They are walking again on the hills today
dressed in black and bowler hatted.
Are they lost? They seem purposeful.
headed for a future full of sheep.
drop furled umbrellas
pull at fob chains
strung across their chests.
‘Could it be we missed it all?’
they show the teeth not seen
in usual pioneer portraits
salute Queen Victoria
remove their carefully waxed moustaches
and throw them to the wind
where feathered by the foam
from off the waves
they fly and circle.
And at Tairoa Heads
by anxious Americans, who
of the moustache birds
of late departing souls
hail them as cormorants
and sometimes albatross.
(c) Helen Mckinlay
This poem came out of four months studying in Dunedin, where on days off I became a tourist. The Toitu Otago Settlers Museum was a great place to visit…one of my favourite parts being the portrait gallery lined with paintings and photos of early settlers (pioneers). Have you noticed that early settlers usually have their mouths closed in photographs. My friend Joyce reckoned it was because they had awful teeth on account of no dentists! Makes sense to me. My favourite place was the Otago Peninsula, where amongst other delights the Taiaroa Heads Royal Albatross Colony is situated. On days when the albatross don’t show and one needs a good photo there’s nothing like a moustache bird! Hence the anxious Americans in the poem.
This poem was published in Typewriter iv edited by Elizabeth Welsh. I have made some changes since.
Please return to the Tuesday Poem Hub for an excellent choice by this week’s editor T.CLear.