02 April 2020

What You Leave Behind: my tribute to Jeanette Fitzsimons

I was asked to write a poem in tribute to Jeanette Fitzsimons for her Wellington memorial service. That service, along with so much else, has now been postponed, but here is the poem - with thanks to Jenny Campbell for suggesting the whakatauki that precedes it.

This poem was published as part of Coal Action Network Aotearoa's tribute to Jeanette Fitzsimons - Jeanette and I were members of the Coal Action Network Aotearoa Organising Group, and here is the full tribute, which has some wonderfully-written pieces about Jeanette.

What You Leave Behind


Ehara i te tii e wana ake.
It is not like the ever-renewed shoots of the cabbage tree .

Death is final & irrevocable. The tii or cabbage tree is hard to kill, because new shoots spring from apparently dead branches.

The final movement of the last quartet

stumbles to an end. The players

raise their bows from the strings,

stand, incline their heads,

And wait as the silence stretches on.

The hall is empty. Only microphones

connect them with the world. Where

are you, where have you gone?

Gone from the valley, gone from the hill.

Gone your prodigious memory, your mind.

You were not a kind person, you told me once.

But your forte was kindness in action.

You planted a thousand thousand seeds.

Stony ground devoured some. Others

were taken by drought, swept away

by sudden flood and rising sea.

Yet hundreds still grow, seedlings

sheltered so long by the mighty parent tree

now spiraling upwards in the clearing

made by your fall from the canopy.

Silence in the hall, silence on the Hill.

The air lies thick and curdled.

In our lungs and in our bones

we feel the cost of consequences rise.

All voices end. Yours lives on

in wisdom, friendship, in example.

Be kind. Speak clearly. Be unafraid.

Block the gates of power and greed.

The players leave. The music hides

between the pages of the score.

Alone on stage, one music stand,

one violin, one bow, one empty chair.