James K. Baxter has said that a poet is "the sore thumb of the tribe . . . a bad smell in the nose of good citizens."
If that was his mission statement, I think he managed to live up to it.
Of course, I have The Maori Jesus in mind . . .
The Maori Jesus by James K. Baxter
I saw the Maori Jesus
Walking on Wellington Harbour
He wore blue dungarees.
His beard and hair were long.
His breath smelt of mussels and paraoa.
When he smiled it looked like the dawn.
When he broke wind the little fishes trembled.
When he frowned the ground shook.
When he laughed everybody got drunk.
The Maori Jesus came on shore
And picked out his twelve disciples.
One cleaned toilets in the Railway Station;
His hands were scrubbed clean to get the shit out of the pores.
One was a call-girl who turned it up for nothing.
One was a housewife who'd forgotten the Pill
And stuck her TV set in the rubbish can.
One was a little office clerk
Who'd tried to set fire to the Government Buildings.
Yes, and there were several others;
One was an old sad queen;
One was an an alcoholic priest
Going slowly mad in a respectable parish.
The Maori Jesus said, "Man,
From now on the sun will shine."
The first day he was arrested
For having no lawful means of support.
The second day he was beaten up by the cops
For telling a dee his house was not in order.
The third day he was charged with being a Maori
And given a month in Mount Crawford.
The fourth day he was sent to Porirua
For telling a screw the sun would stop rising.
The fifth day lasted seven years
While he worked in the asylum laundry
Never out of the steam.
The sixth day he told the head doctor,
"I am the Light in the Void;
I am who I am."
The seventh day he was lobotomized;
The brain of God was cut in half.
On the eighth day the sun did not rise.
It didn't rise the day after.
God was neither alive nor dead.
The darkness of the Void,
Mountainous, mile-deep, civilized darkness
Sat on the earth from then till now.
I first read it in 2004. And after all these years, it's still my favourite Baxter poem and it still makes me feel like a "good citizen."
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