Options (1997)

Options (1997)



with MARIA July 1997

for Mary and Lyndsay

who also go seeking in the North


four spiritualities:


fourth century ascetic


17th. Cent. anglo-catholic


13th. Cent. mendicant


19th. Cent. prophetic




These poems make use of the eighteen
proverbs of Abba Evagrius the monk,
as given in the volume ‘Early Fathers
From the Philokalia’.

Evagrius, who died in 399, was a monk
and philosopher, and reasonably prolific
writer, a friend of Basil the Great, both
Gregories, and the two Macarii.

For much of his later life he lived as a
monk in Egypt.

I have incorporated these poems into
the environment of that time, and made
them studies in the spiritual ingenuous­
ness that gives that body of writing an
extraordinary vigour and interest.

Whenever God speaks herein, for the
very best of reasons the words of John
Ashbery are used. Quotes are sourced
at the end of this booklet.

The proverbs, revised for these purpos-­
es, are reprinted at the end, numbered
as in the Philokalia.

‘And gradually lead us, each of us,
Back to the fragment of sense which is the place
We started out from.’

John Ashbery



vagrius is deep in thought.
He’s reminding himself
To be pious,
Free from envy,
Good, chaste, meek,
As generous as can be,
And so on.

He longs to be free of care
Like the angels,
Who do not work,
But ceaselessly offer worship to God.

Then God spoke to him,
And said:

Go to the cliff.
Why tremble on the edge.
Leap if you must,
Only don’t blame me
For what you bring on yourself:

Evagrius said:
Faith is the fountain of love:
It flows to the knowledge of God.

He stays in his cave,
Eats only once in two days,
And resolves to submit
Until his death.



vagrius is returning
From gathering Ti.
When he sees the Devil
Throwing tuatua shells
From the top of a cliff.

Stop that,
He said.
You might kill an angel.

That’s what I want,
Said the Devil,
And threw one at him.

Why don’t you go back to town?
The Devil sneered.
You’ve tried this long enough
And it hasn’t worked.
You still sin.

Evagrius replied:
Patience gives birth to hope:
Hope glorifies the holder.

At this his spirit is healed,
And he goes his way in joy.



vagrius goes to the shop
At the beach.

He meets a woman
who asks if he will come to her.

She lives in a house
On the way.

At night he goes.
Have you the bed ready,
He asks.

But he began to read,
Praying for her at every psalm.
She stood beside him.

He read the epistle.
She fell at his feet, and cried:
Father, I have grieved God greatly.
Tell me how I can please.

He said:
Keep in obedience and passion will flee:
Feed the flesh and it will enslave you.

He sighs over himself
And he mourns over himself,
And he walks home.



vagrius keeps a garden,
Watered by the spring
Under the kowhai tree;
A pleasant planting
Of rutabagas, scalopini,
And broad beans.

It’s blessed by the Lord,
And he sells the surplus
To the campers at the beach.

God said to Evagrius:

Much of your time has been occupied
By creative games until now,
But we have all-inclusive plans for you.
We had thought, for instance,
Of sending you to the middle of the desert.

Evagrius said:
Live alone in Love and purify the heart:
Go apart in anger and be troubled.

He sighs,
And writes a letter to Macarius,
On sin.



vagrius is sitting at the door of his cell,
On a heap of Harakeke,
Meditating on the eight principal thoughts
From which all other thoughts descend,

And on his sin at Smyrna.

A man climbs through the fence,
And said:
Who are you?

When he heard he was Evagrius
He was filled with joy,
And said:

I saw your interview the other night
And drove up especially.
I live in the city.
Is this a good thing?

Evagrius said:
Better to live in a city in love:
Than in a cave in hate.

Then he talks with the man,
And sends him away with some mussels.



vagrius falls ill,
One winter,
Of the flu.

He has a vision,
And speaks of it.

The man sitting with him says:
What do you see, Father.

Evagrius said:
I see beings coming towards me,
And I am begging them
To leave me a little while
So I may repent.

The man said:
And if they give you more time,
Will you profit by it.

Evagrius said:
Break the law and dishonour God:
Keep the law and honour life.

The man returns to his own home
Knowing he has found the honey;
That he must eat
So much as is sufficient.



vagrius is made ill
By the rain,
Day after day,
And the cold.

He says to God:
Since I became a monk
I have never had my fill

Of food
Or water
Or sleep.

God said to him:
This is a pure defined drop of atheism.
There’s a schedule for everything
If you can only find it.

Evagrius said:
I sin in ignorance:
Judgement comes with righteousness.

If I want the good times
I must work for them
And, perhaps, go back to town.



vagrius is painting his cell
To look like the apse
Of the basilica at Syracuse,

A woman from the village
Comes to him:

Father, she said,
My husband has died
And I don’t know where
He’s put the money,

I’ve nothing for the children,
And Welfare won’t help,
Will you tell me what to do?

Evagrius said:
Take this kiti.
Go picking in the rocks and trees,
And pray.

Better poverty with wisdom:
Than riches without.

And he sets himself
To think upon
The three carnal movements
Of the body.



vagrius won’t take office.
From time to time
They come to the cell
And urge him to.

He prays to God in this manner:
If it is your will
That I should stand in your place,
Assure me.

A column or fire
Appears to him,
Reaching from earth to heaven,
Above the pylon on the ridge.

A voice says:
The days to come are a watershed.
You have to improve your likeness to God,
To make it plain.

On hearing this he decides
Never to accept the office,

But they said to him:
If you will not be a deacon,
At least hold the cup.

He said to them:
On the head sits the crown:
In the heart lives God.

And returns to more complex thoughts.



Is spreading seaweed on the garden,
When a woman appears
At the end of the beans

I am unfaithful to my man.
What shall I do.

He orders her:
On your knees you wicked woman.
Confess your sins.

A voice comes from the trees around:

Your mind wanders daintily
As a stream through a meadow,
For no apparent reason.
Promise to see to it;
See that it doesn’t happen this way again
So that we may do something about it
When it does.

He fell to his knees before her.

Forgive me.
We will confess together.

Pray often and escape temptation:
Be careless in prayer and you will sin.

Then he gives her food,
And sets himself a straighter path.



vagrius is in vigil,
Kneeling in the mud
Under the kowhai tree.
He aches with hunger
And, as the new sun warms,
He dreams of the scented supermarkets
Of Caesarea.

An old man comes to him,
And said:

Father, I’m in despondency.
It visits me at ten,
And drives me till two.
It stops the sun
And makes the day go fifty hours long.
It darkens the shadows,
Weakens the warmth,
Changes the light in everyone’s eyes,
And whirls me about
Until I can’t think.

If gloom attacks be silent and still:
Firmness will refine you,

Evagrius said.

Then he sits himself;
Snatches a sleep,
And soon wakes up again.



vagrius buys a paper
To see what is on in the world.

He does this now and then,
As a duty,

And is disturbed.
Before his eyes the profit wheels turn.

He longs for distraction,
Some home entertainment,

Then settles for books,
Wishes for more.

Prayer is not enlarging to the mind,
He says to himself.

I am dry in despondency:
I am dumb in discontent.

I am cast, even while living,
Into the depths of hell.



It happens that

Evagrius doubts the point of it
And argues with himself.

God listens,

And brings him a visit
From Smyrna.

She drives up,
Sits on the stone
At the front of his cell,
And said:

You want to see me.
Here I am.

My hair is grey.
My hands are stained
With age.
You doubt your choice?

Then he knew
The words from her lips
Were of the Holy Spirit.

They were filled with the sorrows of time.

Love is led by purity:
Understanding by love,

He says,
And walks her to the car,
Saying the Kyrie,
Sotto voce.



vagrius is praying
By the spring
Under the kowhai tree,
As the day returns to earth,

When a kiwi steps out
Of the scrub by the fence,
And pokes about for worms.

He thinks to himself:
The world and its creatures are mine.
What greater riches could I have.

How blessed is my calling.
How thankful I must be.

Honour God and know the Spirit:
Serve God and know wisdom.

He stays on his knees until
The bird returns to the bush.



vagrius is sitting
At the door of his cell,
Watching the yachts
In the bay,

And considering
That the word of the Lord
Is like flour
Diffusely scattered
Through the thoughts,

When a man comes to him
And said:

Give me something to eat.
I am tired,
And I have no food.

So he cooked some kumara
With puha,
Gave the man the dish,
And said:

The body of Christ is virtue at work:
Taste, and be free.

Then he lets his guest sleep,
And splits some flax
For a sun hat.



vagrius is sitting
On the stone
At the door of his cell,

When he sees the Devil
Toiling up the path
To visit.

Good morning,
My enemy,
He said.

You come with sin.

Not at all,
The Old One said.
You’ve grown rustic.

And he looked weary.

How did you gain this grace,
He asked.

The blood of Christ is wisdom indeed:
Drink, and be enlightened,

Evagrius replied.

No thank you,
The Devil said.
I’m on a worldly diet.

And he goes away.



vagrius is gathering cress
From the creek
That flows from the spring
Under the kowhai tree.

There’s a smell of roses.
The Spirit speaks to him:

I blow across a thousand paddocks
And go where I will,
But you have not yet received me.
You must use the Divine Scriptures
To imprint the memory of good
In your thought.
Renew your striving
By constant reading
To preserve your soul
From the subtleties of sinful ways.

Evagrius said:
At the heart of all is knowledge of God:
Rest there and learn.

He breathes deeply nine times,
And says the Prayer
From the Source Chretiennes.



Is returning from the beach
With a pack of pingao on his back,
When a farmer from the district
Stops and upbraids him
For his way of life.

You are lazy, he said.
You should be working.
You are living off the government.
You are a parasite on the nation’s wealth.

Just then a tree fell,
And killed him.

As he lay dying
Evagrius prayed over him.

When those who know meet those who do:
The Lord is there,

He said,

And gives him a sip of his manuka tea.


Instructions To Cenobites And Others

2. Faith is the fountain of love: It flows to the knowledge of God.

4. Patience gives birth to hope: Hope glorifies the holder.

5. Keep in obedience and passion will flee: Feed the flesh and it will enslave you.

7. Live alone in Love and purify the heart: Go apart in anger and be troubled.

8. Better to live in a city in love: Than in a cave in hate.

18. Break the law and dishonour God: Keep the law and honour life.

20. I sin in ignorance: Judgement comes with righteousness.

21. Better poverty with wisdom: Than riches without.

22. On the head sits the crown: In the heart lives God.

25. Pray often and escape temptation: Be careless in prayer and you will sin.

43. If gloom attacks be silent and still: Firmness will refine you,

44. I am dry in despondency: I am dumb in discontent.

51. Love is led by purity: Understanding by love,

75. Honour God and know the Spirit: Serve God and know wisdom.

76. The body of Christ is virtue at work: Taste, and be free.

77. The blood of Christ is wisdom indeed: Drink, and be enlightened.

78. At the heart of all is knowledge of God: Rest there and learn.

79. When those who know meet those who do: The Lord is there.



God Speaking:(from Ashbery)
2. ‘Private Syntax’
7. ‘These Lacustrine Cities’
20. ‘Palookaville’
22. ‘We Hesitate’
25. ‘Autumn On The Thruway’

Other Quotes And Explicit References:
2. Lines 3-7: St. Antony the Great: ‘170 Texts on Saintly Life’.
44. Lines 15-18: St. Simeon the New Theologian: Practical & Theol. Precepts.
76. Lines 7.9: St. Mark the Ascetic: ‘Directions, From Discourses.’
78. Line 7: J.K. Baxter: ‘Song of the Spirit’.
9-15: St. Isaac of Syria: ‘Directions on Spiritual Training.’
21: which see.
‘Writings From the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart.’ Faber and Faber,
‘Early Fathers From the Philokalia.' Faber & Faber, 1959,.
‘The Sayings of the Desert Fathers.' Benedicta Ward, Mowbrays, 1975.
‘The Desert Fathers.' Helen Waddell. Fontana, 1965.



Ti: the leaves of a tree, often known as the Cabbage Palm.

Tuatua: a tasty shellfish found in beach sand.

Kowhai: a shapely tree with gold flowers; of the pea family.

Harakeke: a large swamp plant of the agave family; the long
strap-like leaves are used for weaving. Often known
as ‘flax’.

Kiti: a small kit made of woven harakeke.

Kiwi: a flightless bird with a long beak; about the size of a fowl.

Kumara: a sweet potato.

Puha: a milk thistle, used as a vegetable.

Pingao: a sand-binding grass much valued for weaving.

Manuka: an aromatic shrub that forms a sort of heath; white
or pink flowers. The stress is on the first syllable.


Source Chretiennes: a French work similar to the Philokalia.
Kyrie: a ritual use of the words: ‘Lord have mercy.’
Sotto Voce: under the breath; soundlessly.
Apse: the round-ended sanctuary of a church or chapel.
Rutabagas: swede tumips.
Epistle: a portion of scripture read in the liturgy: usually from
a New Testament letter.

John Ashbery: is one of the foremost contemporary American poets, much interested in metaphysics, and noted for his indirective and elliptical style.

the cover sketch is by Jeffrey Harris




These poems are composed from
material in two books by Jeremy
Taylor – ‘Holy Living’ and ‘Holy Dy­
ing.’ Taylor was chaplain to King
Charles the First, and later became
a bishop in Ireland. The qualities
that made him so effective an
ecclesiastic were not necessarily
admirable ones, but those that made
him so fine a writer are those that
made him famous in his time: his wit
and robust imagery.

To make use of these qualities, and
to display the distinctive piety of
that age, I have made some use of
poetic forms that are relatively but
usefully strict, and involve a level of

It was my intention to make better
use of Taylor’s humour, but I found
this oddly difficult to do. It is here,
but unexpectedly dark.

Let thy alms go before, and keep heaven’s gate
open for thee; or both may come too late.

George Herbert


(the Lamentations of Jeremy)

As our life is short
So it is miserable.
Therefore it is well it is short.

God in pity to our kind
Has lessened our pain,
Has put our span into abbreviature.

The greater the ill
So swifter the life,
More easeful our rest in the grave.

No rest is allowed.
Soon we must rise
For fleas in the bed and flies in the room.

How few nourish!
Most are enslaved
And deafen heaven with weeping.

Kingdoms are embattled
To all corners of the earth,
And made desolate by popular diseases.

Grand Cairo feels the plague
Returning like a quartan ague.

The people of Arabia
Dwell in awful fear
Of being buried in huge heaps of sand,

And dwell in tents,
Or ambulatory houses,
To prolong uneaseful life.

Around the Adriatic sea
The earthquake strikes most forceably.

Whole cities fall, a tomb;
The house a monument,
The bed is crushed disordered in the grave.

And we weep sadly
For that great ill
Which God has allowed to afflict us:


Most who now live
Are infidel,

And God has allowed
An epileptic villain
To construct a base religion.

The nearer parts of Asia
And much of greater Africa
Are infallibly made Mahometan.

How sad a thing,
How great the evil is,
To be the Devil’s for eternal age.


Perfumes make our heads ache.
Roses prick the hands that tend.
Our own life blood carries fever.

We sell our souls for the bread we eat,
Give this day’s sin for last night’s meat.



often meditate upon the effects
of pride on the one ride
and humility on the other

Pride is a cancer
That destroys the fairest flower,
The best of gifts and graces.
Humility crowns them all.

Pride tarnishes our gifts.
Humility crowns them all.
Wisdom is the central jewel.
Pride corrodes and cankers.

Humility sharpens and brightens our sight,
While pride pulls a veil.
It saps the strength of prayer.
Wisdom invigorates.

Humility’s a speaking truth,
The spring of prayer.
Pride is a lie.
Humility sharpens and brightens our sight

It is our peace,
But pride is a lie,
Forever affronted and despised.
Humility speaks only truth.

Pride made Lucifer a devil,
Affronted and despised.
Humility raised the Christ of God,
And is our peace.


God resists the proud,
But brings to life his holy ones,
Gives grace to the humble.
Pride turned Lucifer into a devil.

Often think upon these things.
Be patient and glad to be reproved:

let the hand that cast the first stone
be thine upon thyself



Hard usage of the body
Has been a tool
Against uncleanness
For all ages of the church.

Spare diet and a coarse table,
Frequent fasts and small meals,
Have all been judged good instruments
For weakening our enemy.

A night on the floor,
Hard posture in prayer,
And other harshness to the body
Destroy the strongest passion.

Make pain upon the self,
And find ease for the present
Against impurity,
And strength in future trial.

Eat unpleasant food,
Bring the body under,
Use rudeness against it,
As have all ages of the church.

Crush this cockatrice in the shell,
or it will grow to a serpent,
a dragon,
a devil



The poor feast oftener than the rich
and turn the sum of things around,
so that the dog becomes the bitch,
the terrier pet transformed to hound.
But stay – the cause is run to ground:

The rich so fed can have no feast at all.
Desire and appetite are spent beyond recall.


Xerxes wept to see his men,
at thought they’d soon be soil again;
and yet he led them to their death,
consumed them, bought, and sold their breath.


When sick, consider at what gate
the illness entered your estate.
Then, when determined on the sin,
bolt it out, and stay within.



Always look for death.
Every day knock at the gate of the grave.
This is the word of the wise.
Put ashes in your cup,
Celebrate with sorrow.
Consider the tomb
At your triumph; the skeleton
At the revel; the bones
At the banquet. Death
Concerns each equally, and worms
Dishonour all in the corpse.
Make not death a distant ghost.

Spread ash for pickle on your bread.
At the door hang black.
Go to the vault of one who has died
And grieve upon her bones,
That now she has no kind embrace.
Converse with her in sepulchre –
Cure for vice is found in death.
Make provision in your life
For good reckoning at the end.
When you cast your last dice
Throw for an eternal prize
And pray for a blessed dissolution.

Consider these disordered days:
How much of our time is spent in vain.
Devotion to duty is dead,
Virtue but a pale spectre,
Sin scratches in our bones,
Pride’s brought us to sorrow,
Our prayers have fallen cold,
Resolve runs weak and pale,
Hopes consume to ash,
Our paths decline to vice.
We walk with both feet in one shoe.
Before God we stand on two.


Our days are wasted.
It would be better they were night.
Make your closet a vault.
By your lamp put a skull.
Hang your bed in ebony.
For your pillow put a stone.
Make your bed a penitence
And every rest your last
Comfort comes to those who mourn,
Joy to those who weep,
Life to those who’s bed’s a grave,
The evening text their epitaph.

Grace comes by prayer and sorrow,
Hope from affliction.
Be holy, and be happy when you die.
Use your bed well, and your mind –
Both will belong to the worms.
Love solitude and tears.
Make rest each night
A foretaste of the grave,
And let our thoughts before our rest
Be forewords of the judgement.
Better bear a burden now
Than ease in outer darkness.

These are God’s words for the wise:
Pray for a blessed end
That you may stand firm before God.
Make evening rest a penitence.
Seek solitude and tears.
Be dead to sin before you die.




‘Fran’ is a re-working of the Juniper
cycle from the ‘Little Flowers of St.

There is no way by which the wild
eccentricities of Brother Juniper
could ever be made acceptable
to a contemporary reader, so I have ad-­
apted some of the stories so as to
expose their original didactic pur-­
pose: the subversive nature of

It caused as much trouble then as it
does now, and was put a stop to be­-
fore Francis died.

The narrative and the gloss should
be read as one.

Let poverty be your inheritance,
and lead you into the land of the living.

St. Francis of Assisi.


1in the freezer
they just want to give me a warning
3they’ll still be there for dole day
when everybody comes and wants
5everything I’ve got in the shelves
and under the counter out of sight
7they were gods anyway free
and ran through the gardens
9there are still plenty left
to lay in the hedges like they have
11for years to bring the numbers up
my clients like chicken
13it’s a pity someone saw me
but Mrs Hills said not to worry
15after I put a good face on it
and told her what I wanted them for
17and that I didn’t realise they were hers
and that they were illegal
19which they are in the town
like bees someone told me


1.‘freezer’ – which we now call the Cold Kitchen. Used for the Food Bank i.e. a sort of store to provide cheap or cost-less food for the poor. The nature of this food bank will emerge as we proceed.
No other versions or fragments of this MS are known to exist. It is written in couplets in apparent imitation of the Wisdom Books of the Old Testament of the Bible.
The author uses no punctuation; we have corrected the spelling, though we would prefer to have not done so.
3.‘Dole Day’: a term used in those days when people were paid for being unemployed. The payment was given on a particular day, once a week. As it was low so-called Food Banks were created to supplement the income with goods. These were run by volunteers, though their existence was a help to the government.
5.It appears that the food-bank was makeshift, in a garage, and constructed like a small shop.
10.i.e lay eggs.
13.The doubtful ethics of this theft are not helped by even so small an hypocrisy.
18.Fran takes refuge in the letter of the law. It was illegal to keep poultry in the city.
20.The same bye-law applied to the keeping of bees.


21nobody’s made a complaint because
nobody round heres got a good garden
23only me and Mrs Hills chickens
dont come this far out
25somebody saw them in the pram
then somebody saw the feathers
27like I told Mrs. Hill
like I told the police
29desperate needs make desperate deeds
and somebody’s got to feed the poor
31Mrs Hill made a lot of noise
but there wasn’t anything wrong
33though the vicar got worried and said
he didnt start a food bank for trouble
35I can see his point of view alright
but its the poor who are the trouble
37as I said to him and Mrs Hill
who cried when I told her how they live
39and said you poor thing
youre a saint dont tell
41and gave me some money
to leave her bantams alone


25.‘the pram’: from other references in this text it’s clear that Fran pushed a pram around the town to hold the food-gifts she solicited.
28.‘The Police’: she must have received a warning in spite of Mrs. Hill’s reported good will.
29.As the script is untidy here, this line may not be accurately rendered. The proverb (if such it is) is obviously archaic, but no source can be found.
32.There is reason to doubt the truth of this statement.
33.‘vicar’: the figurehead leader (administrative and spiritual) of the local anglican worshippers, or church. Such groupings were often politicised.
37-42.A method of raising funds that Fran seems to have found successful, as we see from further references. It might have made difficulty for the vicar.


43then the vicar said that
seeing I seem to have the knack
45it might be a good thing
if I took the pram with me
47and went around the town
collecting for the food bank
49but now there’s all this trouble
over me and the church
51though there isn’t much trouble
and there shouldn’t be trouble
53but they don’t need the heaters
and it’s winter in the homes
55a lot of the kids have got the flu
mothers too with runny eyes
55and ears they’re so cold
and can’t pay the power
57they could if they managed
all the church people say
61they’re poor because they’re careless
but as I see it
63you’ve got to have the poor
to make money out of


51.the sense of this is uncertain, and the lines may not be accurately enscribed. It might appear she is both trying to play down the crisis and at the same time to condemn its ethic in contrast to the Sermon on the Mount. Though she never cites the latter, she would seem to entirely subscribe to its teaching, or almost so.
53.apparently the free-standing heaters were only occasionally used in that small church.
55-57.Epidemics of influenza, with attendant complications, were common in the winter months amongst the malnourished.
61.We note this expression (clearly an avoidance mechanism) frequently appearing in letters to the editor of newspapers, in the ‘80s and ‘90s. the MS is untidy. There are many deletions, and of about ten lines only these are decipherable. The writer might have been attempting to formulate an ideology, or rationale, for her style of activism, and then thought better of it.


65the more poor there are
the better for the government
67thats the way I see it
but nobody else does
69think things through they say
but thats not my job
71feed the poor they say
and thats what I do
73its their job to work out
why or why not
75and mine to do as they told me
or if Im not told
77like with the heaters at church
which they hardly use
79which I gave away
last week in the frost
81but if theres not enough
it should be used to the max
83so theres a lot to do
as I said to the warden
85who was shaking so much
that I sat him down
87and gave him a coffee
and a biscuit


65.this is a debateable assertion, but it’s revealing of Fran’s thinking.
69.At this point there is evidence of exasperation amongst members of the church, most especially within its governing structure. The church records are not available to us.
71-76.These lines betray an intriguing glimpse of the author’s personal complexity, which is quickly covered to allow her to proceed along a chosen course of action.
82.‘used to the max’ – a colloquialism common amongst young adults in the ‘90s, perhaps used here to give a contemporary force to her philosophy.
84.‘warden’ – an elected officer in local church government: a senior position in the hierarchy.


89from the mission
to calm him
91and told him of the homes
that have no carpet
93of the houses without power
or running water
95no cars or fences
fruit or greens or radios
97until he got up
and gave me some money
99and said I was a good woman
and doing a good job
101me and my konaki
which is my pram
103and it didn’t really matter
if they shivered on Sundays


89.‘from the mission’: presumably the anglican city mission, a charitable institution in the old style that was closed by the government not long after this document was written.
91-95:There is no doubt of the accuracy of this picture. It cannot be understood without reference to the prevailing monetarist policies of that time; these included the creating of a large pool of unemployed persons. so as to have available labour when required. It was necessary, for reasons of control, for these persons to be kept in a stale of shame and low income.
101:‘Konaki’ – a Maori term, here used informally, for a sort of sledge often used on dairy farms.
103:the script is continuous, but this break is inserted for the reader’s convenience.


105the vicar said we should
give up something for Lent
107so I’ve given up church
he said it wasn’t a bad idea
109but hopes it doesn’t catch on
the others think I’m wicked
111they grumble as I go round
for gifts that I shouldn’t be
113in charge of the food bank
if I’m not a Christian woman
115but I’ve given up something I like
and every time I wish I was there
117each Monday I go to the bakers
for the weekend leftovers
119and put them in the freezer
for Thursday
121Mr Martin said today
I hope they go to the deserving
123and not to all those wankers
who won’t work


106:‘Lent’ – a season of religious observation lasting about six weeks.
107-116:the precise meaning of this passage cannot be ascertained, but must lie in the subtle religious nuances of those times.
111:‘they’-the church people at worship, which usually occurred on Sundays, and lasted about ninety minutes.
117:presumably refers to those items not sold.
120:Thursday being the day the ‘dole’ was given out, when so many more came to town to spend it.
123:‘wankers’ – a negative term meaning ‘lazy’.
124:a reference to the social code that is said to have kept the unemployed in a subjugated slate. There is evidence, however, that a section of this group was alert enough to exploit its state for short-term gain.


125I don’t want my market spoiled
he said in a threatening way
127meaning his pies which
they buy on dole day
129and on fridays when they come
in to town to the pubs
131his pies are famous
Kiri likes them
133and if lots are given away
they wont need to be bought
135like the kiwi-fruit they dump
outside the cooling stores
137and wont let me take
not even a pram full
l39in case it gets around
and lowers the prices
141its the principle of it
but bugger that I say
143what about the principle of life
when there’s not enough to go round


125:note this reference to monetarist policy.
129:‘and on Fridays’ – an interesting archaism. Saturday and Sunday were once holidays, known as ‘the weekend’, and Friday night was an anticipatory celebration. This gave rise to touching expressions, e.g. ‘Its a fine life if you don’t weekend’ – an ironic allusion to orgiastic prostration.
132:‘Kiri’ – Kiri te Kanawa, a popular and fashionable opera singer.
133-140:this is factually verifiable.
142:‘bugger that’ – an expletive still occasionally used in remote rural areas. Fran either let this slip, or used it for deliberate emphasis. Probably the former.
143f:the remainder of this section is clearly crucial to all understanding of the work, and should be closely examined.


145but they look at me
as if life’s not as big
147a thing as money which
we’re put on earth to make
149when I tell this to the vicar
he says watch out take care
151your food bank will turn
the world upside down
153and the economy inside out
keep it quiet don’t tell
155look happy
and be good
157last Saturday night after tea
when I was putting out the bread
159and wine for Sunday morning
and the colours and altar cloths
161a man came into church
with a tired face
163and asked if he could sleep
in the church for the night
165but I can’t let them do this
they might steal or smoke


145-148:a justifiable assumption in the light of the political and social philosophies of the times. This is the only contemporary record that gives a clear delineation of these tragic absurdities, and greatly helps us to understand the catastrophe that concluded them.
149:Perhaps the vicar thought he was joking.
151-161:We wonder why the vicar didn’t join Fran in her attempted subversion. It would be unkind to conjecture.
157:‘after tea’ – i.e. the evening meal, then also called ‘dinner’.
159:‘bread & wine’ – central elements in the ritual meal or eucharist that christian churches enacted on Sundays.
‘colours’ – many churches hung curtains of different colours to mark religious seasons.
163:Presumably this man was travelling, or had no home.


167so I told him he could use the porch
if he went at dawn
169I took the carpet from the vestry
some cushions from the pews
171and a couple of old curtains
to keep him warmer
173and make him a bed
the church is a sheltered place
175he asked for a glass of water
I gave him a glass of wine
177but he slept too late
and we had to climb over him
179the vicar found the glass
with wine-stains in it
181Jenny says that I’m satanic
to watch me like a hawk
183the others say don’t use the wine
and put him in the back porch
185and if he comes to sleep again
and if he doesn’t smoke
187I might let them use the hall
when its wet


168:i.e. before any worshippers arise.
167-176:a good example of the thoughtless and often spontaneous generosity that Fran was inclined to indulge in. As we see, this entangled her (and others) in painful consequences, and sometimes threatened the welfare of groups and individuals. A somewhat similar trait can be detected in the lives of the so-called Saints of the Church. It was admired by those who were familiar with it, as an attempt to practise Jesus’ teachings – ‘to give and ask for nothing back’ etc. Fortunately few ever did this, or tried to.
177:This must, by now, be Sunday morning.
181:‘satanic’ – the reference is puzzling, but is likely to be superstitious, and has to do with ‘Satan’ the antichrist.
187:‘the hall’ – most probably a public building near the church, and owned by it.


189they’ve asked me to attend
a food-bank conference in town
191but I’m no good at public speaking
it’s experience they say
193I’ve been running one
for longer than the others
195and they want me to speak
from my knowledge
197which is what they say
but I don’t use those words
199the minister of welfare is here
and others who are big
201in the movement
in the city
203the ministers not happy
and says were playing
205the statistics are loaded
and people can get by
207he says so I jump up
and tell him what I do
209I don’t think at all
but do the best I can


189-190:it appears that Fran was seconded by the church or community officials. Though the church had a certain authority over her, and could well have initiated the food-bank, the fact that it was supported by the community would have made her answerable to it as well. The conference must have been a large meeting of food-bank managers or representatives from a wide area.
194:we have no information that tells us how long this was. She must have been resourceful.
199:‘Welfare’ – the arm of government that still attempted to help those who had failed society. It was an unfashionable ministry.
201:‘in the movement’ – we must guess that by this Fran means all those involved in managing food-banks, or perhaps in allied community charities that are now forgotten. The poor were not then confined to labour parks.
203-206:the facts were well understood by the government, but not popularly.
209:Her courage must be admired, and probably was, though we might regret her ignorance, and the misdirected zeal described in the next few lines.


211I tell him of the families I feed
and how the people give each week
213how I’m open all day and
go collecting five nights
215that I grow vegetables in my garden
and the Mission helps with dry goods
217clothes and blankets and some bulk
foods like bread and breakfast things
219and that I don’t make people pay
the clients call me mother
221they got angry with each other
and said I was making things
223easy for the government
and being taken for a ride
225the minister said there’s no poverty
trap that there are easy ways out
227but I said rubbish
there are easier ways in
229and more of them
and I could show him
231the only ones I make things
easy for are my clients


215:In those days many people had areas of land around their homes and grew green vegetables. Fran gave these away. Some gardens can still be found on farms.
219-220:This is revealing. Some commentators suggest the statement indicates a latent homophobia that could well have been the motivating force behind her drive to public service, and to her notorious compassion. Mythic memories of her still persist in her home town. A large hotel now stands on the site of the food-bank, and small offerings of fruit and flowers are often found on the memorial plaque in the foyer.
211-226:This was a feature of those times often misunderstood by commentators. Here two ideologies are in a conflict that is masked, but is really a struggle for dominance.
227:Such a response can have been only briefly effective.
229-232:there would have been little interest in this offer.


233I feel silly and up
set humiliated
235like I was standing in
front without clothes
237I wish I hadn’t gone
but it teaches me
239how bad it is
at the bottom
241a cost unit
but theyre people
243I’m told to ask questions
fill in forms and records
245so we can sort out the crooks
and give to the truly poor
247as the shop keepers say
they like to feel their giving
249is going where its needed most
and the others say the same
251the vicar says when I ask
best do what they want


233-236:Fran’s ingenuous directness in such sophisticated company exposed her vulnerability. Had she persisted, or been aggressive, she would have risked destruction of a sort.
239-242:she uses the occasion to reinforce her identification with her clients – her ‘people’ as she calls them. One senses she is just about to write ‘children’. This form of spiritualised patronage is commonly found in the so-called sacred cycles of the christian era. Note: in line 241, an early use of monetarist jargon.
243-251:one feels compassion for their fight against impinging chaos.


253but I don’t think thats
right if you let it go
255don’t track it down
like a detective
257let it go and do
what God wants it to
259I say when anyone
comes for food I
261give if I have it
and don’t ask
263but this does give
me too much to do
265I know I’m being used
but isn’t this what I’m for
267though the vicar says if its
thought I’m thoughtless
269they’ll shut me down
by not


253-262:an atypical line of reasoning by a Christian, but it can be traced to a teaching of Jesus in the so-called Sermon on the Mount, and in a parable or two. Understandably, little was made of it by subsequent generations, though it surfaced briefly in several of the religious orders, most notably the Franciscans. To practise this sort of generosity would inevitably lead, as with Fran, to direct conflict with many social and financial interests, and to the consequences we may assume she incurred.
263-266:the exploitation would have been systematic.
269-270:Presumably by withdrawing sponsorship, but the MS suddenly ends here on this note of doubt. Such an end might be taken as justifying the essentially insubstantial nature of



(a stormy Advent at the cathedral)

day of thunder
roaring rain
green dusk
cloud descending

we meet at the door
choir and candles
bishop dean
escort you from the uproar
to the east

when all are gone
you’re there
alone below the ghostly rose

whose throne is the cloud
who covers the earth like mist

we’ve sung you
to tie loose ends
close the estate
and you’ve come

you’re here
but not at hand
you’re heard

in a speech we’ve forgotten
once clear
scarce used at all
we’re lost

we use words differently now




Maria Pangarei came from the Hokianga, and
adopted the role of prophet in 1885. She set
up a camp for her followers on the outskirts
of Kaikohe, near Mt. Putahi, and proclaimed
the imminent return of Jesus. On that day the
sun would rise in the west, Pakeha would turn
brown and be the servants of the Maori, who
would be white.

As a test, she visited the church one Sunday
morning, and danced before the pulpit during
the sermon. The laughter she received from
the congregation and clergy caused her to
condemn them.

Dancing was integral in her movement, and
the camp was fronted by a large lawn for
dance rituals, which seem to have been a part
of worship.

The failure of the proclaimed epiphany
caused confusion, and a procession to
Waiomio, near Kawakawa, for advice from the
chief Kawiti. He was helpful, and the
procession was dissolved by her hospitality at
the Kawakawa pub. Very soon after she
disappeared, apparently into the shelter of
friends and family further south.


The pub has spilt itself.
People stream
like beer from a broken jug
out over the road
staining it dark,
and over the rail track on the road,
stopping the traffic of horse and foot,
buyer and seller,
to make a feast and a fair
for the passing of the Maid
who, on her Dancing Lawn
had promised justice,
equal rising, equal day,
perpetual equinox.

As bees before rain
they mill and pulse,
then swarm
for a speech or a treat,
eject, and cluster
on the track again
in circling groups
of news and goals
and gravities.

It was a great idea
to stop the sun!
To make God show!
What would have happened
if you had, Maria?
Did you think of that?
Several have done it
and look at us now.
Do you want to go
through that again?
You took the steps, Maria,
the first of that dance.

They like you well enough now.
They like the banner and the band
and your umbrella,
your red shawl and peacock feathers,
but be ready when the money runs out.
Brandy is bad-tempered at the end.
It’s a good idea for now.
What will you do then?
Slip out now, Maria,
while they’re happy.


Slip while the going’s good,
out through the band and the crowd.
You look worried,
in those deep-set pitch-ball eyes.
Don’t talk.
It’s the best.
It makes us think –

– you might have brought it off.
You had us frightened.
You almost had your way.
The way you put your feet,
your arms,
your eyes:
that nearly did it.
We were lost if we laughed,
you said.

you said
that when
you did
your dance
would go brown
would go white

you said
you said
that when
you did
the sun
would rise in the west
the moon
and stars
would set in the east

and that
the land
would go back
to you
and we
would be
your servants.

Then God would come.


No wonder we were frightened.
What a step you took –
over the chancel floor
and round the altar.
The force in it!
The sense of things to be!
A first touch of sun,
a rain in the drought,
life, light, love, growth.
The stillness of eternal motion,
an instant
the power
of the maker!

Take care
or you’ll be crucified,

You shouldn’t have done that
in my new church.
You broke my liturgy.
How can we cope with that, my dear?
Don’t push us.
We love you
in our quiet way
as Christians should,
but there was nowhere for us to go.
You trapped us
and we didn’t know
what you would do.
We wondered:
would you be rude?
You should have said.
You trapped me in my pulpit.
How could I have stopped you
in the middle of your magic?
Should I have?
We didn’t know what you meant.
That’s why I laughed
and angered you.
Why didn’t you talk to me first?
We saw you foolish,
a vandal,
dancing to break us.
No-one else saw
what I saw


out the window.
a shiver in the air
a ripple in a clear pool
a sound
a sound of silver
something nearly stopped
the hills to the side
were about to sink
out of sight
to grow much bigger
somewhere else
a rustle in the trees
blew from a breath
that in a jot
would have blown us
from this town
to another
and turned the leaves
from green to gold
and other northern colours
a rainbow sound of gold
and a scent of God
in conference

You nearly had them there, Maria.
I could see Them
through a door ajar.
From the crack a smell
of another firmament.
A thurible of Paradise,
a sacred compote.
You don’t know
how close you came.
That door into heaven!
That rustle of the royal robes!


These in my church:
they’re good people.
They have their troubles.

None are wealthy.
All work hard.
None have money.


Not all are well,
and some are old.

There are children,
and there’s drink.

Life’s not easy for all.
Let us be.
Half-done magic messes up the world.
Leave that to the leaders.

I’m mocking.
Not a good thing.
I know what you want:
the past returned,
us out of it
gone back home,
and you again
In sole possession
with power.

That can’t be.
The whole world’s shifting.
Pantechnicons on every road.
Caravanserais encircle the globe.
Every port’s a warehouse
and every town a barracks.

Can you see what’s waiting there, Maria?
Just out of the corner of your eye,
in the shadows,
beyond your Dancing Lawn,
ever-new and
lurking, watching, waiting,
to ring the changes.
when you dance
they stir
sometimes in time
like trees in the wind
at other times to crouch
as if to single out
and make you one

they’re always there
with you and your pilgrims


crowding the air
around the fences
shadows of another time
longing to take form
You give them form
at your assemblies,
weaving substance
as you dance and sing,
then they fade into the past.
faded shadows
drifting in the trees
wistful for forsaken ways
sniffing softly in weak grief


You’ve failed,
as you must, thank God,
but you’ve shaken my still world.
It’s hard for me,
new out
and not long made,
but you’ve opened doors,
and I wish that I had known you.
I wonder:
where do you stand now?
Where do you live?

What do you see
in those pitch-ball eyes?
The visions now –
was it fear that made them
and what made that?

Your world’s slipping out,
as worlds will when not wanted,
and leaving shifts in tone,
regrouped ideas,
old things in new senses;
and here we are, Maria,
caught in it.
I in the new,
you in the old,
I think,
and you prophesy!


Your people will leave you.
For you
they sold their horses
killed their pigs
left their homes
cooked their crops
and God never stood on Putahi.
Where do they stand?
Where’s their money?
What, now there’s nothing?
Back to their families, I suppose,
crowding in,
clutching at crumbs and straws
of what they had before,
that no matter what the hope
there’s always loss,
and nowhere to go but north,
crying through the trees
to the last tree of all
on the cliff
where the spirits leave.

But I know,
you and I know,
that deep down behind it all
you’re right
Not now,
but you will come about.
It’s what God does with justice.
That’s the way the dance is stepped,
the way the wind blows,
the rains fall.

All have their due
in due course.
Rivers run again
and deserts bloom.
Justice is an element created,
like iron and fire
which can be wrought
and extinguished
then return in time
to take a natural place.
You will be answered,
your prophecies fulfilled.
So go, Maria, go,


to Whangarei or Waiomio,
and let your people hide you well.
You danced to make the past repeat
a different story,
to change the past
and rearrange its glory.
So, go now,
change your name
and put your prophecies away.
Feel no guilt.
God was the choreographer.
You danced and sang
as best you could.
The joy’s been yours.

published by: Heteropholis Press
8/1 Ruapehu St.
Mt. Eden
630 9434
copyright: the Author, Nov. 1996.

ISBN 0-473-04111-1.

drawings by Jeffrey Harris

© Leicester Kyle, November 1996 /
with 'Maria', July 1997

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