Selected Shorter Poems 3 (1996-1997)

Shorter Poems: 3


  1. His Place [n.d.]
  2. Re-Possession [n.d.]
  3. Deep Throat [n.d.]
  4. Morning Magic [n.d.]
  5. Your Spirit Comes to the Aid of My Weakness [n.d.]
  6. A Visit from the North [n.d.]
  7. On the Slab [n.d.]
  8. Sometime in the eighties ... [n.d.]
  9. Greymouth [n.d.]
  10. The Christchurch Botanical Gardens Horticultural Apprentices’ Mutual Improvement Society [n.d.]
  11. Breakfast in Our Block [n.d.]
  12. This Book of Ours [3/10/96]
  13. Goethe in Sicily [3/10/96]
  14. Hound [n.d.]
  15. Ancient Worship [n.d.]
  16. Ibn al Farid (Cairo, 1280) [n.d.]
  17. It’s so quiet ... [21/2/97]


His Place

on the box

at the gate

on the mat
there’s read in red




Don’t look
under the bed.

Don’t sit on it.

I’m squashed in,
fringed with dust.
You mustn’t know.

And I don’t want
to see you.

I can see your feet,
your shoes,

as you move around
shaking things,

for things pinned up,
pushed under,
of mine.

I don’t know
what you want,
but there’s nothing here
of use.
You’ve given me
too much time.

I’ve spent the lot.

It’s gone.
Worn out,
used up.



Deep Throat

They come from a cave
with paintings on the wall.

It’s on our family tree.

I’ve been there
to see for myself.

An arch
on a cliff
high up a hill

near Takaka,
some way up
a dry river.

There are no directions.
Just a track
in the bush.

I don’t know
if they made the way.

I don’t know
how they lived there
or why they left.

They say they liked
the security.

The cave has a throat
with tonsils,
and bowels below
the living parts.

It swallows those
who go on in;
sicks others out.

Perhaps that happened.

they had no choice,
after all those years

living in marble,

where the water’s so clean
it can’t be seen,
and the air’s cool
as a fernery.



Morning Magic

So cold;
your washing’s frozen on the line,
board stiff.

I’ll lean it at the wall
to stand in the early sun
so I,
still chilled and bruised,
can watch you thaw.



Your Spirit Comes to the Aid of My Weakness

You come subtly,
every morning,

and pull the curtains,
fade the shadows in the shower,
dim those waiting on the stairs,

read the news,
and play the overture
on Concert FM.

You open the dairy
at the corner,
bring custom,
and the newspaper on time.

You brown the toast evenly
on both sides,
and show me where
I put the marmalade,

remind me of the letter
I must take to post.

On the way to work
you wake the man
on the cell phone
in the car in front.

Subtly, every morning,
you lift the veil from this town,
and make me less surly
with traffic.



A Visit from the North

Meet me at McDonalds,
he says.
I go down.

She’s leaving me,
he says.
I’ve got another woman.
I’m in trouble.

It seems to suit.
He shines with the life of it
as he tells me the complexities.
The twisted dealings smell
like a fatty meal,
drip juices of indulgence,
but they nourish him.
His hair glows,
his eyes gloss,
self-love written
and read in them
in repetition, infinite, rejoicing.

How’s your missis
he says; then –
Let’s do the town.
I know a good place.
My brother told me.

I leave soon.
He’s too close.
When I look into his eyes
I see myself.
When we stand
he’s my shadow
in a reflected light,
so full of hot and greedy life
he’s walking me.



On the Slab

I’m all out in the open now,
flat upon the slab
front up,
liver, other lights, and pipes
on exhibition
for novices.

In white coats and nervousness
they trot in
after the tutor
who tells them
(though dead I hear and see)
that this man (me)
has died.

This, he says, is his inside.
Nothing new.
I’ve lived on view.

What they’ve never seen
they’ve guessed,
pieced together
trunk and head.

No need to hide.
No need to die.
I’ve guts alive
as much as dead.



Sometime in the eighties,
near the beginning,
winter came
before it was autumn,
and Alf had to dig his own father’s grave.
Alf was the sexton.
I saw him there,
in the graveyard, digging,
as the sleet snaked down from the hills
dark, though it was early afternoon.

His father was a bullied man,
though now he had some filial respect
from Alf, quite old himself
and cold.




the waves

stone reef
shingle ridge

iron rollers mine
beat at the beach

to knock and shatter
far inland
the sense of a man
and seal

a town
on such a shore
must move

a mind
by such a sea
must solve

riddles kept
from the sheltered

learning soon
to hear what’s asked

knowing soon
that answers
make a road, a town,
and communicate
and build a building but

the ceaseless sea
to shingle ridges

dunes of sand

the questions



The Christchurch Botanical Gardens Horticultural Apprentices’ Mutual Improvement Society

The sacred grove,
the farm, and the Paradise Garden
are the main elements in garden history.

The word Paradise
is from the Old Persian Pairidaeza,
an enclosed hunting ground for the Persian king.

It entered Hebrew
as Pardes, then to Greek
as Paradeisos, a grand and formal park.

In Hebrew
it changed, to mean
the Heavenly Kingdom, Celestial Home,

Abode of the Blessed,
Dwelling of the Saints,
the Lost Home of our First Ancestors.

The earthly paradise,
source of these beliefs,
dates from Cyrus, King of Persia, whose gardens at Sardis

were written of
by Xenophon.He admired
their grand avenues, fine trees, and scented bowers.

Quintus Curtius
described the parks and groves
near Samarkand, when Alexander took the empire.

In 323bc
Megasthenes saw parks near Patna
with imported trees, peacocks, and trained gardeners.

In the Odyssey, Book VII,
is King Alcinous’ park, of four acres,
for fruit, for rest, for flowers, for house.

In 550bc
one of Nebuchadnezzar’s wives
missed the mountain meadows of her home.

the King
built her a ziggurat,
so she might hang her gardens on a hill,

tier upon tier,
each roofed with stone & tar & lead & earth,
planted with trees, lodges, and watering machines.

A wonder of the world.

The parks and pavilions of Xanadu
had flowers for every sense.

Near Peking was laid
‘The Garden of Perfect Brightness’.

Captain Cook admired
the gardens at Anaura Bay,
one hundred acres fenced,
with kumara in quincunx on the hill,

yams and taro
in the lower parts,

and gourds in flower,
climbing on the whares.

How does a garden die?
By climate change,
with sand.
By war, neglect,
trampled in the panic of the time,
strangled by its own proliferation.

It speaks of the past
from the trunk of a tree –
all that’s fallen.

You must listen.
History speaks
in fragments
of leaves and roots,

in the pomegranate at the door,
the cedar on the lawn,
spreading like a grand marquee
at dusk.

The gates are shut.
Even on the avenue there’s no stirring.

Clouds hang low.
A drizzle mists the darkening park.

Only the begonia beds are bright,
the yellow Malus at the corner
of the house,
and the quince.

In the house
we’re seated round,
awed at hierarchy,
muddled at Mick’s talk.
Mrs. Gilpin brings the tea,
and supper to release us.
The Curator encourages –
You’ll pass, he says.
Alison tells a joke.

This is what the evening intended.



Breakfast in Our Block

No. 1 has rice
from small dishes
on the floor,
and stays inside.

No. 6 has veges,
every time.

5 has porridge,
and prospers.
She sees soul in the day,
reads sophisticated weeklies
from English-speaking nations
round the world.

No. 2 has fruit (raw)
(and fresh)
and bread from Devonport.
He works to keep his muscles
in the places they were put
at adolescence.

As for me,
I start the day with Beethoven.
I like the solid mass in things,
that all the traffic passing by
is going to significance,
to destiny.

But I,
at 7,
in bed.

I shudder
with anxieties
I can’t predict.

I ring up no. 9
who tells me not to fear.
Accident and chaos
are in this greater cause,
he says.

I lie staring.
He’s so wise.
By the end of the day
I’m beginning to think
I’m starting to see
an ardent side to life.

Just as it’s coming clear
in the clouds
the sun sets,
and I lose sight,



This Book of Ours

For years and years
I’ve kept the minute Book.
You’ve always left it
for me to do,
assuming I’ld be strict
with the punctuation
and the spelling.

The record’s there –
each meeting that we’ve had,
decision, motion,
every presence.
I’ve not missed one.

each minute has been passed by you,
You’re in it,
much more than me.
I did the writing,
a ghosted presence,
a gloss.

The contents are graphic,
in keeping with life –
our meetings in it.
You went over the edge,
I toed the line,
was circumspect.

Yet you distrust.
Do you fear the record,
That it might build
an edifice of scandal
on the pillars of blame,
sculpted from conjecture,
with decorated capitals,

our lives laid out
like guts of birds,
to divine?



Goethe in Sicily

(April, 1787)

This evening another of my wishes was fulfilled,
In a surprising fashion.
I was standing in the street,
Talking with one of the men of the town,
When I was accosted by a liveried runner
Who thrust a salver at me.
Since I had no idea what he wanted
I shrugged my shoulders
And ducked my head
In the common manner.
He left as quickly as he had come.
Then I saw another
On the opposite side of the street,
Occupied in the same procedure.

I asked my acquaintance what this meant,
And he pointed discreetly
To a tall thin gentleman,
Dressed in the height of fashion,
Who was walking down the middle of the street
Through dirt and rubbish,
With an air of imperturbable dignity.
In a curled and powdered wig,
With his hat under his arm,
And wearing a silk coat, a sword,
And neat shoes with jewelled buckles,
The elderly gentleman walked solemnly on,
Ignoring all who watched him.

“That is Prince Pallagonia,” he said,
“He walks the town in this way
Soliciting alms to ransom those
Taken as slaves by Barbary pirates.
The collection never amounts to much,
But people are reminded of their plight,
And may leave money to the cause.
The Prince is chairman of the charity,
And has done a great deal of good.”

I thought of the madness of the Prince,
The excesses of his strange, inhuman delirium,
Which I had seen three days before
At his great house;
The spikes under the chair cushions,
The sawn legs of the furniture,
The perverted piety of his chapel,
Deformed figures, monstrosities,
The orchestra of stone monkeys,
The Atlas with the cask.

“If,” I said, “instead of spending vast sums
On follies for his villa,
He had used them for this cause,
He would have accomplished more.”
My shopkeeper friend demurred.
“Aren’t we all like this?” He said.
“We pay gladly for our follies,
But expect others to pay for our virtues.”




we say it’s the dog
over the fence
by the shed

but it’s not
I’ve seen
it’s the man

on the tree

he howls and barks
and snaps at it

strains at the dark
sniffs at the bounds
scents the gate

at night
after one

when we’ve been sleeping

we throw shoes
shout out
ring up

nothing’s done

he howls when it suits

we all understand
but still say it’s the dog



Ancient Worship

My worship’s not
for fear of fire
or desire

for majesty
yr competence
so firm
so fine
in delicate assurance
poised brilliant

central as this earth

the day’s unknown
life goes by long motoring
in warm green spring

can’t write my name
it’s gone
from my head
for the honour done yr noble countenance
and for love
of you
until the end
I’ll never leave off mocking
at death


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


Ibn al Farid
Cairo, 1280

It was said,
in that time,

that if the Shaykh
did not attend

the reading would be dull.

It was said,
that one time

he was low in spirits
and made them uneasy.

The host was pained.

One of the guests,
who knew the Shaykh,
and was a singer,

said to the disappointed man:

Give me ten dinars
and I’ll give the Shaykh his heart again.

He sang a pilgrim song.

Ibn al Farid arose.

He spoke like an angel of God:

‘Lift up thy loving.

Sing of the everlasting Lord.
Love is the breadth.
Might is the height.
Wisdom is the deepness.

Loath and be weary
of all things that keep thee.’

Splendour held them,
every one.



It’s so quiet
you can hear the rain coming
over the top
down conglomerate cliffs
to the paddock on the ridge
where it stops for a bit for a hush

knowing there it’s needed most

to the bush
(more urgent force
and gathering)
rattling on the rewa-rewa
and soughing, now
to the house


Found in Filebox 2

© Leicester Kyle Literary Estate, 2012

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