Selected Shorter Poems 5 (1998-1999)

Shorter Poems: 5


  1. Surf [3/6/98]
  2. I saw the soul ... [3/6/98]
  3. An Incomplete List [3/6/98]
  4. Over The Hill [3/6/98]
  5. An Answer to the Last Thing [17/7/98]
  6. Burnett’s Face [17/7/98]
  7. Metrosideros [17/7/98]
  8. Home Thoughts by a Rough Sea [18/7/98]
  9. Sunday Morning at Millerton [19/7/98]
  10. My Home [20/8/98]
  11. Water Lines [n.d.]
  12. Driftwood [20/9/98]
  13. Dear Judy [21/10/98]
  14. Cursor in a Tangled Field [23/10/98]
  15. As In Burden Bound [27/11/98]
  16. Marlowe Overwritten [3/12/98]
  17. An Argument With Houses [22/1/99]
  18. Below the Fall [23/3/99]
  19. Life on the Flatlands [23/3/99]
  20. New Year at Millerton [28/4/99]
  21. Whistler’s Mother [21/5/99]
  22. Local Resources [3/6/99]
  23. The Call [3/6/99]
  24. The Bones of an Arse [13/7/99]
  25. A Rule [16/7/99]
  26. Puzzle Poem [16/7/99]
  27. My Coughing Cat [Sept ’99]
  28. From ----, With Love [Sept ’99]
  29. My New Flower [21/10/99]
  30. The Buried Village [21/10/99]
  31. It’s a stubborn day ... [2/12/99]
  32. “The River Sluices with Many Voices” [2/12/99]



The world’s a wave
of something
that smells of fern

The bush
like rain
on the hill drenching
you out of my life
soaking up my love for you
washing clean
for you

Dark the sea the sand the bush
breaking on an alpine line
not crossed by tree nor grass

you can hear –
the two tides
two seas
in the peaks roaring
on the shores

down the hill

to drown us
in lodes of molten ore

like at the beginning



I saw the soul
come out of her mouth

and hover
like a moth

then fly along the contour
of her body

pausing at each notable part

as I have done



An Incomplete List

In this cloister of rock and ruin iron, remember

Thomas Mitchell 24. Struck by a runaway truck when running
Joseph Kennedy 17. Jammed by loaded trucks at mine
Edward Quinlan 34. Fall of coal from face in mine
George Rennie 62. Fell from coal bin 26 feet
James McRae 43. Run over by tubs of coal
John Brown 54. Trimming top coal after shot
Michael Forde 33. Killed by gas on inspection after fire
James Berry 37. Killed by coal from pillar edge
James Bell 28. Drowned in flood from drainage box
Robert McKinley 46. Fall of coal on trucking road
William Pearson 51. Killed by gas on inspection after fire
John Middleton 46. Side of bin gave way in stope
Joseph Hopkinson 69. Debris fall in Old Dip mine
James Cowan 43. Killed by gas on inspection after fire
William Lowden 41. Killed by gas in Old Dip mine
Richard Smith 53. Crushed by fall of rock from road
William Maher 46. Killed by gas on inspection after fire

Francis Nelson 46. Broken back from fall of coal
James Campbell 25. Struck by runaway truck on jig

Each in sight of the sea.

Death leaps from sandstone ledges,
grief to the home.

The press of time makes stone of them.

at the bathhouse, Millerton Mine



Over The Hill

In the west
are longer days
full beyond appointment

The sun goes
its routine
until the last

Then makes a pose

A rose-red glow
behind an outrider of rain

A pillar of itself
announced on a frontal sky

One long last light
for a path

One cloud
alight in the dusk

Then a quick green blink

Into a mica sea



An Answer to the Last Thing

You are to be
in your own garden so
the commensurates
and sit
in the herbal patch
embalm your mind in fragrance
and oil of dill
so when at last you are received

Pray for a still hot day
with hedges round
for the spice
and privacy
then tuck the leaves in every cleft
and orifice
thyme and sage
and parsley for the elves
fennel for fear (in case)
and fern-seed for the vision
you will need
and dill

Breath deep
then let the soothing tinctures go their rounds

waft in
waft out
that when at last you are received
you will



Burnett’s Face

For all the truth of the place
I come here
again and again

It’s the rocks
I think

They defy
all I stand for
and like

Eternal things
that erode

The immutable
that crumbles into quartz sand

layer upon layer

Old vegetation
twisted in the mist

Moss gardens
in the snow that grow

Blue orchids
for a new year

unlike the others
that have passed me

as the time they took




the rata down by the creek
flowers in winter

orange-red not
the dark blood of summer

it lets down roots
that hang

and reach
but never touch

it roots for air
as one does for love

and finds it cold



Home Thoughts by a Rough Sea

for Nick, at Nikau

There were a lot of good sounds around this morning
so I sat here
and let you drift in my head

Speech isn’t necessary
each roller says a different thing

It’s in the affect
the way you approach
the angle you take the incline
of one song against another
and what survives

And what you take when you go again

I thought of you all
loving. So forgot



Sunday Morning At Millerton

When we get a quiet day
we usually want to kill it
with a mechanised domestic chore

Today we’re on the verandah drinking coffee
and not talking
for some reason of the time

like birdsong
or the general sense
that spring is about to jump
and take our breath away

Martha’s practising down at the creek
but you can hardly hear her
(bagpipes suit a noisy river)

And the boys aren’t hooning at the depot
(or is it their sons?
I can’t tell the difference
when they’re on their bikes)

There’s nothing on the road

There isn’t any wind

The cat’s asleep

and thoughts are going
through my mind
I haven’t let in till now



My Home

Like life in the Caucasus it is
like life
with lots of wild people all around
working theirselves up in a frenzy
smoking hash
and living in the bush in huts
on orchid roots and greens

and other gotten gains

It’s marked
on the map
with a little bunch of weed
to show there are
thousands and thousands of dollars
tied up here

Though no-one knows
down which mine shaft
the loot is put

Watch is kept
from the six main peaks
and there are dogs on the moors
with phosphorous round their eyes
at night

In case blue devils
with their swords of wrath
sweep down
and take what’s lost.



Water Lines

The pond’s not enough
for the houses it supplies
and seems about to dry up

the intake sucks air
and yellow grains
washed from the sandstone
bones of the hill

That poke up through
the white Epacris heath
and manuka

And the ribs of burnt bush
young lancewoods, tussock,
sedges, other scraps now

Settling in to hold the
place together once again
the water in the soil

It’s nearly spring

Bright orchid leaves
are pushing through

It’s set to go

Winter floods have
knocked the tank askew
it spills out cracks

And tilting leaks
around the outlet
is about to fall apart

But still gives pressure
to the fall in the black
alkathene pipe

Which we pursue
for leaks and cracks
and other degradations

For sediment in dips
where the pipe is slung
like a rope between

Crevasses rocks dead

Waterfalls at cliffs

Those obstacles that mountains put
in the way of a straight line

That make a creek meander

We open a join
to let the dirt wash out
and small prawns

(that live here
and might come out a tap)

We knock those parts
that can’t be freed
or loosed

And glance
in the bog pools
of beer brown tea

In a northern land
a body might have lain
here for an epoch

Preserved with paraphernalia
for second millennial eyes

And ownership

But we look into something fresh

Doubtful at the thought

And not surprised
at the reluctance of the supply
to conform




it comes in orchid-scented logs
pastel shades

a confection
to carry
to the car

though still a load
by sack
or lying branches
in my arms

and by right size
if I do well
for the fire

no need to trim
to split for drying out

but right
for burning

to the fate
and by vocation warm

for its dignified
and glowing conclusion

in my multi-fuel

with salts and resins

and fires
more beautiful
than hell

than hell

than Dresden’s architectured dust




Dear Judy

Your letter came
like a mare’s-tail sky
with change to summer

and I will send a poem

if you’re still there
and not a dream
or someone’s relict

Here it’s not like there

Here’s only me
and all this weather

When it rains there’s mud
and there aren’t many roads

Lightning burns the fax machine
and windows blow out

Here’s clematis –
unwound knitting
blown upon the bough

and lots of leaves –

I think I’m in love
with all these leaves

the Others grow cannabis
in the bush

and the police take it
without asking

It’s free
like water and air

but all of us pay
in the end



Cursor in a Tangled Field

A lynx
a veritable lynx
the missing lynx
and it’s got rabies
Into the greenery
As we’ve been told
by posters and by soldiers
all about
with nets and tranquillising guns
to watch
for the wild thing
in case
it drop upon my shoulders
from putaweta and the like
and dig in
as lynxes do
in neinei trees
back home

and I wallow with the weight of it
as people do
back home

Into the greenery run
an impenetrable width
put stream and fall behind me
put the neighbour with the loud music
slough and outfall
put old kitchen middens
water tanks discarded tyres
put them all into the far past
in case this tabby with the almond eyes
one step ahead one jump behind
catch up

discard impedimenta throw
my shoes and jacket
into the glow-worm grotto as I pass

make a trail of lesser things
of socks my tie of gloves
a shirt
of any handbag I might have
to lead the chasers
single file
the papers police and circus men
the vet kaumatua sheltered house
the counsellors and those who go
to tragic places

Be sure they find me naked
in the dignity of native things
without my fears

– and faceless



As In Burden Bound

The days rise like ‘Fidelio’
with horns from over the hill
and syncope at sea

Winds in banners blow
of mist and spray
and leaves along the sand
where the birds ride

And this is just the start of the day –

What brilliants there must be
strewn along the way

From six to five
and into dusk

The comfort of the lamps
you in the house

The actual act of sleep

Life is good in fine weather

Fair enough without




Marlowe has the making of a
great poet; titanic conceptions;
imaginative vision; gift
of style and of making
words sing; and a time
to live in such as no
other generation of
English poets has ever known.
Nature withheld from him
the priceless gifts of humour
and the faculty of interpreting
commonplace human
experience. He never knew
the secrets of a woman's
heart, and know of no love
lifted about the level of
sense. he is the rapturous
lyrist of limitless desire.
No tenderness to relieve
his pathos; no female
character in his plays we
remember with interest.
He died in the bright morning
of his fame, having created the
Elizabethan drama. His six
splendid plays greatly in-
fluenced all succeeding English
dramatists, especially Shakes-


Marlowe stands in the shadow of
; this is surely sufficient
reason for his enrolment with our
glorious few. For his gifts we value
him - for what he possessed rather
than for what he achieved
. Too
often he is held up to us as merely
an impulse-giver, a pathfinder, a sort
of poetic engineer, who wildly,
vehemently broke ground which
finer spirits should hereafter make
rich and fair. We are taught to
remember him as the real inventor
of our noblest poetic instrument,
blank verse, as the creator of
English tragedy, as a master whose
manner Shakespeare strove to copy
and surpass
. These are in truth
splendid titles, splendid claims to the

Marlowe's work reflects his life as a
mirror reflects a face: all his life was
swayed by passion; all his dramas
take passion for their theme
. Play-
writers before him made types of
the Virtues; he made types of the
Lusts. Each drama exhibits some
overmastering passion, as it grows
and develops
and destroys. The lust
for empire and limitless rule; the
lust for lucre, for all knowledge and
all beauty - these form the ground-
work, the mainspring of each play.
Yet nobody wants such a picture.
We prefer our own modern dramas,
with Parisian petticoats and
dialogue - plays from which the
three all-important unities of
adultery; arsenic; and tea cups are


splendid as a poem fails

______as a play
Tamburlaine Proclaims His scheme of
Lust for empire

Act 1., Scene 2.


(From the Quarto of 1604)

F. struggles to seize all
knowledge and
all pleasure

the poetry makes it great

Faustus Makes His

fine emotion

Act 1., Scene 1.

most popular in his day

Makes B. a monster through
his lust for money - hideous

Barabas Broods Upon His Wealth

a one character play

Act 1., Scene 1.

First and finest of all
historical dramas of the early

Act the First.
Scene 1.

The only real woman character
attributed to M. is Queen Isabel

Scene V.
Light. He sleeps.
Edw. (waking) O, let me not die yet! O, stay a while!
Light. How now, my Lord!
Edw. Something still buzzeth in mine ears,
And tells me, if I sleep, I never wake:
This fear is that which makes me tremble thus;
And therefore tell me, wherefore art thou
Light. To rid thee of thy life - Matrevis, come!
Enter Matrevis and Gurney
Edw. I am too weak and feeble to resist -
Assist me, sweet God, and receive my soul!
Light. Run for the table.
A scene unsurpassed in Eng.
drama - the most emotional


His crudest drama
exploits hatred of Catholics

Guise Declares His Policy.

touch of grandeur in death
Act 1., Scene 2.

His only play about love

Dido interests us because Virgil
drew her
Nash's hand visible here

A Vision of Olympus

verses strung together, play
Act 1., Scene 1.



An Argument With Houses

They’ve taken to the trees
they’re dancing in the tops
they’re living in parenthesis
and they won’t come down

they’ve all got nice houses
and endless TV
but they stay our under the moon

even when it rains
they won’t come down

they’ve left the very best at home
with duvets from designer stores
and persian rugs to romp on

there are cabinets in every room
with liqueurs

but they sleep where the branches fork
and drink the dew

their houses overlook the Gulf
with yachts, container ships in view
hints of other lands
and fax machines

but they won’t come down

they cling to the twigs
and toss with the breeze
and sing

of things they’ve never seen
that say they’re there



Below the Fall

On my pool
below the fall
a drift of leaves
when summer moves

(yellow and brown)

It marks
on the top
the flow below
and swirls
or floats in line

Each day
there are no more
nor any less
they are
a constant to the stream

A scum
that mars placidity
for it tells
on the top
of dis-ease below



Life on the Flatlands

It’s the sea
bursts through the flax
dunes with penguins
into the cabbages
all around the clothes
line with logs
and up to the steps
where the coal’s kept

in storms

It’s the bush
dark on the scarp
insinuates with roots un-
wind undermine the
letter-box and
front fence with ad-
ventitious bushes
on the lawn

in holidays

Full for portent
all round
on the flat

but the sea can’t get
to the hills

where the bush has bounds



New Year at Millerton

At the time
when we should have been rowdy
we were still

on the steps
on the bench of the deck
some of us lay on the grass
and we watched

When we should have been singing
Auld Lang Syne
kissing each other
and blowing whistles
we sat
and watched

the moon at the edge of the world
the year’s first stars
the sparks that leapt to join them
from the fire
that we watched

that writhed
twined tepee-like
about the tangled pile
and lit

a thousand twisted driftwood arms
like hopes and fears
to speak for us all



Whistler’s Mother

On the way back from the trip to town
we were waved down by Chris and Kim

A wheel had fallen off their ute
they had a load of pig shit

Well it wasn’t their ute
they had borrowed it from Pete

Who had bought himself a new car
and crashed it

And had borrowed this ute
from some-one no-one knows

But Pete had gone in Marilyn’s car
to get some cray-fish for the dance

Marilyn said they might as well use the ute
until Pete comes back from over the hill

no-one knows when

Let’s go and get a beer, I said

and sort it out tomorrow



Local Resources

They are using red rock
from Red Rock at the Burning Mine
to line the hangi

It has been burnt before,
and won’t split or explode
like granite.

The salamanders (fire newts)
help it hold the heat.

They hibernate when the rock is cold
and won’t be seen,
but liberate when the heat is on
to do the work

of flicking fire to greater heat,
and giving it heart.

They make spires of sparks
and ascend in the glow,
swimming in the flames
in a reptile way.

They live in the Burning Mine,
and will help us out
when we ask.




The Call

Someone’s there.

The glass in the door
is too high for me to see
from my chair,
but I can hear

the sniff of someone
going round the back,
the scrape of a shoe
on the stone,
a quiet of waiting,
a shift in the air.

And before the door is tried
or someone knocks,
I say (to no-one in
particular but clearly)

Come back tomorrow.
Give me this day,
you should have rung or said.
Give me time to put away,
time to go to bed.



The Bones of an Arse

We were poor but honest,
and so should be respected.

We were clean too.

Picture in your mind the sun
in the kitchen window,
clean white sheets,
and us around the fire
on winter nights.

Tomatoes from the garden
and well-scrubbed floors,
and all the household implements fixed
by a clever Dad;

All the bills always paid
(though only just)
from the merits of scrupulous effort.

The nice smells of virtue,
the ironed surfaces of self-restraint,
which is the dutiful practice
of the poor;

The ever-open door
to visitors of every sort,
who looked to us for cake and tea,
(the eucharistic sustenance of those
who plot escape to a moneyed life).

Imagine our love
for omnicompetent Mum,
who made our determined ambition,

To pull ourselves up
by our own bootstraps,
with modesty diligence cleanliness,
in the most conventional clothes,
into law the banks and education,

where we hold on by our own back teeth.

Just imagine –
so much for us to look down on,
so clean so just a reward.

But it is done.
I have worked off the debt,
paid every duty,
born every pain.
I have locked up the past
I have the key.

My only occupation now is love.

I will be at your door.



A Rule

I vow to God to stay
here in my chair

with the cat on my knee
and the light on the sea

the rain behind
as a darkness to the yellow sea
for the slow slow cloud will come

I will not go again

I will watch the hours
and keep a small world
of excellent things –
the light on the sea
the cat on my knee

until the clouds come
as a darkness



Puzzle Poem

It’s a lovely world
and I like the colours in it

My nose runs all the time
and I drink lots of tea

I walk as if my boots
are full of water

My bowels aren’t the best

I cough a lot and am
always in a good temper

I grow my greens
where the sky has cracks

For the sun to shine in
secrecy under the fuschia tree

Where the police won’t see
no matter how they hover

I start my plants in June
on the window sill

And plant them out
when the frosts are done

Watered and tended every one
then pull them in the autumn sun

And smoke them when they’re dry

Time is slowing down for me

Is there something wrong with me

What am I?



My Coughing Cat

This is where my cat lives –
the half-lit edge to a shaded world
on the rim of visibility,
where sticks and bits and insects
are beasts of prey,
and the moon is more light
than the sun.

But my cat is sick.
I nurse him now.
He sleeps on my chair,
he coughs and chokes,
he won’t go out.

He won’t die either.
There’s a spark that tells me –
a spark in his eye
from a midnight life
where he plays.

He knows my need.
He keeps down the ghosts,
and is a friend in darkness.

[Sept ’99]


From ----, With Love

in a carton
there came:

2 Lotto tickets
1 box of liquorice
1 vice grip
1 box of chocolates
3 nail punches
1 5m retractable steel measure
1 box of chocolate peanuts
1 box of chocolate mints,

in shredded paper
and no note,

for no particular date or time.

I would like to leave it out
as an ornament,
or case it in resin
on the wall,

But I will take each gift
and put it to its proper use,

as you intended,
with love.

[Sept ’99]


My New Flower

is three centimetres tall,
just under.

It has three leaves companionable,
like a japonica bud,
bright deep green
and oval,

and one bract leaf,
shoe-horned against the seed.
There are no stems.

The flower’s the biggest part
by far, shaped
like a bellied jug,
striped white and green
erect, with short red
side tails.

It grows low
against the moss
and snow.

Pterostylis leicesterii
is its name,
should it find
its ancient anonymity



The Buried Village

It is the practice
in our town
to scatter the front
with old car hulks

for parts,
for a project,
in the hope
that from these relics
something will come
that will run;

but the rust and the bush grow fast,
leaves rain down,
and decomposition comes before hope,

the iron curves are eaten
by rotting stuff,
roots and vines disguise,
space is grasped
by trees that grow in height and weight
and turn to food
what once took fuel,

and the status the wreck implied –
the intention to mobility –
is reduced
to a green ganglion in the shade,
a tumulus of vines,

a darkness in the second growth
that might have been a stove
or chimney base,
or something else inflexible,
like age.



It’s a stubborn day.

The cloud won’t lift,
though it has no right to be
in such a high barometer,
with the wind from over the hill

as it is.

And it rains.



“The River Sluices
With Many Voices”

You can hear them.

Not a full word,
nor a phrase,
but all the intonation
of water into glass,
as if words are best made that way,

explaining themselves,
I suppose,
though there’s never a thing understood.



Found in Filebox 2

© Leicester Kyle Literary Estate, 2012

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