State Houses (1997)

State Houses (1997)


This work uses part of my own family history, from the mid-forties, in Christchurch.

After being well-off during the Depression, we fell into hard times during the war,and had to live in sub-standard housing in a sea-side suburb out of the city. In the mid-forties we were able to obtain a State house In a new street, Auburn Avenue, in Upper Riccarton near Church Corner.

We were the first in the street.

My parents continued their decline, and eventually took their lives.

In this poem my parents are You, the children are We.

The dream-like recollection is set against the ideology of which state houses were part, and progress is provided by a ritual house­blessing, an alternative ideology, which moves the family group from room to room, part to part, of reality.

Most of the work is written in tristichs, and is to be read rapidly, with the emphasis on the first word of each line. Variations are placed for relief, and pauses.

Leicester Kyle
June, 1997


For my parents
For John and Sonia
And for lost Elaine

'Yes I know you're moving – in a circle, backward with boxes –'
Lorine Niedecker to Louis Zukofsky


The complete building is the final aim of the
visual arts. Their noblest function was once the
decoration of buildings. Today they exist in iso­-
lation, from which they can be rescued only
through the conscious, cooperative effort of all
craftsmen. Architects, painters and sculptors
must recognize anew the composite character
of a building as an entity. Only then will their
work be imbued with the architectonic spirit
which it has lost as "salon art."
Architects, sculptors, painters, we must all
turn to the crafts

Art is not a "profession." There is no essential
difference between the artist and the craftsman.
The artist is an exalted craftsman. In rare mo­-
ments of inspiration, moments beyond the con­-
trol of his will, the grace of heaven may cause
his work to blossom into art. But proficiency in
his craft is essential to every artist
. Therein lies
a source of creative imagination.
Let us create a new guild of craftsmen, without
the class distinctions which raise an arrogant
barrier between craftsman and artist. Together
let us conceive and create the new building of
the future, which will embrace architecture and
sculpture and painting in one unity and which
will rise one day toward heaven from the hands
of a million workers like the crystal symbol of a
new faith.


carapacejourney to the Centre

aboveof the room

the wall
reach out
Come with me
for one last walk
before you leave

Awake but keep
your eyes shut
your hand in

Mine so I can lead you
heavy on my arm
to places where we’ve

Stood before and seen
(centring) all those things
that one must

Know at your pace
to where we turn the T. V.
on and recollect the

Microwave over there
the clock you can hear
if you’re still a

Lot the book case
with the precious
books the

Chair where you sat to
rule the room con-
trol with flick and

Switch authority
remote and some
times actual the

Reading light the
desk for coffee
cups the stereo


Stay closed in
your faculties and
put your

Feet on the accustomed
places patterned on
the carpet worn by

Custom on those
places feet have
trod to the

Centre of the room on
the board that shakes
the table in the

Kitchen you can reach
to the taps all the
switches on the

Wall the spice tray
the notice board
and the door of the

Fridge when it
rattles now tell
me Consider

with both nostrils
shut both eyes and
your ears that with

Work and right
company life’s good
when made with

Pleasure in it
joy to ask
for talking with

Continuity if sense
enough in your
children if there’s

Anything else I’ll
ask you’re last alone
but not for



There’s probably something good on telly

With information
and human interest

Time’s Out
and after us

stand under the light

Let it be poltergeist
and zap things at you
during commercials

thin sounds
small change

stay here

on the edge of breath

and be told

I know you will be happy


Out this doorout Again and on

with it
It’s long since
but you remember
down the passage

To the front
to start again
and go through

Now you’re empowered to

Order the past
in ways that will
help us all to

Plait those untied ends
you left entangled
and lying all over the

Place like weeds
like weeds to grow
rank in the mind

In order ranked
for vigour

Intruding on the
daily being

Staining from the
past the pure and
personal we’ll

Start again step
through the house
from front to back for

Recall and restruc­
ture and for sep­
arating out as new

Ore from a
parent lode that
holds the gold but



We’ll see if an
arrangement can
be made

for an elemental

in a vegetable


Perspective Sketch


Area: 1147 sq. ft.


The party proceeds around
the outside of the house
to the gate. The priest says:

Except the Lord build the
house their labour is but
lost that build it.

The priest makes a bless­
ing saying: May God’s care
surround this house,

and light and love shine
on it.

Wide wide sky withthe Front gate

weather on it Cirrus
white on orange tiles

(bugle on a hill last
and letter box
no gate back to the

wide wide plains
with weather winding
white above our

Face to the peninsula
cap of lenticular mist
one chimney and a

Stony path to the sky
one front door and a
box by the porch for heliotrope

One flat deck truck
with our small things
for five new rooms

and the garden grounds
of a corner house

first in the street
to come alive

one hope virginal
from a sorry past


one cat

the party stands out
side the front door
the priest says:

Behold, I stand at
the door and knock
says the Lord

the priest knocks at
the door and says:
O god of hearth and

home, make this a
place where the family
may find strength.

Frisson at a doorthe Front door

of hammered glass
to veil the evil eye

(safer in a suburban street
than on a common way)

We wait for a pocket
to give the key
and wait to see you

Unlock a varnished place
to use for years and
years from now no

Scratches on the
lintel sill no
sticky stuff on

Steps too new for
reference pluperfect
no past printed

Smell of the need to
begin a curriculum
vitae cuneiform of

Toe-caps dropped


toys chairs a

Wallpaper scroll
of scuffs an

Inadvertent tapestry
in negative

the group goes in
the hall the priest says:

Good friends we enter
this house in the name
of God Enter with

thanksgiving in your
heart. Come into the
Presence with praise.

Oh the smell itthe Front hall

lasts for months in
the linen cup-

Board of a bad
mix in a plasterer’s
brew of something

Ulcerous long curing
long healing to
welcome friends and

Strangers in scarce
entered in the

Fred who teaches
Mavis who is
Christian Science
Sees sickness as
Caritas & Caries

The Halls whose
Kitchen part
Comes apart from
Ginger beer in hot

Black Greta from
Lancashire and


Wayne who uses
Loud radio when
He’s gardening &
Doing as she tells

Hector and music­
al Mary who know
Some interesting
People in town

Mrs Frew with big
Breasts that puzzle
Me for a while and
Migraines in nor­

Come after past
the Azalea on the
lawn and children

To the door and
enter in to dis­
guised pasts and

Hyperbolic hopes
and gardening plans
(your forte) then

Take fright as we

Take care to
note the others
living here but

Keep distance lest
we see our shadow
on a neighbour’s face



Fred and Mavis

He stutters
stilted slight

She’s eye
black spider eye

jurnps to catch

Kind to those obedient
to her will

(it’s best for all)

and lurks to prey

A carnivore
at tea

“Garden up the square brick front
back the alley on the west
bare neglected in the cheap near
half way down the street”


Mona and Vic

Vic’s in the bank

They’ve a son
out of Gone
with the Wind

Her nerves
are shot-to-pieces
breaking up


and over-the-top
for a laugh
as she knows

“The west end in the double
lengthwise on the other side
weather-board and cream and
not too much space spending”


the Halls

Eric keeps it altogether
on a bike to work

never misses a day

Gladys is clean
in a basic-duty way

and does the lawns

Neighbours down the road
think that people like this
should be sterilised

But the girls can read and write
and they fight
in their house
of asbestos

“Slip and chip
and grey sky walls
with only doors
and sills that show
for a time”


Wayne and Greta

Wayne’s in the air
and flies away

Children come

And they stay together
though she rows a lot
and throws him out
the door
with chairs

and language
that someone
must have taught her

in Stockport

“Double tough for the other end
of quiet

divided house on half-carved land

2 sheds facing
2 homes
2 backs
2 front lawns with paths”


Hector and Mary

Have small pretensions
made of small concealments

of virtues that when revealed
are bigger than those concealed

and disclose
persons more important
than anyone Auburn knows

We’re confused
and embarrassed

Some say there’s malice
in deception

“Warm wooden near Middleton Road
on the sunny side of the street
sheltered by the shelter-belt shell white
around the berry farm back bright”


Mrs. Frew

Is mother of Gus
who I must

In hot weather she wears
small clothes

Her husband was killed in the war
and Gus is the man

She has poplars behind her house
that smell good in May
after rain
and hide
another world of work
on the other side

“A square
near the front
bedrooms up
live below

2-level box
sunporch live
and leafy”


the group moves
into the sitting room
the priest says:

How good and pleasant
it is when God’s people
live together in unity.

The priest makes a
blessing and says:
God, you have made

us to need each other:
bless those who live here.
May they grow in yr love.

A use from Greymouththe Sitting room

or Boggart-Hole-Clough
Jewry or Australia

We’re Polynesian
now we sit
for generations and

From these windows
see the world the
mysteries of south and

West where change
first shows spines and
cadavers of cottage

Frames settlement made
up and down the street
the garden trellised

First fenced hedged
and asphalt paths
that last a while but

Crumble like us all
in frost we sit
at wet day interests and

Plot Livingstone
daisies down the front
to the letter box for


Sun and dry weather
artichokes by the
compost heap for soup and

Vitamin C and wind
that doesn’t matter
in the family you

Plan your turnip
trick put yellow and
red after white to

Make the season
longer pink yams
Captain Cookers and

Interesting greens by the
fire always a fire
for cheerfulness as

Always a roast on
Sundays sitting round
the fire living quietly

not looking at you

the priest says:
You shall eat in
plenty and be satisfied

the priest makes a
blessing saying:
Bless the hands that

work in this place
and give us clean hands
for daily bread.

Strive struggle fightthe Kitchen

to keep this your way
and on the whole win the

Way of a house
to be pushed out of
shape into a round of

Love a museum


of a cupboard with
season shows of

Bird nest eggs
and jam-jars used
to precipitate clay for

Marbles quartz
river-stones worn
greywacke and jasper

window sills for seedling trays
and ripening fruit

borrowed knives
lost boards and

On the table
homework incomplete
deferred yet here

Your metaphysic makes
cook’s alchemy the
worthless turn to gold

Filters through this
room our world for
nourishment from nothing

the group moves to
each bedroom in
turn the priest says:

Guide us waking, O God
and guard us sleeping
that awake we may

watch with Christ
and asleep we may
rest in your peace.

Look east to the seaour Bedrooms

we’ve left behind
and the hills

With their residuals
of time unused to


make or build or

Grow down the road
of houses in tar­
paper skin like chitin

No-one moved in
down that end by

Bathroom lavatory
doors of our own
and windows for

Various personal uses
a light for each bed
our refuge when

You’re taken by the
aches of age inartic­
ulate and in yourself

Rage against the
going of those too
few things you love

You’ve lost the lead
the handle-fast the
knowledge of respect

We hide and read
comics that seem
more real and

Wiser or more
worldly-wise for
sleep and next day

the priest says: the
Lord watch over yr
going out & coming in

The priest makes a
blessing saying:


Blessed be Christ

the Prince of peace,
who breaks down
the walls that divide.

One morning Auntthe Passage

Daisy tells of the
sun in her corridors of

Power but only
because we listen
low in our room she’s

Coarse you say
common and so
it does up ours

When our doors are
open past the smell
from the linen shelves

(Ghost of a man
walled up you hint
to tease we half

Believe) lighting up
lovely and long this
small length of

Shadows where small
signs hide to jump
out bad Surprise and

Grow jump out
again on Christmas
Eve when you’re

Putting up the wassail
globes drinking after
work so bad about

Money what you do
with it and how
you like to get it


There’s nothing left
for Christmas or a
holiday or school

the priest makes a
blessing saying: God
of the night, make

this a holy and a
blessed place for all
who sleep here.

May your holy angels
guard them and your
blessing strengthen

A big room withyour Bedroom

furniture for when
you’re sick and the

Doctor calls for worry
in various subtle
forms the things you

Lack like money
good answers skin
on old sores and

Words for the
proper expression
of love so

Sore but it’s warm
new clean the sun
shines in and on some

Days it almost seems
that life in this
bruised bed is

Acceptable but it
makes you sick and
the doctor says you’re

Ill and need a
holiday in Fiji
you cry at the gulf that


Divides and the
vicar visits Dog Box
Lane hoping this new

Street won’t wear
him down and out
but if the

Answers you seek
are transcendent
they can’t fit the

Questions you ask
each day
after dishes or

Biking down
Waimairi Road
to work

the priest says:

Blessed are you God
of the rain, the rivers,
and the lakes.

You give water for
life and health and
to cleanse all creatures.

The priest makes a
blessing, saying:

Blessed are you
O God, our spring
of life and health.

New linoleum nothe Bathroom

drip damp patch
iodine stain no mould

Bath white
fit box
no legs
There’s a mirror


and a toilet
but no chain

(Though you still say
remember to pull
the chain)

In a room of its
own a big step up
to the benefits

Technology can offer
domesticated elements
water as we wish the

Electric tamed
to need windows
hold the wind

Roof the rain
power indeed
security in tap and

Switch to wash
enlighten stop
the dirt brought in

Which seeps and strays
and makes its way
despite the modern mind

the priest says:

The fruit of righteousness
is peace, tranquility
and trust for ever.

the priest makes a blessing:

Enfold this home with love;
indwell this home with joy;
build it in peace.

From the kitchenthe Back door

to the back
porch our usual


Means for in and
out directness
here immediate

Link with the
business end of
the house one

Door between it
and the world white
glass top to show

Shape and substance
of the caller go
to the front if

Formality is part
of the visit
like a tie clean

Shoes trousers crisp
to keep nonsense
from intruding

To the back
for modesty
or welcome

One quiet being
to another or if
threat to modify

The policeman
when he knocks
you’re out

We say while
you stay quiet
in the passage

That or be whirled
out of this aether

the priest says:

‘And they washed


in the Jordan
and were cleansed.’

the priest makes a blessing:

Blessed are you O god;
you give water for life,
to refresh and renew.

A trace in thisthe Wash-house

of bush and tent
and chimney tin

Over the porch
step up with a
copper and two

Tubs for Saturday boiling
by the paper (daily)
of the week

Rampage against
the ringworm scab
and other germs we

Stoke you stir
to keep it
in the suds on

Other days we
stack the papers
put the shoes

Cleaners on a
high shelf
frogs in the

Tub for a day
a good room to
keep the south

Out and the noise
of next door
and adding to the

Influence of
the business end
of the house


and recreation

the priest says:

Prosper O God the work
of our hands that we
may have joy in life.

the priest makes a blessing:

Be with those who work
in this house; give life
till their work is done.

With bicyclesthe Shed

and garden tools
a costly place

That you equip
from house sales
church fairs

Work mates
(those who talk)
and the pub a

Barrel for the
tools a mower
hose blades to

clip the hedges
and the edges

Something old that
might make good
compact stacked

and a wood-box
out behind

Five bikes for
escape to the road
(one on the

Bar) and the
river each one


out behind the

Farms along the top
of the stop-banks
for berries and a

Swim and those
matting plants
you say come

Down from the
mountains where
on the other side

(you still live )

the priest says:

The earth brings forth
vegetation plants yielding
seed and trees fruit.

the priest makes a blessing:

May the Lord God make
righteousness and praise
blossom here in beauty.

Your chance (thethe Garden

last) at order pattern
in a fogged-up

Life you can’t see
for growth rank green
of youth new soil

Cut the pasture
stack the turf
burn it into

Brick and black
spread then dig
colonially in path and



spading raking
seeding aching

Flowers down the
front path irises
for an establishment

Flag poppies and
portulaca orache
high as the trellis

Puce beans and
scarlet running
up the fence you

Made for things
that climb out of
control and fright the

Street like your
cabbages and silver
beet and pumpkins

Dibbling in cabbage or
cauliflower plants.

Broad beans and
lettuce leeks kohl
rabbi radish white

cucumber and salsify
potatoes kidney red


Tomato plant recklessly

Russian red
tomatoes grape
and gold

Espaliered fruit
sweet peas and
trees for snow

to fall against
green trees
the seasons drag to drought
you grow slow
then die
upon your own untended bed
I think
we had better see
if there’s someone who

Sow marrow seed as



a gramophone
of oak
comfortable acrid english oak

and records
in red and blue

for when the wind blows
from the south
on weekends

shut in
you spin and wind
for us

the Rheingold

blue rain falls still
past the hoherias

is a song

dark in our heads

you bless wet days
we want rain

for that we give back
all you are

with love


behind the curtain

in the recess
by the front door

sometimes spill
over and out
like a felled tower block


we read
with or without
your consent

with or
our own

no shame

like life
to be done

until we hold
volumes in a muesli milled
in our minds

melted in like chromosomes

to be part of us
in use to come

with life


on damp places
where rare snow
where winter browns
and frost
builds up crystals

with mud at the roots
so intricate
it’s everywhere
like moss

with lichen
on the tiles
and now back paths
and steps unscrubbed
a sign of eventual
of the earth and

green things and growth
need only rain
and a touch of sun
to turn a waste
to life

in a land like this
there’s no place


[There are some daysone Day brown
that music cannot clear
too dark to read by
too thick for light
soundless days
of brittle pattern fixed
like coloured windows shattered
by one stone will scatter
one easy stone
beyond repair

brown days of sulphur
fog days trapped

then you are unreachable
eyes stripped
to see self with no soul

your life’s run out
trickled after lunch
like something lost
off a floppy disc
and you’re by rote
touched only by request a ghost
so close you are to another side

clouds low
the stink of life unstirred
to end it seems a proper course
a logic natural
to realistic mind
stopped by duty habit
and back desire not to hurt

walk out
One step to end
the play

one day anticipated
for no cause
then gone
you are yourself again

when dark
you’re someone else

as we say of truth
when it must be deferred]


the priest says:

your spirit is given
as light to guide
and a sign to those

who find doors closed

Nowout the Door and

theredown the Path
you’re in the sun

Stay still
be warmed
don’t move

Lest you mis-step
after all this work
to bring you here

You’re so retiring
and we understand
but before you go

One last thing –
don’t leave as lightly
as you last did

You’re so caught
up in lichen and
moss the ferns that

Grow on them
with big plants in
a wild patch so

You can’t just
walk out of
work you’ve done

One house
doesn’t make
a village

Nor more
one plot
a park


You understand
so simple once
so plain basic

Advanced now
into a crowd
with advantages

Technology supplies
into a growing
glare of publicity

Which must have
made you uneasy
and a tendency to

Flee so marked
in those days but
(as you’ve seen) of

Necessity to call
you back on a
number of occasions

to keep you informed

In the future
for your peace
we can show you

On the screen
with microwaves
and cordless phones

and others likewise

that Jesus is a thin man

It’s no use trying
to pull yourself

It’s too late now
to even make the


On the rooflater, at the Pass

of our world
at the Apex
and before abseiling down
we burn these words
to dust to
cast into the gorge
that you, a child
passed on this way
from coast to coast

as you instructed
who warred among yourselves

the priest makes a blessing:

We commit the ashes
of his/her mortal body
to their resting place

We lay them on your eyelids
breathe them in your mouth

Words that let you live
pillowed you
gave air and speech

a common tongue
that laps the land

Let this creek interpret
in a running word
let it be
an open brook
a trickling truth

that you and we
are of these stones
as penetrable
issue from a crack in them
run common course
then fade upon the bed
face up

take to the end
detritus from the tributaries


leached from above

eroding and building
to burgeon and flower

Edelweiss cool
caladenia bright
light fell tarn

Brown orchid in
the brown bush
kea and celmisia

Vegetable sheep
chickweed on the scree
and all those

Freedoms you were
not allowed in a
civilised world

but took

Further Copies of this Work
may be obtained from:

Heteropholis Press
8/1 Ruapehu St.
Mt. Eden
630 9434

© Leicester Kyle, June 1997

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