A landscape littered with haunted faces of humanity

19:52, Sep 16 2012

I have this recurring dream of long lines of refugees, bowed and hobbled, trudging across some battered landscape, plumes of black smoke rising up in spirals to a leaden sky. The line extends from Cape Reinga to the Bluff passing through the central corridor of the King Country.

This shuffling, broken humanity can be heard slowly passing by ghost-like in the darkest hours before dawn. But these almost indistinguishable figures are not made up of those from the lower economic echelons of society; or others who might be deemed the psychologically damaged among us; nor are they from the ranks of the trades, for tradespeople these days belong to the middle classes and the economically stable. They are the ones who make up the greater number of suburbia.

What I see in this bleak vision is the wreckage wrought by the economic gurus - the bankers and stockbrokers, the inside traders and financial advisers who out of greed have brought ruin down upon western economies.

It is the stuff of science fiction and futuristic movies. Except that the future has already come to pass and the days of fulltime, continuous employment is long gone, never to return. These are the legions of the damned.

War and internecine strife prevail in the dream. And then I consider that this is the stuff of daily news broadcasts. The breaking of boundaries and the crossing of borders has all but been eradicated in the past 20 years of so. Borders are arbitrary things. A common currency is supposedly synonymous with a united Europe. Abstracts imposed upon landscapes are largely decided by treaty and conflict. History is the compilation of accident, wrought into cohesive chapters of loss and triumph. It is a rear-vision mirror of circumstances by which we make order out of chaos. But history is a fluid continuum and therefore as much to do with interpretation as historical fact.

The line of refugees stretches from one horizon to the other and the sky is yellow and sulfurous as a Fassbinder movie. The closest we in New Zealand get to war zones are the reaches of outer suburbia, the ganglands of South Auckland and the economically disadvantaged as the current euphemism has it for the unemployed and the unemployable. Great fodder for the movie industry as far as B- grade American films are concerned. There exists a psyche within the collective American consciousness of repeat destruction. It is like the same scene played out over and over again. Buildings explode and cars are endlessly destroyed in manic car chases.


The principle American dream is the automobile. Mr Ford created a demon of the unconscious when he revolutionised the car industry.

Yet the great motivating force can be traced back to the “Go West young man” call to the settlers of the new America to seek out the American Utopian Dream. They still live it through the automobile, but the vision is now bankrupt. And so the symbolic destruction.

Endless economic forecasts and number-crunching flood the media. We fight a rearguard action against insurmountable odds that threaten to overwhelm, yet somehow the tsunami holds, hovers at the crest, and never breaks.

We survive from one week to the next. Kids are packed off to school. The car returns to the garage every night. Another day follows upon the last. We get older and slowly dissolve into our personal histories only to fade into some photograph album. We become memory.

What is it that the greater number of people want? A roof over the head and food on the table. Freedom from strife. A family. We breed to escape our own failures or to endorse our successes; we do so because we have to die. We quest for immortality in art and science. There is nothing new in this. There are no revelations and God-like Elvis left the building long ago. Yet the simplest gestures of kindness give us pleasure. It as if we snatch at the remnants of another glorious, idyllic existence in our appreciation and mirroring of beauty and truth.

We are hero and enemy rolled into one.

All the components of the material universe are contained in our DNA. Out appetite for violence and greed does not outstrip the will to survive. It might be argued that this proclivity for destruction is our re-enactment of the Big Bang. Creation and destruction in one.

With every conflict with every war we repeat that first cataclysm of creation. Our first great gasp in which we realised we were alive. This is the ancient memory we continuously seek to understand and recapture.

The shockwaves continue and the quest is endless.

Stephen Oliver is the author of 16 volumes of poetry. He lived in Australia for 20 years and now resides in the King Country, and is a freelance writer and voice artist.

Waikato Times