Selected Shorter Poems 2 (1995-1996)

Shorter Poems: 2


  1. I Love You (for Miriel) [n.d.]
  2. Quietly [Sept 1995]
  3. Maundy Thursday at the Mangonui Pub [n.d.]
  4. God [n.d.]
  5. Karamea Jones [n.d.]
  6. Blue Orchids at Burnetts Face [n.d.]
  7. Unworldly Thoughts in an Auckland Brothel [n.d.]
  8. Walking to Taylor's [n.d.]
  9. Caravan Club [n.d.]
  10. Where Do I Want to Be [14/1/96]
  11. Time Please [n.d.]
  12. A Walk Around My Church [n.d.]
  13. Living on the Cheap [n.d.]
  14. I do magic ... [n.d.]
  15. Clean Café [n.d.]
  16. My Father’s House [n.d.]
  17. Sweeney on a Bicycle [n.d.]
  18. A Visit to My Psychiatrist [23/9/96]
  19. A Cliff on Mt. Owen [n.d.]


I Love You

(for Miriel)

I can’t say I love you.
I can’t say I love you
in three words.
Three words won’t take it.
A word a decade.
Thirty years of love
in I love you.
There must be other words
or other terms.

An epoch?
An epoch might
hold my love for you,
but I don’t know what one is.
An epoch is an age
(it’s said)
and ages smell of tedium.
We’re not tedious, you and I.

But I don’t know
what an age is either.
It goes on for ever,
(they say)
and our love will die with us.
I can’t say I love you
until I find the words
but I’ll do it
for an epoch, age, or eventide.

Words are my arms and legs,
my eyes and ears, my mouth.
They ache with age or overuse,
have spectacles and boots
and sometimes don’t work well at all.
Better means for meaning
must be found.
Meantime I’ll just do,
and be speechless.




When you lie quietly

You can hear the sound of the sea
surging in the suburbs.

It’s there behind
in behind the sounds of the day

that wash the lives
the lives of the people on the shore

their life from the sea,
the life the sea strands on the sands.

It washes and waves,
washing away the rubbish of mind,

erasing, eroding
the barriers built by the counsels

to keep down the tide,
the tides and the terrors that well,

that well from the depths
where volcanoes boil

and long things drift,

[Sept 1995]


Maundy Thursday at the Mangonui Pub

The seagull on the topmost wire
stood, as if it had drunk too much,
and tipped and teetered till it tired
then flew,
not far,
for the sea was out the window
on the level,
to come in.

The sea, the sea,
lapped at the sill
a mystery.
Death or life
as the need may be.

We talked of infancies:
blizzards at Dunrobin,
cave houses in the cliff,
and saveloys at Sumner by the sea.

The sea, the sea,
in its pageantry.

While we talked, rekindling pasts
(as we sometimes do in time of fast)
the creatures of the dark
wandered in and out,
from passages deep down,
crucibles and tanks.
Lovecraft things
with fallen hips and merging limbs,
swollen noses,
and purple faces
(the colour of the time)
and barmen with big shaven heads.

All of us at supper
as the sea shone,
the day went down,
and I amazed
at the wonder in the world.

The moon rose
like a sun on the water,
pale and wavering—
or is it my eyes
and I bemused
as the sea poured in
and broke upon my back.

before my face a cataract,
mist, and coloured crystal.




I’m sewing up a map of the world.
Hemming frayed edges.
Tucking up the tears.

Old eyes see
the signs of wear.
Worn places needing patching

that are used a lot,
where feet have run too long
without repair,
for the fabric to bear.

Where too much has happened.

I do a good job.

But it’s not that easy.
It’s an old map,
worn at the folds.

I do what I can,
give it new backing,
work in lost lines,
make it nearly new again.

I should have been more careful,
not let it get so bad, but
no-one will notice now.

I do a good job.

I like this sort of thing.



Karamea Jones

Slender, neat,
in well-ironed clothes
he knocks,
and offers oysters.
They’re in the boot, he says,
the best.
Kai moana,
especially picked for you.

You can tell
he believes himself.
His eyes glint with honesty.
How much?
Come and look
and make an offer.
Between friends.
I work that way.

They’re rubbish,
with rocks and mud,
but I’m trapped.
Can’t bear the burden
as he knows.
He always wins this one,
this game.

The rules are set
and he’s decent about it;
he only plays
in conditions of necessity.
He knows he’s selling me
my freedom.

When he goes
I throw them
in the bush
down the back.



Blue Orchids at Burnetts Face

From the gate,
still swinging on the post
the grassed path
steps down to the stream.
Where a footbridge might have been,
blue sun-orchids grow.

Tall in strength,
full in flower,
they share their blue
with the far-down sea,
so far below
it looks like mist.

In the bank glint
shards of glass,
artifacts of household days
from kitchen, shed.
In tangled roots
some bones appear.

Skeletons of time,
struts of industry,
coal and iron
that ate an alpine forest.
That’s gone now.
There’s tranquillity of sorts,

an interval in war,
passing peace
for the passive,
sea-blue orchids of the sun
to flower
while homes and mines decay.



Unworldly Thoughts in an Auckland Brothel

Here’s the boss,
says the receptionist.
She’ll tell you.

She has a good face.
Thin lips.
The kind that make decisions.
And they smile
as she approaches.
Her eyes ask questions quickly.
There’s a competence
that makes it plain
she owns the place,
and she moves

Nothing special.
She’s thought things through.

Hardly looking
(there’s not the need)
she takes the card
from the counter
and says:
these are our prices.
It’s smartly set,
and laminated.

There are eleven stipulated categories.
They increase in cost
from the first.

Most establishments
have charges at this level,
she says,
noting my close interest.
The better ones,
like mine.

There’s a general agreement
(in answer to my question)
but no,
they are not exactly calculated.
There are, however,
guidelines from the past.
Our commercial information
goes back a long way,
and certain forms of service
have always been expensive.

More rewarding to the client,
more exhausting to our staff.

I am not aware
of our prices
causing client complaint.
If you would reflect
for a moment
you would see
and accept
that it can’t
be precisely computed.

Neither is it fixed;
not in the usual sense.

Questions like yours
are not usually asked.
She looks at me,
as if about to sniff my breath.

I’m curious,
I say,
in excuse.
Just curious.
And it would be nice
to have my question answered.
Don’t mind me,
nor think me complaining.
Not in the least.
I’m bona fide,
but do wonder
that such an instinctive
human activity
can be costed
with such careful differentials.
For example:
do I pay more for real affection,
or the lack of it?
Why should the back
cost more than the front,
and restraint
more than freedom?

That’s the way it’s always been,
she says.

There you are then,
she says,
as if inviting me to leave
or to make myself useful
in a usual way.
And here I am,
at the prices people put on things.
Who says?
Is there a commandment,
a beatitude,
come down from above
to give a standard ‘!
If I pay for them now,
must I pay again later,

If God has doings
with this place
he will be disturbed,
for there are happinesses here
not in paradise
nor in other holy places
like the one
with the name
near the same.

feral joys.

Old gods knew them well,
and came often to this place.
Still do, maybe,
sitting out the back,
watching porno movies,
picking at the stories
escorts tell.

Young gods are not so wise,
and are hasty,
They haven’t had time
to think it through,
and haven’t read
the fine print yet,
so they say
until we’ve sorted things out.
So things don’t spread.

In the meantime
(they say)
think it through
and talk it over
and see if you arrive at a consensus
over costs.

There’s no point, really.
It’s all quite plain,
and is written down
for anyone to see.
Brothel and Bethel
are where two people meet.
Intercourse takes many forms.

I know,
she said.
Nothing’s overlooked.
You’ll find it all there
on the card.



Walking to Taylor’s

1. clematis

A bramble mass at the foot of the cliff.
Thin canes tangle.
No leaves.
No thorns.

Lemon-scented flowers hang,
where the sun burns
and rain can’t reach.

Look how it manages,
my father says.
It roots under the rocks
where it won’t dry out.

Nothing else grows here.
Too tough.

2. the heads

Look at those cliffs,
my father says.
We stand on the ledge,
not frightened at the vertigo
churning deep down.

The sea writhes on the rocks and reefs
impaled by the wind
trapped there.

Seagulls ride it,
gusting to the top
in play.

They nest on these cliffs,
he says.
They get good shelter.

3. geckos

We should find them here,
my father says
as we come to some rocks,
old rocks,
lichen-coloured in the tussock,
with small dry plants.

There’s good cover here.

There they are
as we pick at the pile –
slivers of jade with running legs
and silver patches.

What would they live on down there,
I ask.
There are other small things.

It’s where they live,
and we’ve taken off the roof.
We put it back.

4. water

We stop at a pool.
A small pool of water
seeping down from the bank.
The only water on the track.

There are bones in the clay
and smooth black rocks;
moa bones and gizzard stones,
my father says.

Other things have stopped here,
and been forgotten.

5. cave houses

The crumbling track
slants across the cliff.

The caves at the bottom
have doors of flotsam,
and newspaper on the walls.

We read it:
old news,
earthquakes, wars, riots.

The sea’s very close,
and there’s a dunny down a tunnel.

They came
because they had no money,
my father says.
They lived on fish and flour.
No-one lives here now.

6. my father

He makes a driftwood fire
and cooks us saveloys
for lunch.

He comes from the Coast
where it rains
and is green.

He likes growing things,
and looks for moister soils,
damper climates.


(Poetry NZ 12 (1996): 38-40.)


Caravan Club

The way is lost; horizons too.
No-one knows.

Here or there, it’s said. Behind those rocks,
or over the edge.

They wander oil to see, out over the sand
towards the dark
and stand,
distant dots
on the flat black plain.

It’s at the back of someone’s van,
dropped and forgot
some think; none look.
Though some do ask where’s the way,
and mill about,
looking for someone who might have a map
or give a direction.

There’s no road, and no marker.
There’s the route that brought them here,
but now it’s gone,
all tracks and traces gone.
No touch of time.
No past.

They’re still,
scattered out of line,
each van independently,
and there’s little life in this low light.
No cooking, resting, mending, planning,
no sweeping out.
No jostling about.
No sign of it.

Stilled in the sand by a far-back fear.

There –
shifting in the passage of the mind –
behind the eyes – a glimpse:
work done;
growing quieter.

Lowering night.

Old neon,
phosphorous on the black flint plain.
The vans settle,
turn to the rock around them

No moving now.

The people as still.

A swirl of dust
from no wind at all.



Where Do I Want to Be

A small minority of the sea-side sort,
Beach Baptists, I think,
or something like that,
is what I belong to.
Biblical Litoralists.

I used to be a thinking man,
but it’s so easy to go too far out.
Keep near the shore, I decided.
You need support when you’re right.

So necessary these days.
I get out of my depth
when there are so many little guilts around.



Time Please

First sign of closing time –
he’s turned the music down.

It’s wet outside,
and cold;
we’re warm and doing well,
the last ones here;
don’t want to leave.

He’s giving us the message.
She’s not pleased.

He can’t do this to us,
she says.
Don’t look.

He turns the music off
and wipes the bar.

Don’t look, she says.
He doesn’t need to bother us.
Don’t let him see we’ve noticed.

He tinkers with the spirits,
wipes the whiteboard clean,
stares darkly
while he polishes the glasses,

signals sent
as certain as decision.

He’s tired, I say,
he’s had a long day.
let’s leave.

He counts the money,
rings the change,
wipes an item from the
Programme For The Month.

I don’t want to go outside,
she says.
it isn’t time,
and I don’t like being pushed.

It’s been good, I say.

Let’s go while there’s choice.

She doesn’t like it.

Stay till twelve, she says.
Turn your back.
Be quiet.
Don’t speak.
Don’t look.

It’s no use.
No pleasure’s left.

We take our things,
say goodnlght,
and go.



A Walk Around My Church

I unlock the door,
put out the notice,
turn on the light,
and sit at INFORMATION,
for someone
to come.

It’s all worked out.
It’s here on the desk –
cards and brochures.
This is what they’ve given me to say:

Welcome to our church.
It’s been here
since 1844,
built by Bishop Selwyn,
using native wood.

Come with me,
and I’ll walk you round
and show you.
– down this aisle.

Note the timber,
the broad boards –
stained rimu,
milled from bush,
from a swamp near Mt. Smart.
The pews are totara,
made later.

This is the transept.
You might notice
that the church
is built
in the form
of a cross.
This is the cross-bar.

Here is the memorial chapel,
to the war dead.
There is where the choir sit.
The wall has damp in the plaster.
We’ve tried to fix it,
but it’s the shady side.

Some people see a face of Christ
in the stain.
It changes after rain.

The windows are lovely.
They’re William Morris,
made late last century,
in England.
They say the angels look like Mrs. Morris.

This is the pulpit.
It’s oak,
made to the memory
of our first vicar,
an Englishman,
here for 42 years.
A character.
Our vicar doesn’t use it now.
He preaches from the step
to be nearer the people.

Come this way.
You can see the organ.
It’s a nice instrument,
but not used much now;
and the altar,
plain, but serviceable.
It’s from early this century.

Note the four sanctuary windows.
Each is an apostle,
a gospel writer,
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
from left to right,
captioned in a bottom corner.
They’re lovely in the rising sun.
The colours are quite life-like.

This lectern is from France,
captured in the First World War.
The Bishop’s chair
is a bit too small
for some of them.

look down the nave.
There’s the font,
at the end of the aisle,
the west window behind,
and the rose above.

If you look above,
from where we’re standing,
you can see daylight
through the cracks
in the gable wall.
No rain ever blows in.

Such an inspired use of space,
so judicious.
Nothing’s been much changed.

I’ve been coming here all my life.
I live near here, you see.
Every week I come.

There was a presence here,
in this order,
and beauty.
It’s gone now,
and there’s just quiet.
But that’s got value –
a defence against outside.
That’s why I come.

I think that’s all there is to show you.
The way out
is the same as
the way in.

Take care.
It’s so dark in here
and bright outside,
and there
are three
steep steps.



Living on the Cheap

From here
I can reach everything.
Books on my right,
radio on my left,
and matches under the rug
with the candle
in a bag.

My boots are just inside the tent,
to the left of my feet.
on the right is the pack
with the food in it,
and toilet things in a pocket.
The parka’s over the pack,
and my feet.

It’s easy.
There’s everything I need,
and it’s dry.
I’m warm enough,
sitting up reading,
waiting for the rain to stop
some time soon.

There’s a lump
under the groundsheet
at the base of my spine.
I’ll move it when I can.
The tent’s quite taut,
but a spray gets through
when it pours.

I’ll light the primus soon
and make a pot of tea.
It’s alright really
and I don’t mind much,
but it’s a small world when it’s raining
and I like to get out,
now and then.

I know this world so well
and can get around.
I know where things are.
I know what’s up the creek,
and how to get to the top
when conditions are right.
It’s all there

for me to explore again,
prospecting the tracks.
I don’t like this white light.
I can’t hear a thing in the rain,
but I’m having a rest,
preparing for the
next good day.



I do magic,
she says,
but does she know there’s no such thing?
I pretend I pretend I pretend, she says,
but does she?

Even if there’s such a thing
her magic doesn’t work.

If it does
(just a bit)
there’s no proof.



Clean Café

Mrs. Fatialofa keeps her cafe clean.
She wrote a notice:
No-one came.

So she wrote:
No-one came.

She tried again:
But the people
went to the cafe
over the road.

She made one last try:
They all still kept away.

I’ll shut the shop, she said,
I’m running out of money,
and she took the notice down.

That same day they all came back.



My Father’s House

Once shining on your corner,
first-finished in the avenue,
you shiver in the winter sun,
roof mossed, paint pale,

Where can I return,
if not to you,
my corporal kind,
my founded self,
four-cornered, square,
still sound?

The walls of your rooms
are bruised with my life,
your corridors
are galleries of grief,
your cuts and scars
my weeping wounds,
your stains the night-stuff
of my sleep.

Your doors are dead now,
windows blind,
your chimneys never breathe,

but you read to me,
my life
and diaried end.



Sweeney on a Bicycle

I sit still
in this mist-and-mushroom


the world’s a wind in my mind,
a vortex
rushing me

houses and gates and automobiles
and burning brakes

out of control at last,

down the road
and over the cliff,
into the space there for me,
tumbling & leaping & streaming
a rainbow falling
into the autumn
to never come down again,

living like a wild man
in the upper branches,

as you can
if yr fixed
and yr muscles are right,

and the spirit’s in you



A Visit to My Psychiatrist

At the end of today
I’ve nothing left to hide.
You know all.

Do I earn your interest?
Do I perch in trees,
dig widows into garden beds,
eat offal,
or practise magic rituals
you envy?
Do I shout or scream,
break glass,
sob at the moon?

You track me inside-out.
Your peering
through the fence irritates.

You could look over.
Your house looks into mine.

I’ve no defence.

I’ll straighten every garden line,
pull every weed,
wear brown,
drive a Jap import,

and, each day at ten
I’ll sit with tea
by the nectarine,
and read the Herald,

until you’re bored,
and look elsewhere.


(Poetry NZ 14 (1997): 52-53.)


A Cliff on Mt. Owen

Sideways, upwards,
it takes all space.

There’s not much sky,

nor sun,
at the foot of this facade.

Grey as mist,

so vast
it seems alive for worship,
a might
to reverence
at this height
of falcons, keas,
and brittle crystal

Small plants grow
in the interstices,
felted for the cold,

and there are caves
from another age.

People disappear
from here.


Found in Filebox 2

© Leicester Kyle Literary Estate, 2012

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