Thursday, September 30, 2010


19. in which you discuss three things
that you or your persona wants


She wants a weed-free 
path through life, a newspaper 
whose words calm and inspire, a 
nap every afternoon in which to dream
of catching up with her younger self.

I admire her matter-of-fact desires.
Knowing her as a dancing partner
incendiary letter writer, passionate
gardener, I can't say our wires
never get crossed!


18. a poem that repeatedly uses numbers

Contraventions My Body Remembers

The first cut on rocks
in a river near Sydney
my foot still wearing
a pale half-moon scar
fifty-five years on.

Two teeth extracted
at age eight, to save
my jaw from a fate
worse than starvation.
The needles enormous.

Between those two 
milestones, the tonsils
taken, all two of them,
and somewhere I imagine
they fertilized healthy soil.

The first of two Caesarean
births made more laborious
by two sets of pins and plates
holding a broken ankle together.
I played Uno which means One

until the foetal distress began.
And all the singular events:
one cyst in a breast
one cyst in a lymph gland
one injured knee

one sprained wrist
one tumour in a breast
Eight lymph nodes 
sacrificed. And at least
four twisted ankles

weakened by old falls.
Last Sunday at Emergency
at nine am,  the trainee 
nurse said: Good blood 
pressure. Good weight. 

The deep cut in a finger from 
peeling home-grown pumpkin 
for soup bled generously
and I guess I should have
collected five mls for posterity.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


17. a poem that involves a plan

Whenever the heat beat
the fight out of even 
the toughest grevillea, or
the tanks groaned and screamed
with the effort of drawing water
from a sluggish River Murray,

Dad's watercolour dream
of the school's front garden
provided an alternate universe
of desire, delicious sweetness.
I remember particularly
the large leaf-green lawn.

There were to be cheerful
flower beds, natives and hardy
immigrants bonding in rich
alluvial soils, creating
with entwined arms a perfect
picture of future generations -

sturdy growth, producing beauty
for the common good. 
There was sunshine in this plan
but it was gentle, fresh after rain,
lemony-gold. One thing left out:
a fountain healing the pain

for the garden that never
was realized, the world
that grew spiky and dry,
the resentful children crouching
on its hard clods, pulling stubborn
weeds under a blinding white sky.


16. something malfunctions or breaks down


Now there are two of them -
two computers. Therefore

I need a bigger team
of troubleshooters.


15. a poem about training for something 
or working towards a distant goal

Excel ent!

My past experience
of formulae and control
key,  have me approach
these financial reports
with something less than glee.

I touch the cursor carefully
hold down the shift a-tremble
for it's black and white
this world of ledgers; my
instinct is to dissemble.

When she who tries
to train me true can't tell me
exactly what to do, we almost
throw a tantrum times two -
I have a sore back; she gets flu.

Across the nation, she
tries to reach my resistant
brain patterns, she tries to teach
an old dog new tricks
by telephone; though I beseech:

Oh please go back, explain 
once more - these formulae are 
such a chore. But suddenly!
I get the point! The Budget
and I no longer at war!

I almost hear her faint
with relief; at last I justify
her belief I'm a suitable
successor, a good protege.
Our next battle will be child's play!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


14. a poem about a person or place that has several different names

She and I

Officially, Mikaela.
Endeared, Mikkely-moo-snoo.
Ever since I admitted
I'd named her after Mikhail Gorbachev
she got "Gorby".

When I'm away
I'm Mummy.
Here, I'm Ah, Muuum ... (upturned voice)
or Sheesh! Mum! (downturned)

Darling GIrl
and Favourite Girl
I'd say lifting
or hugging, home
from work, she small.

We all have to be
something. To someone.
It's the connection
that's wordless, without 
name, immutable.


13. a poem in which something is opened or closed


Willie wagtail swings on the tilly lamp.
It's 6 am, and he's swingin', the scamp!
Chirpy and quizzical, he checks out the bales
- and constantly flirts with that fan of a tail.

"Sweet pretty creature" he sings in high trills
and I, half-asleep, must lie quite quite still
-  the day has begun with a heartening act -
a wagtail has opened my eyes, that's a fact!

Outside the window, he dives, and returns,
pretends to be settling, then apparently learns
that to swing on the chimes makes a new kind of song.
I leap out of bed, clear that nothing is wrong.


12. a poem about a rivalry

I wish I could say
this state of mind is truth.
But "comparison" is
its own source of ruth.

"I'm out of my league here!"
"How clever she is!"
"Look at that neckline!"
"Why doesn't she freeze?"

It's a constant companion
this jostling for rank.
And I'd rather be better
than worse, to be frank! 

Monday, September 27, 2010


11. something gets faked or simulated

Outside the Plant Nursery

The dead giveaway
is a black and white
cow the same size
as the pig and dog. 

I bought two lizards
in wire; they're perfectly
camouflaged on brushwood.
If only all animals could

see themselves the way
we have: in concrete
moulds, metal and wire,
even in packets of jubes

hanging on pegs
in supermarkets.
The real ones cling
to our guilt and eat it.


10. a poem about a place
      that has changed considerably
      over time(construction, destruction,
      renovation, disrepair etc)

The New Freeway

Compulsory acquisition
buried hundreds of apple trees
cut through millions of years
of rock and sea bed
and entertained us
with the sight of earth-movers
rising above it all.
Ancient marsh and old farmland
now married to prefabricated
suburbia, we acquire choice -
to follow old contours
or travel the new, this virtual
high way made real.


9. involving a flirtation
Stories I tell my daughter

We flirted with danger
that day in the Volkswagen
four of us in the back seat
all six of us puffing
on Peter Stuyvesants
the front windows open
wide enough ...

Then we flirted with disaster
the three pavlovas my aunt
had made balanced
on crossed knees
the ash from our cigarettes
miraculously missing
the cream and passionfruit
pips ...

It was our year of flirting with
the future; the wedding
and the pavlovas afterwards
tasted of a safe haven
but the marriage was
as reckless as too much
whisky - on the rocks.


8. a poem that includes a path, a trail or a map

Oneroa to Matiatia, Waiheke Island

Deep shade, thin trees
sunglasses off, the light

Feet quiet on clay -
cicadas click, hiss.
The slightest clack
from my back pack

I step carefully; he
who overtakes, jogs
on silent feet, light.

Here the path is cracked
the cracks increase in width
in number. Dry clay stubborn
in semi-tropical heat and

This path is his path
his country, the road
never far away.

While I continue to tread
carefully, he has gone, fled
like the centuries his people
created noiseless paths -
running tracks.


7. a poem involving a long-term relationship


Yesterday on platform 14
a family returning from the Melbourne Show
waiting for the Ballarat train ...

There are three children, the youngest
hopping around mother.

The older two play a game.
He stands behind her.
He writes on her back, down her spine.

She stands straight and tall
blond hair tied back, hands clasped
before her, and turns to him to guess.

"Correct!" he says, and writes
a new number or word.

Do you remember
that summer we three girls shared
the fold-out couch in Granny's
front room, Tranmere Avenue
perhaps 1956? 58?

We drew pictures through A to Z.
We had to guess. Taking turns
and giggling, you, cousin, like a new sister.

These two on Platform 14 are serious
wordsmiths, she in black and pink
with black-rimmed spectacles

he in black and red, curly-haired.
They give all attention to the game.

We were quiet girls with partying parents
inventing a game that touched
nerves, thrilled without shrieks and shouts.

We would never have demonstrated
such intimacy in public, always wary
of being a nuisance, or just unseemly.

You died so bravely, the celebrant said.
your thoughts always on others, no fuss.
What I still have is the memory
of three "giggling Gerties" sharing a bed
and all the years between, unshared.


6. a poem that takes place at a specific time of day

4:10 am
blackness absolute
what woke me?
when will I recover
sleep mode?

5:00 am
the kettle is a train
charging through
absolute silence

my mother, my daughter
sound sleepers, carriers
of tunnelled dreams I deny

5:41 am
absolute stillness
bird voices ripen
to daylight, its pale
blue roof, jewels
in a vast cave


5. a poem that involves consequences

What follows ... 

With the thought
I think I've bitten
off more than I can chew
it looks like I've not written
which isn't absolutely true.

I've had other thoughts
and chewed them over
made notes in a nice book.
What's missing is the handover
to blogspot so you can look.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


4. a poem that takes place in or 
otherwise involves a classroom.

Place of Learning

It teaches me
I don't have control
over everything
and can never have.

It teaches me that work
includes maintenance
of relationships, seasons,
harmonies, proportions.

It is a place where what I started
becomes something else: a piece
of art, a problem, a source of new
thought, a breathing space.

I open the back door
listen keenly to my teachers
- their cooings and warbles,
harsh shrieks, rustlings.

Even unwanted members
of this outdoor classroom
are loath to leave, cleave to
the rich loam, create a niche.

My friends wave friendly
arms full of flowers, stroke
mine as I pass, teach me
to love my choices.


3. waiting for a specific event

Aftershocks, Christchurch

You were waiting for the Big One.
It came. Now, groaning, the plates
force roads and pathways to contort
shudder you awake, more and more
wide-eyed, thirty-nine times in one day
twenty the next.  It's all the Big One
you're reluctant to understand, and
trying to stand without solid ground
liquefies the mind; adrenalin surges
attack the heart* of who you thought
you were; you stay home, move only
in a dance with the incessant shakes.
It has got you by the throat, this traitor.
And as you talk about going back
to work, to your life, to those you love
the earth grips your intentions, twists,
wrenches, until you get the message:
there is nothing to go back to; there is 
only a future that hasn't happened yet.

* It was reported in the newspaper that
the local hospital took in 4 times as many 
heart patients in the week following the
severe earthquake centred on Christchurch
(South Island, New Zealand)
on 4th September 2010


2. getting lost or losing something

This is not a poem about great loss

Returning from working overseas
I take the camera out to capture
colours and bright lights - wattle,
leucodendron, euphorbia, silver
princess, artichoke, rosemary, wild
rocket, climbing geranium!

These massed bloomings! Full
of life, health, growth. How happy
I am at this loss: of gravelled back
yard, a cautious planting to forestall
five boys creating a killing fields.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


1. poem on getting/sending a message
(phone call)

For my Cousin on the Scottish Side

It was the day
I came home
It was the day
I was glad to be home
To be with family
It was the day
Your husband rang
And you didn't call
So I knew as soon as
He said his name
I knew it was the day
You took as it came
It was the day
I came home
With you on my mind
With a plan
For visiting, my mother
Your aunt, and you
Together. It was the day
Six weeks after you said
It was best to take
One day at a time
No use dwelling on
Anything else ...
And now the day had come.
We drove to the Hospital.
Seeing you no longer
"You", I understood
"the best-laid plans
gang aft aglay."*
It was that day.

(*from a poem by Robert Burns)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

AUCKLAND 37, 38, 39, 40

Last Snaps

It's a Rain Show night -
white drifts blow past white arc lights.
Portainers flash caution
with orange lights.
Roads hiss at tyres interrupting
the flow, without a change of lights.
The ANL Binburra still
and stacked squarely, steady as she stays
a tower, an inverted necklace of white lights.

2. Community

The gardens display
arty workshops' results:
ceramic, mud brick,
painted wood & concrete
edges. Plants happily
spread, mingle, allow
the edges to introduce
gardeners' skill. 
One tilted scarecrow
flightless visitors.

3.  Lava

It arches, raises paws,
builds a case for high cliff.
We sit on it, magnet
for tides, turning to mud,
bumpy shelter for shells. 
One assailant undaunted:
Pohutukawa roots
looped like octopus legs.

4. Flight

I leave behind sunshine.
I am in the aisle seat
so see nothing but
the trolley, butter chicken
for lunch, cabernet merlot
from WA, the toilet queue.

It's good to land - Tullamarine's
sky never fails to excite: down
down we bump, like teddy's
being dragged downstairs,
and while I wait for my lift,
a black cloud dumps
its load in fat drops that drown
all hope of dry wit

not like those prissy mists
of Auckland in late winter.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Walking To Work
Through Enough Rain
To Need An Umbrella

Four buses from Takapuna
come hissing round the corner
where Price Waterhouse Cooper's
glassy trunk reaches into
a cloudbound sky
to view the North Shore's
world of arts
and Frank Sargeson's ghost.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


Train Rides

On the Southern Line, by
Middlemore, I'm aware
how florid, irrepressible
graffiti is here:
what a fanfare!!

Aha: Papatoetoe.
Love the way that name
suggests dancing.
Puhinui just jiggles
lacking the requisite
fluid limbs.

A volcanic hill has been excised.
Its nemesis evident: a crater
without power or potential, earth
movers now scavenging for crumbs.
The threat of unpredictable activity
surgically removed like a tumour.

Look at those back yards: so bare!
Outside the fences, wild growth
looking for places to colonise.

The night train home
begins with a group of loud girls.
One of them keeps herself separate
jumps off the train at stations
jumps back on just in time.
One wears dark glasses
and wishes to be kissed.
Another takes photos with her
cell phone. The fifth makes sure
everyone stays together, they're
in this together, they're hunting
or perhaps gathering
Saturday night's harvest
for the hungry.

There are boys who pretend
control: egg the girls on
then ignore them.
When the Guard tells the girls
not to jump off and on at stations
they acquiesce, they don't
back chat or threaten.
I notice I think they would, elsewhere.

A young man boards
and immediately starts
talking to the girl
who keeps herself separate
based on familiarity
at odds with her discomfort.

At Glen Innes, a burly man
joins us, parks his bicycle
against a seat, plucks
a ukelele from a backpack
and begins strumming.
He wears a green shirt
with orange stripes, and the word
Hurricanes across the back.
He teases the girls who won't dance
to his tune, and when he stops
after two pieces, we - the whole
carriage - clap. He leaps up to bow.
I notice his arms festooned with tattoos.

A couple with a curly-haired son
get on, sit in front of me, unaware
they're about to be included
on our musician's itinerary.
This time there are words,
the tunes jaunty, sentimental.
Behind his glasses, the boy's eyes
slide sideways at mother, who
determinedly studies her City map.
The boy's cupid lips curve upward.

The musician, that
happy man, rounds off his repertoire
just as we enter Britomart, and
smartly exits with bicycle, without
a backward glance. I watch him lift
the bike and ride the escalator,
watch his rugby-player tattooed
and bare legs walk him out fast.
I would like to thank the Guard
for the concert, but he has gone.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


Day of the Quake

It shakes her voice as she tells me
the course will be cancelled, people
will be reached, a new date scheduled.

I imagine those sheer scarps shuddering
the darkness at 4:35 am, disorientation
fear, the getting out, getting into the street.

It shakes out all the carefully nurtured certainties.
And has a tsunami broken the news all along
the eastern coast? To Pacific Islands, already sinking?

The train I'm on in Auckland sings a high-pitched
worker's whistle. I sing along, back in my throat
wary of other travellers' views of good behaviour.

Every suburb has its extinct volcano, once a pa,
now remembered for more recent explosions
of a territorial kind. Green, lumpy, they preside.

Always the ground shifts under our feet
unexpected, unwanted, unsettling. The train
is driven by diesel, from the back. We rock.


Staring Out The Window

Almost five weeks and
the busy wanderings
of portainers still attract
my curious eye, prick
my mind with questions:
what? where from? to?
and why?

A small plane circles
the North Shore, a firefly
flashing white then red.
The blood-red eyes
of gantry cranes display
no interest, no reaction.
They look to the heavens.

Ten white arc lights
are maypoles to great
gnat-like swarms of rain.
Tonight, Friday's boys
are urgent in the street.
A siren arrests itself.
Drumbeats fill the square.


How Wharf-Obsessed
I've Become

What will be happening
on the piers? The question
and several possible answers
walk me home from work
round Doolan's Corner.

I avoid the Viaduct bars.
Are those my gantry cranes
visible above the Ferries?
I relish the new-found term
so much more elegant
than "derricks".


Last Few Minutes of August
in New Zealand, Two Hours
Ahead of Eastern Australia


How long will I sit
expecting my ship to come in?
There's one beyond
the Toyota Shed but not
on my nearest pier.
I have a brief intention
of running out into
the cold black street -
scratch my itchy wrist instead
eat coffee-flavoured chocolate
drink Saints' Merlot
listen to the incessant mystery
of machinery, vehicle
equipment and engines
for moving things, leaving me
unmoved, dreaming of ships
coming in unseen.


A ship came in. A barge.
Its stack packed, still
almost intact.
Has it come to give
or receive? The slow
pirouettes of portainers
could deceive.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

AUCKLAND 27, 28, 29, 30

Sound and Light Show

Rain stops hissing.
Sheepishly, sheets
of water slide off
pier's edge.

I see the moon
for the first time
and three-quarters of it
is enough to compete.

White wharf lights
too-bright sensors
on city walls - I'm
stage-lit, surviving

within a setting
where sound and light
seem purposeless
overdone to fight The Dark.

A Day in the Surfers' Paradise
(Piha, Sunday 29th August)

Yes, your bush-lined winding road
is like a wave, a tall roller past
Titirangi. The view confirms

wildness, a certain basic necessity.
We dine in the one cafe next door
to The Store. Everything

that doesn't work is "so Piha".
The beach is gluey, grey; even
the seaweed ropes and tubes

stick to it. Our lodge is mired
in art works, broken canvas chairs
a pohutukawa like an octopus.

We walk in the rain, umbrellas
contorted by wind's revenge.
Championships are won here.

No Ships

After so many days of various
craft, I wonder what has sunk
en route, what has bypassed.

The wharves pinch the bottoms
of portainers, which spring to
attention, to life, to duty, to lift.

Moving things just to keep in
practice? The wheels oiled?
All action reasonless, random.

Glimpse of Other Worlds

Taking the Viaduct way, because
of bright sunshine and no need
to scurry, I am gobsmacked
by the size of the thing - as tall as
the hotel on the pier, of larger girth
and tied by thick hawsers to bollards.

I read the name: Something Princess.
I forget the first word moments after
reading it. This ship ignores waves,
the destabilisation of swell, wild
parties, tropical storm, desire. It serves
only the need for a good anecdote.

Next day, taking the Viaduct way
because of bright sunshine and
no need to scurry, I feel nostrils
filling with the odour of waste -
the vast tanks of shit must have been
emptied somewhere. The sea oily.