TANGIWAI (in memory of KA949)

Christmas shattered
in mud and twisted steel

drowned voices lost
among the river stones

shriek of iron
and a train whistle

blowing, blowing

This place on the Whangaehu River was prophetically named – Tangiwai has the meaning of weeping waters – and on Christmas Eve 1953 a rim of Ruapehu’s crater gave way, releasing a lahar of mud, rocks and water down the river, just as the Wellington to Auckland night express was approaching.  There were heroic efforts to stop the train before it reached the bridge where the lahar had washed away one pier, but in vain.  Many of those on the train were heading home for Christmas, and over the following days searchers found mud-soaked presents and toys among the twisted wreckage and bodies.  Four of the carriages were destroyed in the torrent.  151 passengers and crew died.


(for Cindy)

You had already left the room
before, they turned off
those machines.

Beeping, beeping.

I had never realized
how smooth your skin
how beautiful your hair

and, around your ankle
a bracelet of tattooed cats
still dancing.

Beeping, beeping.

I thought you might
open your eyes, and laugh
at our dull faces.

I looked for you
in the corners of the room
but there was only silence

as the machines stopped

and in our hearts
we remember

© Maureen Sudlow