40 Days Spoken Word Performance

2008: This spoken word piece was performed with sound by Dede Donelan and images taken from the Institutute of Geology and Nuclear Science webcam focused on Ruapehu. Performed at The Institutute of Geology and Nuclear Science, Avalon, Lower Hutt, New Zealand and Whitespace Gallery in Auckland New Zealand.

Ruapehu, North Island, Aotearoa, New Zealand
Institute of Geology and Nuclear Science webcam

“It’s cloudy. From here, I can only see the base today.”
Now she’s shifting her eyes to the nearer distance,
She’s shifting her weight,
And she’s thinking about the garden,
The westerly wind.

From the other end of the phone line, at the other end of the world, and I can tell her that yes Ruapehu is under cloud today.
Ruapehu has been hidden for some days.

The sheltering clouds,
The soft cloak.


But here, where I am, on this bright, blinking day there’s a carnival, with jokes and singing and noise and crowds and flesh which will be
Burnt to the ashes of Ash Wednesday,
And to Lent, which means no meat on Fridays round here,
Because for 40 days and 40 nights it rained on Noahs Ark,

And for 40 days Christ fasted in the desert,
And Pleiades disappears for 4 0 days,
before it rises again.


And Matariki waits,
For 40 days,

That’s forty days of eyeless nights.

And then the Holy Week processions begin.
Gold and alabaster and drums.
On Good Friday and the moon is full and bright in the trees.

In Palmerston North in 2001, I was standing in the front garden in the cool night.
The clouds came and went above the camellia bushes and suddenly the moon appeared
bright and glowing.

The brightest moon in 70 years they said.

Te uha. Te marama…

Here in Seville the night comes on. A large dusty moon is coursing through its sticky orange sky.
The tiles under my feet are still hot from the day.

And the moon crumbles as I touch it, it’s dry with thirst.

When I was sixteen, I was climbing up a slope of Ruapehu.
Dry rock and dust crunching under my boots.
Surprised by its lightness, I dislodged a large rock and it had tumbled over me,
With its brittle edges, rasping sharp like coral, had cut into me as it went.

That rock had survived in some form for millions of years in the dark world within the earth.
One afternoon amongst smoke and ash, into the long bright exploding world,
It had been catapulted like a shuttle.

Te pu ao,

Te ao tawhito,

Te ao hurihuri,

Te ao marama.

Meanwhile, blood oozed down my leg like a slow river, mixing with the dust.

Yeah, rivers start right here on this mountain.
They run off this slope and down into the valleys where the people are.
Combining and churning and thundering through gaps where questions and answers are chewed up and discarded.

The frightening world.

Here abroad, in the bright, quick sunlight, memory is as dry bone.
The land is comfy and cobbled, with daisies and grasses growing between the stones in the walls.
We pick olives and run our hands over the rough trunks of cork trees.

Christ our savior has individual ivory teeth.
And he has real human hair,


And a gold crown.

And the Virgin has crystal tears and deep green emeralds, donated by a white Duchess, Queen
of the plastic surgeon’s knife.

People come in their bus loads to see the Virgin and the Christ Carrying his Cross,
They call to her, and cry to him, wearing down his suffering heals with hopes and kisses.

It’s the mythical world of Lorca

Oye hijo mío, el silencio.

Es un silencio ondulado,

Un silencio,

Donde resbalan valles y ecos

Y que inclina las frentes

Hacia el suelo.

When I was two and a half, or there about, we lived in Taihape.
And I remember we were in the car driving on the old Taihape road that clings to the cliffs by the Rangitikei River .
And I’m remembering now how I was scared, and I wanted to sit on the side of the car far away from the edge.
I leaned that way thinking that my pre-school weight pushed to that side of the car would prevent us tumbling down the cliff.
Man I was scared.


Ruapheu is a resting place for souls.

The Desert Road is a journey north to the jumping place.
It’s a long quiet journey to face a tragedy.
A boy lying facedown, quiet in his own blood.

There is quiet inside the car, everyone is staring out the windows thinking their own thoughts.
Everyone is struggling to understand.

A life is the weight of a small insect that has flown accidentally into your eye.
Now you’ve crushed it with your eyelid, drowned it in your salty tears and washed it out, discarded and formless.
And the earth shudders and the people bounce on top of it like polystyrene balls.

This mountain cares nothing if I observe it or not, or make a journey to touch its worn feet.
It will never remember that I was there because it has no memory.
The full moon will not care for Good Friday, because it gazes upon nothing, it has no eyes.

The Desert Road is a journey south in the night.
Pulled over by the side of the road, we breathe in the velvet dark.
The volcanic cones are cloaked in indigo and in the night sky the space shuttle is passing over our heads.
It’s dark and quiet and still.
Hey, there are some people up there.

They’re passing over the Earth.

My breath slows as I stand in the silence.

My heart is still.

The night returning.



About the author Emma Louise Pratt

Emma Louise Pratt studied at Ilam School of Fine Art, Canterbury University, New Zealand. She has been the runner up in the Molly Morpeth Canaday Award (2005), and a finalist in the Norsewear Award (2007) in New Zealand and finalist in the Focus Abengoa International Painting Prize, Spain in 2014. Emma is known for her landscape based work where she explores specific landscapes that convey significance to her either for their historical or personal importance, serving as they always have, as a personal travel map.

All posts by Emma Louise Pratt →

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