After a late night shifting road cones


Underneath the muddied tarpaulin
a maudlin sonnet praising the sky
floated free from the gap between
the flapping yellow and the grey asphalt:


noticed by two passing strangers,
both simultaneously said, ‘hows it man.


In mourning (R.I.P. Phil Hughes)


The stadium that teams with life on another day
has clouded duly over; the willow blades erected  
like crosses at the boundary rope, a temporary 
fixture, acknowledged passingly by those honoured 

at the end of play, who get to step-over first 
from the click-focused worldpaid for and paid in
to the shaded area of spectators only. We invest 
in the meaningful drama, despite our distant part.

Looking one way, we’re saved the impossible choices 
of full sympathy; and in the parade of mourning, 
natural and mannered glances, tears and condolences
viral in the public domain, we sense something real 

and are reasoned to watch, knowing our records too 
will tumble, and that diving catch will be forgotten. 
Mark the score if you like, but everything’s done 
so soon; sparrows fall silent under the hedge. Listen.







Blue ball


One blue ball, nothing special, that blue ball, 
that you could pucker between your fingers,

throw high or low, lobbed or overarmed 
to a sibling, or the peach tree that can’t catch. 

So add another ball, mixing it up in the sky, 
two open-mouthed arcs falling parabolic into 

the hands simultaneously of sister and brother, 
plotted together in the joyous evening air—

unexpectedly a broad bean, long and green, 
laughter, and a blue ball bouncing, escaping 

down the drive; forgotten, nothing special, 
that blue ball, as dusk darkens; moves inside.  



Michelangelo’s poems


What I find serious 
is losing ground: it’s the plaintive voice 
of the singer on my old stereo; 
the book of Michelangelo’s poems 
bought at a garage sale for a dollar 
which still has its dust jacket 
and a name in linked writing 
over the frontispiece.  

It’s easy enough to find these things 
if you enter into the search, not like 
when Schliemann set out for Troy
with a copy of the Iliad in his trunk 
and only a rough idea where to dig

aaaaaaa―but would anyone care now
if you bragged of finding a necklace 
once worn by a girl called Helen? 

For so long I thought I was in time, 
and now so completely out of it 
I’m tempted to find a pirate shirt 
and loll about on hard benches 
smoking opium from a wooden pipe 

which seems a better option 
than wearing my pants low 
or posting photos of myself smiling 
aaaaaaaaaaaaa aa       ―Michelangelo 
never did that; the fashion then 
was for sonnets, which he wrote 
when he wasn’t working, when he was 
a little melancholy, unsure if he was loved 
and the world’s creeping indifference 
something he was struggling with.


symphony


I

the clear morning hangs
over you like infinity:    

the taste of coffee
heavy in your mouth

II

autumn sun guards
your idleness: awed

by the blue ceiling-sky

III

these mornings are for replacing
rotten fence boards

—if you’re slow enough
it can take until lunchtime

taking care even
to hammer out the nails

putting them in your pocket
because the world is changing fast

IV

two hawks circle
like leaves caught in the miracle
of a twisting spiral of air

each swoop with still wings ends
with a sharp turn of flashing feathers

V       

there’s no inspiration in fear,
in jealousy,
or in halls of Gods

the inspiration is in the rhythm
of movement and its score

and if not that, nothing at all.



there's a few I've lost


there’s a few I’ve lost, fallen off in the dark
behind a chest of drawers, under the bed,
gone to the place where socks go

I’ve lost some between meetings
& footpath conversations

some I’ve lost between the ears, 

others between the sheets

(though I’m not so worried about those)


some I’ve lost through inattention,

quite a few from laziness


some I’ve sent off to other people, 

who’ve probably lost them, or thrown them away 


some I’ve lost while talking to a friend

in a bar, between the last wine

& the first whisky

some it’s dishonest to say I lost 

when I never had them


some I’ve lost were as precious, I would say, 

as a shipload of Athenian black-figure pottery 

gone down in a storm north of Samos 


others no more valuable than receipts in my pockets 

that have gone through the wash 


there’s some I regret losing,

some I can’t now remember ever having


but there’s one I’ve lost 

which I hope to find

so I can read it again 

like I did when I was 13 

in front of a classroom of boys
in their grey school uniforms 

all sweaty after lunch


the first poem I ever wrote,
the first time I’d been asked. 



Published in 'a fine line', magazine of the NZ Poetry Society, May 2014


all our directions home


the taonga are placed on the sand.

taiaha stand quivering in the wind



speaking to the rōpū of sand-diggers,

fire-lighters, early morning risers.



the people of this place mix easily

with us manuhiri, come to watch.



the greenstone mere smashes
the seashell in half: a clean break

between where we’ve come from
& where we are now, understood. 



we talk on the wind—impatience,

the ragged wave, sinks into the sand.



we listen to a story of sea birds, 

how in the evening, their bellies full



they’ll spiral upwards on the wind.

when high enough, the leading birds 



cry out & begin to fly straight

in the direction of their island home. 



the birds on the sea, watching this,
lift off & follow

                                 

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa—friends 



you who first rise up on the wind

to see which way for us, we promise 



to follow. call out loud from above 

& we in our numbers will fly!



the tide turns, we gather the taonga,

put them in the boot of the car



& drive to the whare, where we eat 

together quietly—before one-by-one 



we rise to the heights & speak

of all our directions home.


Published in 'a fine line', magazine of the NZ Poetry Society, May 2014



lunchtime thoughts of a gallery attendant at the end of the world


1.
I’d like to go out for lunch in Manhattan 
and get a liver sausage sandwich.

2.
The roof of the gallery rattles when extreme wind blows.

3.
I’m avoiding today the demand to do things quickly, 
to get to the end.

4.
To live inside your mind you must be tough, 
like Kerouac.

5.
The chocolate liquorice log didn’t help; will have to follow it 
with a deep fried lasagne topper.

6.
We don’t like being alone, 
even when we ask for it.

7.
Who made the decision to build another pyramid 
when the harvest is failing?

8.
You can’t smell something that’s dead 
until it’s dead.

9.
I just want to move, after six generations in this tribe that’s grown too big 
and a drought coming on.

10.
Someone has graffitied on the wall: “Tania was here, tee hee.” 
I’m not offended. The centuries have made me very tired.

11.
Lunchtime at the basilica, a lot of people worried about higher taxes, 
slave revolts, and the devalued currency.

12.
I’ve lost faith in the new empire of Byzantium.

13.
I wish I didn’t have to sit here amongst the gunpowder.

14.
You don’t see EXIT signs, until you have to EXIT and can’t get back 
to where you entered.

15.
She said it was a picture of a rainbow stretched to black.

16.
Blue sky floods into the gallery 
through high windows

I can’t keep my head level, 
I have to look up.



the poetry workshop

for Paula Green

I was late, didn’t bring a pad of paper or a pen

to a workshop — hadn’t registered that

I might have to work. My subconscious though

at work, perhaps I didn’t want to be there.

Not when I sat down anyway, at the front,

where the only empty chair was, within reach

of the teacher, a problem child, who with a sigh

had to be given a pen and paper to work on.

‘What matters to you about poetry?’


I muttered a few things about line breaks,

brevity, emotion, Pablo Neruda and humour.

Then it was into the warm-up: quick flash

lines, responding to prompts, which lightened

my ‘denim blue mood.’ Fun with alliteration

‘rumbling down the rudimentary road.’
‘An aubergine and a bicycle at one in a line.’


Next, childhood memories after Bill Manhire

using the music of rhyme and near-rhyme:

‘Marmite sandwiches, all I ate, playing

with battleships, short shorts and T-shirts,

bedroom curtains with a herd of lions, zebras,

elephants and giraffes, unable to sleep 

in summer, everything brown and ochre,

walking barefoot, burnt-off grass with prickles,

Star Wars, wondering who John Lennon was.’ 


That was OK, decided I wouldn’t leave

in the break. One poem done, onto the second.

Your direction: ‘No feelings but in things.’
My thing a moldy mandarin. Only ten words

at first, a forced economy, then twelve lines.

The mandarin went off, like a bomb.

I read the poem out: my phrasing was praised.


I felt like a pupil, receiving the approval

of the teacher.
 You finished with a reading
of your own poems, where you bobbed about

to the rhythm of your words. I was pleased

to get your reference to Sweet Virginia

off Exile on Main St. I liked your story

about hearing a wild, hairy James K Baxter

on stage in the Kamo High School hall

six days before he died, when you decided

you were going to be a poet.

And I wish 
after seeing Sam Hunt at Whangarei Boys

that I’d decided to be a poet. But I’m trying now

to arrange, as best I can, the lines I wrote

in a poetry workshop, which I had to rescue

from the wind that blew them from my hands

outside, all around the carpark. I had to chase

each page, as you watched, surely amused

at the antics of your pupil who arrived late.


Published in Poetry NZ 47, September 2013.


I get paid well for this job




I get paid well for this job 

of looking after art objects



that don’t breathe, don’t complain,

don’t have wet eyes, or the fear of eternity



that don’t need to be consoled,

and don’t need to be told an answer

as to why no one has visited them today.



The paintings don’t want to run away.

The sculptures don’t need to be washed 

every other day.



You don’t have to assure the photograph

of the woman that she looks good.

You don’t have to brush her hair,

clip her toenails, or stroke her hand. 



And when art leaves the building 

there’s no sadness,

there’s no need to explain to anyone 

what happened.

There are no terrible conversations 

with people who want to know why,

who want a reason. 



You don’t have to know much

looking after art,

just about any answer will do. 



I get paid well 

for making sure art

is seen in the best light. 



It’s important

that we know art is being cared for,

that it’s appreciated.



And is there
anything wrong with that?


Published in 4th Floor Literary Journal, 2013. 

egg tempera


(i)

Albert Durer
painted himself
as the big egg
in the year 1500

and it was
miraculous

nobody
who lived before him
or after him

has ever been
a bigger egg.

(ii)

after Ernst Kirchner
had finished adding
a very successful pink rectangle
to the top right hand corner
of the painting
he was working on that morning

he felt
like the pale yellow
of scrambled eggs.

(iii)

a thin art student
who was dissatisfied
with his inability to paint like van Gogh
cooked 50 eggs
to share with his fellow art students
at lunch time

afterwards
they were all very full
and didn’t feel like doing
any painting.



Published in Takahe 79, Winter 2013.

profile pic


can’t see it, if it’s meant to be
me that’s there, what you see:

brown eyes, lines sprinkling
from each, is done, not none

one of billions, here now,
sunk into nothing, to come:

black eyebrows, arched or frowned
notes on a page, undone.



Published in Takahe 79, Winter 2013.

wedding song


Silk-woman dancing, pebble soft.
the scene plays narrative-correct;

watchers wait for final endings, wonder
how they can describe the seagull’s flight.

The writer always fails — the judgement
of those who weren’t there

when the strawberry fell into the cream
and wisdom came with the waves.




Odysseus at home


Opened the door at midnight, it was summer.
Walked out naked onto the deck,
the wood beneath my feet almost soft.

Stood in the orange-glow of the street light, 
silent houses across the road facing, 
the blue-black sky curtaining down
behind their peaked roofs.  

Cars and trucks on State Highway One:
a constant echoing roar, interrupted 
by the bark of a dog on Clark Street 
which sets off other dogs, noise-spots 
that map the town around me. 

The air is warm, nothing bothers. 
I stand there, scanning the stars,
which have no names, not here, not now.  

At just the right time, when consciousness
of a moment has registered and passed,
you call out: 
aaaaaaaa  aa a“What are you doing?”



Published in Blackmail Press, March 2013.


red balloon


it was a red balloon

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaI tapped it
with my
fingertips
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaso light
it took nothing
aaaaaaaaaaaaato keep it
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaain the air
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa&
I was amazed

I could
aaaaif my touch was right
push it
aaaaaall the way
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaato the roof
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawhich
it would hitaaa softly
aaaaaaaaaabefore descending

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaslowly

my necked strained
aaaaaaaaaaaaaamy mouth open

aaaaaaaaa looking only up

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaoblivious
to everything else
aaaaaaaaaaaaaain the room

just the red balloon

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaanext day
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaathe red balloon
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawas deflated,
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaait couldn’t be sent upwards
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaato the roof,
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaait fell ugly
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaato the floor

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaseeing it there
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaI had to pop it, quickly

but popping it
didn’t make it go away,
shrivelled & torn
the red blazed deeper

I couldn’t leave it
there on the carpet,
I had to pick it up
& throw it out

 aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaait was a red balloon.



Published in Poetry NZ 45, September 2012.  

 

is there an explanation?


I wrote this before, too rigid
the repetition thumped with certainty
like a metronomeaaaaas if the heart was
just physiology —
I asked for an explanation, but how
could anyone explainaaawhy
it happened
aaaaaaaaaaaaexactly

the man, for instance, I saw today
standing in front of his house
in shorts & slippers, who
looked at me
like blank death
what explanation?

or why do I retain the image
from a B-grade movie I watched as a kid,
a Saturday matinee, of an elderly couple
lying on a bedaaain a ship-cabin
holding each other
as the ship sinksaaaaafor what reason?

yes, there’s an explanation
for the brown pool of coffee
in the teaspoon slowly evaporating

aaaaaaaaaabut is there an explanation
aaaaaaaaaafor the last failed attempt
aaaaaaaaaato start a conversation?

or why you nowaacarefully
push the chair back from the table, stand up
& walk towards the open door
where the sun is shining
on the asphalt footpath
where small pieces of broken glass asparkle.


 Published in Poetry NZ 45, September 2012.


Big Love Songs


I

at the top of the hill
the burnt hull of a boat

lifted here for us to see
what might be preserved

below, they load containers
onto working ships.

I sit to read your poems
in large Georgia type

of your desire to stand
in a slim space of myth.

I appreciate them more
above the harbour world

like you, friend, content 
to talk through the veil.



II

a fine roughness, the cover
excites my fingertips

the cloth dirtied in places
by love’s oily hands.

no wider than a finger
the spine, which arches

towards the poems, bound
in wisdom and rhyme.

I fold the cover back
and press a thumb

deep into the density of pages,
parting near the middle

to read again the words
which brings us to this line.



waiting


she waits at the corner,
the house behind her
where the poplar trees
have been cut,
a row of stumps
like small volcanic cones.
she stands still,
feels the anger
lashed inside her.

she looks back
to the flag, draped large
on the wooden fence.
black & red,
with the white koru
meeting together
between
the darkness
&
the desire.

she remembers
the pushing, the sharp yells,
the clatter of battered skin & muscle;
the panic
pressed
in the eyes
of the pakeha suit—
dirt of generations thrown.

a muffled grunt
exits her lips.

in the distance she sees the van.
lights on full, because
of the heavy fog that sits
over Hikurangi.
she sighs
bends to pick up
the worn straps of her bag
which she holds straight
over one shoulder

& she waits.



Published in Blackmail Press 31, Marginalization, November 2011.

our dog is like Frank O'Hara


our dog is like Frank O’Hara
aaaalover of gregarious freedom!
we don’t want to train him — he’s untrainable
half wild, like a Coltrane solo
he takes free rein, takes it where it will go
he barks at everyone he sees aaa with no malice
he just wants to say hello
& tell everyone aaa he loves them
he can jump up in the air in crazy yelping pirouettes
he’s a bit of a show-off

he’s too quick footed for the big slow dogs
who can’t pin him down aaa there’s no easy walk
trotting along beside in regular rhythm
it’s all full tilt, nose down, tail up, pulling forward
choking against the collar — sudden stops
deviations aaa instant enthusiasms
abandoned for the next delicious scentaaa tiring
& exhilarating, like keeping up with Peter
when his brain’s exploding
T.S.Eliot mixed with obscenities

he sleeps close to us on the bed
any noise, 2am, 5am, & he’ll leap off
& run around barking in circles aaa it’s idiotic
& pisses us off
he wants to lick your ears in the morning
loves it when you scratch his head
he hardly eats, but likes to clean your plate
flies annoy him aaa (he’s mostly content)

he escapes often, being small & agile
always finding a new way to get out
we’re lucky he hasn’t been hit by a car
we would miss him a lot
aaaabecause he’s full of the genius of life
our dog
a destroyer of shallow boredom
like Frank O’Hara.



Published in Poetry NZ 43, Winter 2011.

the answer to first questions

for Lennox

the first one born
& you start thinking

more than before
about death at some

hour. you push on
& the second is born

—the combined
philosophical weight

of first questions
more than doubles:

the first 4.41kg,
the second 4.65kg.

one philosopher
thought it was better

to exist, than not to.
so children should

thank their parents.
another wasn’t so sure.

tonight, after your bath
I watched you playing

with your animals.
you started to knock

each animal over,
pronounced them dead.

the cow, dead.
the sheep, dead.

the horse, dead.
the pig, dead.

the rooster, dead.
the dog, dead.

2 ½ years old, you
couldn’t understand.

but me knowing
that one day you will.



Published in Takahe 73, Winter 2011.

Read by Sam Hunt on Kiwi FM, 31 July, 2009.

over the fence


the bush
wasn’t filled with dragons,
knights, princesses
or giants.

matter-of-factly empty
& nothing else.

a creek
with big dark eels,
but no taniwha I remember
(or ones I could write about
now).

just gorse
moving up the hill,
puriri trees, rotting leaves,
a graveyard, at least
far enough away

so that to get there
was an adventure.



Published in Takahe 73, Winter 2011.
Read by Sam Hunt on Kiwi FM, 11 September 2009.

Saturday morning, 19 March 2011


100, 1000, 10000, more
lives
obliterated

the zucchini plant
grows
lizard like

wind blows
the soft murmur
of
death

late summer
strawberries,
small
&
deformed
still
taste good

100000, 1000000, 10000000, more
lives
in shadow

ripe brown figs
high
up
have
been pecked out
by birds

bits of flesh
& torn skin
rim
an open wound

it aches.


Published in Blackmail Press 30, Bipolarisation Issue, July 2011.

reason enough


it’s easier
to romance a sun-filled day
than to tread through the thick mud
that hinders
aaaaaaaaaanalysis,
correct & true
for the
moment.

yes, it’s easier to do,
meandering
some words
together
into
short lines.

but
the capture
is fleeting,
a repositioned reason
will struggle again
—& must reclaim
in order
to make sense
&
persuade.

aaaaaaaaaaaa—still,
I do this now:

thinking of a lazy day
that produced
these
brief lazy lines
is reason
enough.


Published in Blackmail Press 30, Bipolarisation Issue, July 2011.

no contest


We eye each other on the beach:
a stand-off at fifty paces (or
some twenty years): Perk n’ Proud
aaaaaaaversus Slightly Saggy.
I fall back, your round.

We catch each other’s eye again
as I stagger bent and small,
carrying four towels, three surfboards,
aaaaaaatwo buckets, and one ball.
Your legs stand further apart
like a tripod, surveying the crowd.

We dare to eye each other’s girl.
One wears a bikini, the other
a very practical beach top.
You think you’ve done me again,
but I know I’m in the game.

Leaving, we look each other’s way,
as you lower yourself, shirt off,
into the seat of your car
and I wearily climb up into mine;
both proud, a glint of respect.

I smile, thinking of you again,
after making love, better
than it was twenty years ago.
There’s no pride, no envy,
just maybe the hard firm control
aaaaaaaof wisdom growing.


Published at 52/250 A Year of Flash, May 2011. 


portrait of the artist as a parent of young children


I’m off
down the alleyway
between the fortress
& the museum

the kids
asleep in the car
windows open a crack
—it’s alright
I’ve left them the keys

I’ve got things to do:

1. visit an angry poet
aawho sells vitamins

2. see a psychiatrist who can teach me
aarhyme & meter

3. sit in a café
aa& wait for her

4. catch a train to an outer suburb
aain revolt

5. walk the streets with a harmonica
aain my pocket

no time—stuff the rest
of my lines in my mouth
run back to the kids

an ice-block for each of them
a loaf of bread, milk
& a cheap bottle
of merlot.


Published in Poetry NZ 42, March 2011.

Parisian backstreets are not here


Parisian backstreets are not here,
not behind the service station orange lights
or down the street which ends
with the blue cashflow machine.

young people drinking,
laughing at nothing, simply being.
Jean-Paul Sartre & Simone de Beauvoir
in the corner holding hands.

Sidney Bechet rests his clarinet
on the bar, watches the big screen.
Langston Hughes in the kitchen
doing dishes, sipping champagne.

I walk three times past the hotdog stand
looking for Parisian backstreets,
for glamorous dancers & artist’s wives,
for Edith Piaf.

the Parisian backstreets are not here
& it’s not enough to answer the question
from the man in the jacket
who looks like Camus.


Published in Poetry NZ 42, March 2011.

perspective


for every noteworthy, full blown
person, whose name
bangs into us
from history

there are 29 people
burnt at the stake
in New York
in 1741

blamed
for setting fires
as part of
a “negro plot”.


Published in Side Stream #27, December 2010.


fastfood workers


they burst from the paper bag
running like salt from a shaker
scattering flecks of taste

they gush like soft-drink
push the button & they gurgle & froth
with youthful bubbles over the rim

they burn & sear like burger patties
on the grill, hot anger spits
from their mouths as they yell

they ooze like ice-cream
filling every corner, every gap
compact with cold determination

they have sizzled in the fat
crisp as you like, now they’re
blocking arteries in the street.


Used in the Level 2 NCEA English Exam, 2010.

with the last rub


nocturnal notes
on the night-shift
reading Baxter

the anger
of a sympathetic
heart

but anger alone
won’t bleach
walls

won’t shift
scum, grease
& dirt

hardwork & time
might see the wall
fresh

or see it crumble
with the last rub.

I think he knew
that.


Published in Side Stream #24, May 2010.

somewhere else


reading Bukowski puts me in a mood,
one of those sons of bitches.
listening to Isaac Hayes’ first album,
the soul soaked
aaaaaaaaain Bourbon
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagrooves,
takes me
somewhere
else

which means nothing to you, I know.
you’ve been out the front of the house
attaching purple streamers
aaaaaaaaato the fence, because
it’s your mother’s
birthday.
I’ve been lying on the couch
thinking I could be
somewhere
else

the streamers wouldn’t go where you wanted.
“the wind,” you said,
aaaaa“kept blowing them off”.

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa— shit like this,
the incongruence of reality
& what we’ve hoped for,
it hits you hard.
you cry everything,
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayour face
turns to plasticine.

I hold you. I don’t say anything.
but I understand
how much it matters.
together
we spin a tight cocoon

& wait to see
what happens.


Published in Poetry New Zealand 40, March 2010.

the olive tree


the olive tree given to us after the war
never looked like those of Greek verse
which English poets went looking for.

what sorrows? & how could a tree be
deathless? useful I understood,
to make oil for food, warmth & light.

not until I pruned the lower branches,
the gnarled trunk of the maturing tree
revealed — giving it that classic look

& room enough to sit in the afternoon
under its lacework of silver green,
breathing ten thousand years of memory.


Published in Poetry New Zealand 40, March 2010. 


a right lineage


it’s a noble age
not Shakespeare’s
or Sophocle’s

but we’re weighted
with opportunity
for heroism, bravado
& modesty

putting my children to bed
does not command
the language of ideals
of conflict
& resolution

the lines aren’t tragic
or epic
& don’t go very far

they start where they are
& go no further
than the love that’s there

the hard work of the day
is a contentment
softens anxiety
which is something

& it can be said
in a kind way.


Published in Takahe, April 2010. 

everyday (after Heather Hunt)


I like cups, picking them up & taking
them somewhere. I’m scared of knives.

I like white lilies in a glass vase
with the sun behind them.

I like the grey-topped Formica table
with its red rim.

I like the noise the dishwasher makes
when I open it – doodle doodle loo.

I like condensation on louver windows
that are tinted aqua blue.

I like the rimu cabinet with its latches
that slide like bolts.

I like record covers leaning against
the wall.

I like the vertical bars on the steel gate
at the end of the path.

I like the soccer ball on the green grass.

I like the way washing stacked high
in a basket could be a Christmas tree
(something you showed me).

& I like the way a whole chicken
turned upside down with its bum in the air
looks like a frog,
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaabecause some things
are not just what they are
but something else all together

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaalike knives.


Written for the opening of Heather Hunt's painting exhibition 'Everyday'
at Reyburn House, Whangarei, 5 September 2009.

Read by Sam Hunt on Kiwi FM, Lost Weekend, 11 September 2009.

a man in his seventies who makes picnic tables at home



these tables are better than anything

you’d get in the big stores

aaaaaaaahe thinks they’re pieces of crap



I’m not telling a lie, but every time

someone comes to look at my tables

before going to the shops in town,

they always come back

aaaaaaaahe’s proud of his work



I don’t need to advertise,

just word of mouth

aaaaaaaahe’s a great example



I’m having a knee reconstruction

next week, my wrist’s buggered

and the doctor’s just told me

I’ve got shingles

aaaaaaaahe may be dead soon



I used to make four a day,

but I’m down to twenty a month

aaaaaaaahe’s got no regrets



I sell them for not much more

than cost: it’s a hobby really

aaaaaaaahe’s doing something with his life.



at work


it’s just turned 12.01pm
& I’m thinking
that if I’m going to be
a writer
I should use every opportunity.
‘cause I don’t live on a family estate near Boston
or get regular payments from a trust,
& I’m not looking to make it
in the captain’s tower.
besides, I like
the factory poets
the boiler makers
the post office workers breaking their backs
in an iron chair
sorting mail every day for 10 years.
but they too knew
that writing is a horse you must
stay on.
you got to follow it
until it comes in.
so
even if this is not
a winning poem
it might be
that the one I write tomorrow
is, which is something you learn
eventually,
that work is an art:
the musician must play
the orator must speak
the teacher must teach
the leader of people must lead.
what I’m saying
is that
I’m going to write
again
tomorrow at 12.01pm
on the notepads they give us at work
with the pens they give us
to write.


Published in Side Stream 20, July 2009.

the explorers


we’ve discovered new places, you & I.
you, brave, with your love of adventure

& me, with a sometimes rational head
grasping the promise of your discoveries.

the south-west corner our latest, hidden
behind the pohutukawa tree. you wished

to pour water from your pink teapot
onto the post at the corner boundary.

I thought your blue pool would fit well
here—& I could move my chair, with

my book & pen. the familiar totara seen
from a different side; the view back

to the house half-blocked by wisteria
grown ragged. pohutukawa leaves dance

their shadows on the bottom of the pool.
their moving in the wind delights you

—it’s 2.30 in the afternoon, this place
would not have been found without you.


Published in Blackmail Press 24, Secrets.

after reading Sam Hunt’s poem ‘Better than this?’ (or why poetry is worthwhile)


lying on the couch
which isn’t comfortable
even with pillows. I get stuck here
sometimes, watching children’s television,
supervising the building
aaaaaaof Lego towers,
snatching moments of poetry
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa—like a train
going past the back fence
only 10 or so metres from the couch,
carrying logs from up north.
so close, it weighs through the room
aaaaaalike a deep conscience, unavoidable.

I remember the movie
starring Robert De Niro & Gérard Depardieu.
as a kid, the Depardieu character
lies down lengthwise on a railway track
& a train goes over the top of him.
the other boy (who would grow up
to be played by De Niro)
watches, afraid.
at the end of the movie, however,
it’s the De Niro character, now an old man
who lies across the track,
his neck & legs on the rails
as a train approaches.

each time a train goes past
it’s thrilling, a worthwhile moment
—as it could be for anyone
in Kamo, Maungaturoto,
Wellsford or Helensville
who’s lying on a couch,
hanging out the washing,
or eating a meat pie in the car.

& really, there’s no need
to lie on the track
unless you’re Depardieu
or De Niro
& it’s the movies.


Published in The Lumiere Reader, 25 May 2009.

sunshine


& so the sun
beats the dullard

shambles
the door-stopped bricks

pushes down
on the collared neck

severs
in its intense weight

releasing us
from mannered fashions

of constraint.


Published in Side Stream 18, February 2009.

visiting Auckland


the city beckons, lays itself
prone
across two harbours:
a volcanic fuse.

all is apparent
that will happen here, history
divined
on the bus-stop timetable
on every main street.

they will come
down arterial roads
to build it, to destroy it,
who will conquer it
& love it.

we’ll clean the billboards!
pasting our own proclaiming:
“this is for you,
aaaaaaaaathis is for me”

until we believe it.

aaaaaa―the thought
steps down
& matures slowly

as I watch the beautiful Indian child
at the wheel of the blue boat
in Te Atatu Park,
in one hand an ice cream.


Published in Side Stream 15, August 2008.


records for 50c (let’s go to Soulcity)


The Manhattens
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaasequins & boots

aaaait feels so good to be loved so bad

Johnny Johnson & His Bandwagon
aaaaaaasoul survivoraaaa gasoline ally bred

aaJimmy McGiff
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaastep one
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaasolid state
Nina Simone aaabacklash blues
aaaaaaabitter humour
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaavenging angel
why? (the king of love is dead)

aaBilly Preston aaaaamauve suit
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaasteppin’ out
name in lights aaafill your head with sounds

do what you want aaaaAl Green
aaaaaaalivin’ for you

The Friends of Distinction

aaaaaaaaadrums, congas, flugelhorn,
aaaaaaaoboe & cello,
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaclarinet & harp

Solomon Burke aaayeah… you’re the one!

I wish I knew (how it would feel to be free)

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaalet’s go to Soulcity.


murderers are coming


murderers are coming
there’s been an announcement
everyone’s asking: can it be true?
when are they due?

murderers are coming
should we drop everything?
stand back in awe?
wipe the floor?

murderers are coming
should we clean the streets?
they say they’re here to protect
who’s going to object?

murderers are coming
should we put on a show?
the kids are in bed
the carpet is red.

murderers are coming
should we change the sheets?
make it nice?
put the champagne on ice?

murderers are coming
is it time to speak?
should we make a toast?
enlist the Holy Ghost?

murderers are coming
how long have we got?
should we sign a deal?
ask them how it feels?

murderers are coming
what shall we call them?
our very good friends?
so, is this how it ends?


Published in UNITY Journal, October 2007.

where the bombs are aimed the silence is claimed


voices lie, eyes hide
what they’ve seen

death like a grey suit walks
feeling cool

*

sleep isn’t distinguished from awake
dreams plough down
into nightmares

homes gutted open
spilling onto the street

*

each bomb blazes
our imaginations all

turning our minds
to not turn away from yours.


Published in Workers Charter, 2006.



sixty-six dollars for the Sanford workers in Timaru & Bluff


we quarrelled on the steps of our house,
me overbearing, softly spoken & sure.
I left thinking what for
but couldn’t turn the car around once more.

in town S was there early,
I was surprised, tongue-tied & vague.
we unloaded the signs:
aaaaaaaSupport Sanford Workers,
aaaaaaaSix Weeks—No Income,
aaaaaaaFreedom to Strike.
they were awkward, difficult to handle.
I strained, cursed & wondered.

ten dollars was pushed into my hand—
we had hardly finished setting up!
ten dollars for the Sanford workers
way down in Timaru & Bluff.
more followed,
from a journalist with the Northern Advocate,
from a woman who lost her house in a mortgage sale,
her husband had been locked out
by the owners of the Glenbrook steel mill.
I spoke to an old guy who went on strike
in support of the wharfies in ’51,
he was a freezing worker then.
history—warm, alive & unrepentant.

still, the best part of the day
was counting the money at home together,
both of us enthusiastic:
sixty-six dollars for the Sanford workers in Timaru & Bluff.


Published in the New Zealand Listener, October 20-26, 2001.

the coast


join-the-dot buoys
trace the shoreline,
falling & rising
with the tide;
an easy gradient
of sand tones slide
from land to sea

a kingfisher bursts
from the manuka,
leaving the greyish bush
swaying gently to rest

there are pools of red
under the pohutukawa,
eerie shadows of lost flowers

sand, salt-water & wind
have formed a dusty ring
around ankles

the tips of the cabbage tree leaves
point the way,
blown by a sea breeze.


working blues


in Wellington
he was a baker's assistant,
starting at 5 o'clock in the morning.

he cycled down Mt Victoria
to work: a bakkerij
at the top end of Willis Street.

his boss
always made him finish late.
it was his fault
for not working faster.

he wouldn't finish until 2 or 3,
but he'd only get paid
for 8 hours work.

he rode home through town
& up the hill
in chequered baker's pants.


these old theatre seats


these old theatre seats
are rusty at the base,
the blue vinyl
has faded to grey,
they're not where
they used to be.
looking over
these Northland hills
to a wet sunset,
a sliver
of clear orange sky
beneath the heaviest
of dark clouds,
the sounds of children
talking nonsense
on the steps
of the almost derelict
house across the street,
I realise there is
nowhere else.
these old theatre seats
are comfortable
& a good place
to look out.


aye Tane!


Tane Mahuta,
you've been here 2000 years, tell me!

I'm driving a logo―'the smart move'―
you can tell me.

what's that?
a gust of wind
ruffling your lower branches.

no one noticed the 'More Teachers Now!'
badge pinned to my jacket.
after 2000 years do you lose sight of details
or do you notice them more?

I was drinking at the Hokianga Hotel,
dolphins took me out into the ocean
until I could see the tips of your highest branches.

no one noticed you growing Tane,
but here you are―& the teachers
are taking wildcat strikes.


I want to sleep in a purple room


I want to sit in a wooden chair
I want to drink Vodka & lemonade
I want to talk while making dinner
I want to sing Dylan doing dishes
I want to discuss peppers & artichokes
I want to teach composition & line
I want to read without notes
I want to speak plain
I want to be understood
I want not to think about it
I want it to be the same for you
I want time to slide
I want to run & play
I want to walk to work
I want to learn guitar
I want someone to fix computers
I want to stay up late
I want to sleep in a purple room


Israeli soldier!


Israeli soldier!
what goes through your mind?
a child, wide-eyed with fear & anger,
crouched, running on the dusty streets,
past the ruined homes of friends,
bending to pick up a stone—
no, that one was too big,
another fits inside the palm.
you see this through your sights
& you aim for the head.


taking Burt Reynolds & Lonnie Anderson to the John Pilger exhibition at the Auckland Museum


how was the trip, Burt?
hi Lonnie.
nice day isn’t it?
you’ve sorted things out then.
must have been expensive, the divorce.
how much?
still, things are alright now aren’t they?
you were both misunderstood.
those Ken & Barbie jokes were cruel.
yeah, this way, follow me. I’ve been here before.
what do you think of the museum?
it’s a war memorial.
the columns out the front are the same as the Parthenon.
through here—watch your head on the waka…
Te Toki a Tapiri. magnificent isn’t it?
have you heard of John Pilger?
no? he’s a well know journalist…
you hate journalists? some of them can be…
you’d have to admit it looked suspect at the time, Burt.
yeah, I know you were innocent.
so what are you up to now Lonnie?
are they still showing repeats of the WKRP Cincinatti in the States?
here we are.
no you go ahead , I’ve seen it. I’ll meet you outside.

what did you think?
disturbing?
you didn’t know the US had been bombing Iraq for ten years?
I know the Vietnam War was a long time ago Lonnie, but it’s important
to remember these things.
did you go to Vietnam, Burt?
Gunsmoke was your big break then?
what? you’ve never got the recognition you deserved.
you shouldn’t get hung-up on awards, Burt.
what did you think of…
but he’s a different type of actor, you can’t compare.
oh, here’s your taxi.
no, I don’t want an autograph.
I just hope you got something from the exhibition.
it’s meant to be.
I thought it would help. you both looked really sad when I saw you
the other day. I know it can be a struggle to see things clearly…
you’re OK? OK then.
I’ll see you round. I probably won’t be heading your way again.
some things I want to do.
best of luck to you too.


song for Hone Tuwhare etc


I missed writing for the new millennium
so for you, Hone Tuwhare, I thought I’d write now.
one of many who will dust fresh pages with words.
tonight, with compassion, humour & grace
you walked the stage of our polytech theatre
on your sentimental journey to the North.
they called you from Kaka Point, in the South
to the place of your birth:

aaaaaa‘Send back his stubby limbs!
aaaaaaSend back his bursting tinana fat with kutai,
aaaaaaKina, fish-heads, salt and words.
aaaaaaNgapuhi! Go and get our boy!’

while I share these Northland hills with you,
your presence alone was not enough to cloud these eyes.
what did, was seeing a man who lived life
full & vital, gentle & vulnerable,
who, at 79, read a poem for a socialist friend, a comrade.
the word, like many of the lines rolled
from your full crooked lips, was full of sincerity.
it still comes hard to me, as if others’ laughter
would burst unwanted from my mouth.
to see that fire burning, that home shared,
this is what I take from your journey north.
one day I hope to sing out ‘comrade’ to the tune
of a jazz standard (a favourite of yours)
& for people to hear it true & sing it back to me.


Thank you to Glen Colquhoun for the use of lines from his poem, 'An invitation for Hone Tuwhare to attend a poetry reading in Northland, or a Haka to Kaka Point', published in the New Zealand Listener, 2002.