages had telescoped to one,
and on the back of that, a third had crashed.
The living staunchly did what could be done.

Inquiry found the railways not to blame,
they couldn’t have foreseen it. Strike me dumb!
Whatever they said, the dead remained the same.
I grasped my black umbrella, and kept mum.



Airini Beautrais is a current PhD candidate in creative writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters, Victoria University of Wellington. Her most recent work of poetry is a book length sequence, Dear Neil Roberts (Victoria University Press, 2014).

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