2 On the Shortest Day of the Year

If the black tree ferns teach me of winter
I remember this is the house of sleep.
At morning my friends do not rouse early
And I walk by the wharepuni in the sun
With a rubber-ferruled stick and sandals on my feet,
Not worrying too much about the price of living.

They say on the marae, ‘The living to the living;
The dead to the dead’ – These black bones of winter
Will rise and walk with lightning in their feet
One day, but not yet. To welcome the doom of sleep
Is Adam’s fate, though the molten gaze of the sun
Rouses to simple joy the birds that wake early

As if in paradise. I had to learn early
How to bear the yoke that rests on the back of the living,
The grief of all who travel beneath the sun,
Because the soul cannot cast off winter
Until Christ comes to wake her from her sleep
And the stars begin to journey on joyful feet,

Those archers with their arrows, whose proud feet
Trample above our roofs. Walking early
On the road from Raetihi, able to long for sleep,
Able to suffer pain, my body cold, but living,
A man in the grip of the dark, I saw the stars of winter
Blaze with the light but not the heat of the sun,

Rivers of fire above me. Then I craved for the sun
To shine on my wet head, to warm my feet,
To bring me alive out of the ditch of winter
Like God’s arms. Here, though, I lie down early,
Comforted by the faces of the living,
Under a dry blanket, to talk and then to sleep.

If the guitar twangs till dawn, and one can’t sleep,
Friends are the cause of it. Only when the sun
Lifts the valley fog do I rouse to join the living,
Drink some coffee, put sandals on my feet,
And go to walk on the grass of the marae early
Where pools of muddy water lie in winter.

I praise your winter, Lord, from the kingdom of sleep.
You shine like the early light of the sun
On a road that is hard for my feet. To be is hard for the living.