Rocket Show // James K Baxter

I've just finished reading an anthology of James K Baxter's poetry and this one won't leave me.


Rocket Show

As warm north rain breaks over suburb houses

Streaming on window glass, its drifting hazes

Covering harbour ranges with a dense hood: 

I recall how eighteen months ago I stood

Ankle-deep in sand on an Otago beach

Watching the fireworks flare over strident surf and bach, 

In brain grey ash, in heart the sea-change flowing

Of one love dying and another growing. 


For love grows like the crocus bulb in winter

Hiding from snow and from itself the tender

Green frond in embryo; but dies as rockets die

 (White sparks of pain against a steel-dark sky) 

With firebird wings trailing an arc of grief

Across a night inhuman as the grave, 

Falling at length a dull and smouldering shell

To frozen dunes and the wash of the quenching swell. 



There was little room left where the crowd had trampled

Grass and lupin bare, under the pines that trembled

In gusts from the sea.  On a sandhillock I chose

A place to watch from.  Then the rockets rose, 

O marvellous, like self-destroying flowers

On slender stems, with seed-pods full of flares, 

Raining down amber, scarlet, pennies from heaven

On the skyward straining heads and still sea-haven. 

Had they brought death, we would have stood the same

I think, in ecstasy at the world-end flame. 


It is the rain streaming reminds me of

Those ardent showers, cathartic love and grief. 

As i walked home through the cold streets by moonlight, 

My steps ringing in the October night, 

I thought of our strange lives, the grinding cycle

Of death and renewal come to full circle, 

And of man's heart, that blind Rosetta stone, 

Mad as the polar moon, decipherable by none. 


James K Baxter, 1926 – 1972

© James K Baxter. All rights reserved