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Gary Langford

Southern Lakes


The captain stands still, silhouette playing

through the haunted trees of us all.

He has yet to make up his mind,

hands chipped on the rocks,

eyes embedded in the island's skin

where he died many years ago.

The SS Earnslaw steams ahead six times a day,

'Tickets please.' Smiles billow out in triumph.

Passengers raise cameras in prayer.

They have come through the hopeful pass.

Something entirely new is waiting.

An ancient warrior is on a pale horse,

riding in the mountains of our minds.

Laughter rolls along a windy willow face.

Much of life has been eaten in the gorge

of late autumn dreams and postcards.

The captain's feet are far from the town,

held together by a pub of lonely drinkers,

remnants of farm life before tourism

tailored up the captain's calm clothing.

He sighs. Weather quickly changes.

Rain washes him clean to the bone.


The smallest lake holds back in the mountains,

only introduced to those who walk in,

steep tracks among soft dew clouds.

A few swim in ice-breddled cold.

Teeth chatter the purity of emotion,

rather than, 'jeez, freezes my vitals off.'

The lake never laughs or issues a warning,

only too pleased to nullify statistics,

drawn together by the artist of mystery:

why it is a fishless lake,

why it has never been boated in.

Rumours say that the single boat disappeared,

claimed by a large creature of the deep,

never seen by anyone in sober water.

Claims are drunkenly whispered,

'I saw the beast in the depth of night,

mouth open like a whale,

able to eat us in a single chuckling gulp.'

A company to visit the monster went bankrupt,

recording the less interest on record.

The lake murmurs in the setting of rain,

massaging the watery curls of its head,

relaxing the vein’s high currents,

tongue licking long in the bed.

‘I see beyond every promise you make.’

Clouds descend like children.



I am the youthful lake.

My head is a concrete dam.

Weeping eyes nearby

become a tight river,

coastal bound.

I am the narrow lake.

Cars are at my side.

They flash by to relatives

who never diet,

laked in forgetfulness.

I am the lake of tidiness,

hair manicured by engineers.

Faces race by the convinced,

gathering for sales,

Sunday specials.

I am the polite lake,

washing up breathless bodies

without a thank you

or heroism award.

Why they swim out beats me.


I am the lake of spirits,

heavily drunk for relief.

Hangovers are waterfalls,

landing on the tenderly,

kissed and forgotten.

I am the contrite lake.

Forgive me should I leak on you,

into farms and small towns.

A dark awesome sky hangs

judgment over us all.

I am the lake of hope.

I whisper to the ill-tempered

whose hands lie on throats,

squeezing the earth's skin

in righteousness.

I am the ugly lake,

baby of the plains,

loved by all others.

Hands pat head waters.

You listen and smile.


Stone Lake is mined by the high country,

rawly framed on the mineral market,

freshly bare ones opening up

in the fallout of consequences.

Divers explore hand felt depths.

New discoveries are held back.

Stones become life,

turning over in the current.

Watery composition is tuned fine.

Nobody bathes on Stone Beach.

This is forthright cattle country -

even they are cautious,

let alone the sheep restlessly waiting

for water to be brought to them.

Each sheep has a thankless story,

broken legged ancestors stoned down.

A solitary tree stands,

having brought in its own soil.

The tree was humoured through customs

who are convinced it won't last.

They are already right.

The tree sags before growing up,

written off by a smart-alec,

Stone Lake.


Lakenders grow on history's shore,

preferring to farm their own one,

seldom singing or water dancing.

      Art shows are the closest

      to ceremony in Lakelands.

Groups might gather, then break up.

Management recognises profit is outweighed

by a growth in market costs,

particularly with singers out of tune,

slurring in clouds above one syllable.

      Litter is the famous group,

      open air concerts packed.

      'Foreigners,' Lakenders sniff,

     'cash or credit cards please.'

The lakes are never surprised

by what comes into their stomach,

hooked fish, dismembered corpses

they get sick of, bloated remains,

releasing to relatives in relief.

      Tradesmen quotes are higher

      than flood measurements,

      notably in pipes to the snow

      where wires chatter.

True Lakelanders are on the highest slopes,

the steeper they are the greater the belief

of spirits flying, not a single hangover.

      Lakes forthrightly acknowledge

      if a house is on the slide.

      'You really are a Lakelander.'

Documentaries grow on the Lakelands.

Water stares at cameras, yawning.

Viewers wait for a commercial break.

'We must head south sometime.

You never know what we'll find.'

Kitchen - Charles Olsen
Gary Langford is a writer in Melbourne and Christchurch. He is the author of
24 books, of which 12 are in fiction and 8 are in poetry. His 9th poetry
collection, Rainwoman and Snake is to appear in New Zealand shortly. His
plays and scripts have also been produced in the media and performed on
stage in Australia and New Zealand. A CD of him reading his poetry has been
produced by The Poetry Archives, England  and he is currently the coordinator, NZ
poets, The Poetry Archives, England.