Selected Shorter Poems 1 (1983-1995)

Shorter Poems: 1


  1. Grapefruit [1983]
  2. In a New Country [n.d.]
  3. Hallelujah [June 1994]
  4. Kerikeri, 1946 [n.d.]
  5. Dancing Maria [n.d.]
  6. Ancient Worship [n.d.]
  7. Coal Kingdom [March 1995]
  8. Pipes [April 1995]
  9. House Guest [n.d.]
  10. Edge [July 1995]



The golden apples of the sun,
their daily tour of duty done,
do rest at last upon the tree,
in less celestial harmony.

In autumn mist and winter rain
they falter, to shine out again;
and sing aloud, to tastes that suit,
that they are not a common fruit.



In a New Country

When we pick mushrooms in the bush
we stay by our voices.
We don’t want to lose ourselves
or each other
in the dark places
where we lose our track
and our time.
There are no names for our
fears or our finds.

We find them on the logs,
on branches,
on the litter at the roots,
and call the discovery.
But we can’t call what it is.

Found! we call each other,
and its colour,
and smell,
and if we can cook with it,
eat it,
sleep, or see visions with it.
Or kill with it.
But we can’t tell what it is.



We sang
As the shake began
As the books fell out
And the bricks began to move.

It was a song
We only sang at school;
Too rude to sing at home.
A secret joke
With teacher
And his guitar.

And then the bang!
We stopped
But couldn’t stand,
Holding on
As the world tilted
On one end
And then the other.

We couldn’t sing
As the books fell out
And the bricks began to move.
Through the window
I could see
Rocks catapult
From the tops
To smash the trees below
And bury them.

I ran
To put my back against the door
And called the children to me,
My sisters and my brothers
And the others,
Teacher dropped one.
His guitar was in the other hand.
We dragged him by his leg.

We stood
To see the world collapsing
At our feet.
The ground opened
With jets of mud
And gravel.
The tankstand fell
And our horses lay
With their legs in the air.

Hold hands
Said teacher
And huddle close together
So we don’t go down a crack.
And we sang
I’m a bum
Because we knew it
And we laughed
As the world came to pieces
Around us
And we could only see each other
As our school fell down
And the mountains slid
And the roar of the fall
Was silenced by our fears.

[At School, Murchison, 17/6/1929

[June 1994]

(School Journal)


Kerikeri, 1946

“Service!” Mrs.Bartle cried,
at the door;
much too proud to go inside
into the store.

The sleek car idled on and purred
by the road;
her barks though loud went unheard
by Mr.Jobe.

“Service” said Mrs.Bartle loud,
but less assured,
this time seeming not so proud;
no-one stirred.

“Please move, you’re keeping out the light,”
Jobe asked.
His son was crouching out of sight,

The customers stared right ahead,
all unmoved;
Mrs.Bartle coloured red,
first refused.

And stepped back to her purring car,
stern and straight.
Insulted, unprovisioned, set to spar,
in wrathful state.

“That’s the way to stop their ways,”
said Mr.Jobe.
The customers admiring praise
on him bestowed.

“I’m serving Mrs.Sondering –”
Jobe said it.
“She always pays on purchasing –
No credit.”



Dancing Maria:
When you took the floor in our church
we held our breaths,
not for the surprise
or the interruption,
nor for the scandal you would cause
or our apprehension for the wars,
But where would it stop, we asked,
when you put us to the test.
would there be a chain reaction?
You were being pretty fundamental.
And we knew that if God wasn’t careful
and let you do something,
the sun might go early
and do things to time;
that the moon might come up crooked,
and we mightn’t be able to eat our dinner
even if we wanted to.

the earth might have shaken
when you did your dance.
Putahi could have popped,
Omapere could have spilled itself,
and Ngapha balled away.
Other dances might have stopped –
the stars, the tides,
the comings and the goings,
the lovings, births, and dyings.
Did you know what you were doing?
We laughed at you, Maria.
We knew we had to.
We wouldn’t have laughed
if you had been pretty or a virgin,
but we were frightened,
for had you turned us upside down
as you wanted,
had we gone brown and you gone white,
had all the world turned on your dancing floor,
even though we had just come
we would have had to go back home.




Ancient Worship

When Mr. Reid gets up in the morning
he goes to the front door
to fetch his milk.
He steps outside
and looks up at the sky,
and says:
Thank you God for giving me another day.
If he’s feeling really well, he adds:
And for giving me sleep too.
The second thanking dies away
if his body has its aches and pains.
In bad weather
he just says: Thank you God,
and doesn’t step out.

Old Mrs.Payne lives next door.
The courtesy annoys her.
What’s he got to thank God for, she asks.
God’s let him be ninety-three.
Blind! So blind he can’t see for looking.
Deaf! So deaf he can’t hear himself speak.
And each night,
when he lies down in bed,
he asks God to let him die.
I know; he’s told me.
He can’t even taste the blessed milk!
What’s sun or sleep to him!
Living’s never done anyone any good, she says.
I know; I’ve done it, she says.



Coal Kingdom

Tell me,
in mercy tell me,
come back and tell me,
another story.
I’ll wait here for you,
among the ferns and puriri trees
long here before you,
and while waiting
I’ll listen to their story,
which might restore us both
to the heart of it.

I’ll dream
an older dream,
and listen to the silence,
the long non-predatory quiet,
of the time when stones were made.
and every doing lithographed:
lasting impressions,
etched forever
molten and deposited as clue,
in record true.

Like the season
you are forward,
and come more hotly.
You think yourself alone.
We’re both passers on this land,
which sings and says its own
to all who stop to note,
and has its story writ
on every stone and tree
about me now.
It sounds in every run
of water, sough of wind.

The God
who made these hills and seas
stopped on the fifth day of his work,
and turned to other shores
to house the images of self.
We are the sunrise of the making,
and can only be
a dream of humankind,
permitted but to loiter,
rest a while,
and if too harsh
shrugged off.

Tread carefully,
my friend.
Look about you as you go.
Where there’s something now
There nothing soon may be.
A fern-seed mist from off the hills,
a lotus-spume from off the sea –
then sleep and fancy seize us all
and silence falls:
the silence of birth,
the morning that began,
of bird and fish and earth.

[March 1995]



at dawn
if I listen carefully
I can hear the lady in the next flat
but distinct.
A rush of running water’s with it,
as with her,
before she goes to work.
Sounds of comfort,
though some might find them crass.
But what’s a working body
without an arse?

[April 1995]


House Guest

When death comes to our houseThe Coming of the Guest
She finds good quartering.
She moves into the cupboard under the stairs
where the books are kept.
She likes it there.
So do we.
I know She’s there
but no-one else does.
She is very quiet
and She will stay a long time.
I know She’s going to.

On a wet weekendA Wet Day
we bring out the books from under the stairs,
spread them around the floor,
and choose.
Dad lights the fire,
Mum cooks some scones.
We can keep the cold away,
but not Her.
Good pickings She has –
three for one.

She’s there in our books,She Turns the Pages
(the others don’t know)
lurking, infiltrating,
making things Her way.
from the darkness under the stairs
we take them.
Don’t make dust, Mum says,
so we spread them over the floor.
treat them gently,
Dad says,
as we lift our ones onto the table.

The Pilgrim’s Progress
with engravings.
Beulah is for the blessed
after they die,
he says.
Are there fountains in heaven
really? I ask.
The Inferno:
brooding bat-winged Hatana
with his head in his hands.

Dis is the Devil, he says.
Look at those wings!
Look at the power!
But why would the Devil
need wings down there?
There is Dickens for the loosing
and Scott for dreams.
Botany, geology, the sea, the land.
The Lady of Shalott,
etched and webbed on glass,
Goblin Market,
and Shakespeare.

Then Dad says:He Leaves us with Her
I’ll go and see Tony for a little while,
and we’ll plan that fishing trip.
And Mum says:
don’t be late then;
tea will be rather special tonight.
He kisses her
(he does love her)
and promises:
I’ll be back soon.
We know that promise,
that he’s doing Her work.
I know what She wants,
but none of us know Her name.

We know Her as an emptiness,What She was Like
a dark place under;
something to do with words
and thoughts
and the past.
There’s a place we have to fill,
for he doesn’t come back for tea.
We eat without him
and it’s nice.
We’re happy,
pretending that he isn’t necessary,
that when he comes home
it’ll be alrlght –
but It isn’t.
It’s Her.

Put the books away now,Trying to Tidy Up
Mother says
after the dishes
and we do,
my brother and sisters and me.
I try to keep one
to hide under the mattress:
one of the Rabelais,
or Daphnis and Chloe.
(A classic, of course.)

Then he comes home,He Comes Home
rosy and rolling,
sits in his chair,
and goes to sleep
not eating.
We pretend that nothing’s wrong.
We’re cheerful,
and listen to Paul Temple.
Mum knits,
I feel sick.
She, the unseen silent She,
is going round the house
putting up danger signs:
NO EXIT is the big one.
Then he wakes and says
I’m going to bed.
Mum says I’m not;
I’ll stay down here tonight.
We know the danger signs.
They don’t know who’s made them.

The night’s emptyNight Passes
and quiet.
There’s the sound of movements just begun
but not continued.
Slight slitherings on the stairs.
Someone starting up,
someone starting down.
Longings with a floor inbetween.
High on hope
we can’t sleep,
until the night drains into day
and they awake again
into a smaller space,
and signs to show one way.

One way only now.They Emigrate
Holding hands they take it.
I know what they’re doing
but I’m frightened to wake up.
She’s closed all the other doors
and stands behind
to stop them turning.
Dying life or living death
She tells them.
Anything but the truth.
(Lie is the first of life in death)
They think She’s the truth,
for She lives amongst the books,
and they are of an age to respect the learned.

They see the dark ahead,
too thick to let them back.
The light is on the other side, She says.
Too hurt to question,
too in love to go alone,
they take our sister with them
and leave us sleeping.
I hear them.
Away from the day they follow Her
to the last land of all.
It’s best in the West.
Everything ends there.




A little slit,
a little light,
but please – no sun.

When it’s like this
I don’t like to go out,
though I would like to,
it’s safe on a bad day,
but now there’s too much life
on the edge,
where garden meets the bush.
It’s closer now,
reaching over the tilled
and the mown;
a wild wash of green
with things in it.
Not safe for her.

She’s not gone yet
nor left her space,
so, no sun here,
Keep it out.
Blinds down, door locked,
until it rains.
And keep the spray handy.
Too much life
is bad for the dead.

[July 1995]

Found in Filebox 2

© Leicester Kyle Literary Estate, 2012

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