Rāhui: Autumn Lockdown Journal

1.

Australia's heat map in January
glowed every which way, red, purple, black,
and our skies were made yellow by trans-Tasman smoke,
while scarcely less fraught were dog-days of February,
as arrivals drifted through airport duty-free,
in a haze of competing perfume spritzes,
and reports came of a strange virus out of Wuhan,
pale horse and pale rider.

Always to islanders danger comes over the sea;
heat sensors found fever in arrivals from Iran and Italy;
then there was talk of superspreaders,
of clusters in Bluff and on cruise ships,
that made us all nervous.
Some spoke of the sins of the borderless
world being visited upon our people.

Corona once meant halo, but now universal contagion:
viral status only rubbed out by strict sanitisation.
This changes everything, virologists claimed.
The Ides of March announced our new New Year,
when Pasifika was cancelled and things became clear.
Mad psychic weather with moonboots on was closing in,
though it was an Indian summer and days were fine.

2.

As Anubis weighs the heart of the deceased
against truth's feather and counts the cost,
in the Egyptian Book of the Dead,
so the New Zealand Government looked ahead,
and blinked, then said, this is a time of crisis,
and an end to all speculation: full alert, Code Red.

Jacinda arose with the down-home hippy vibe
of a primmer's teacher, newly promoted to principal,
guiding toddlers on a bush walk during a storm,
which has suddenly grown very dark and bleak
from what it was at the start of the week.
Jacinda Influencer, knocking the lid off
and getting to work with the Can-Do mentality,
puts out an order for an imminent lockdown;
her forehead furrows, all must prepare to go to burrows,
or to warrens of burrows, and isolate.
Press Gallery questions coil and whip at sore points,
each answer a lightning rod for more questions.
We are all caught somewhere between a fever dream
and a model predicting rapid escalation.

My ballpoint slides over this journal's white paper
the way a wave's crest is crossed by a surfer,
to leave a foam of excitable scribbles.
Hers is a prohibition, a proclamation, a rāhui —
go hard, or go home: so long, farewell, haere rā.
With a sense of imminent apocalypse and angst,
Kiwis are given just two days warning
of intent for all to move to live as shut-ins.

3.

Sovereign nations briskly airlift out their citizens;
Aotearoa seals itself within the salt-lick
of Te moana nui a Kiwa, as if, like a cove
bent on skullduggery,
Covid-19 could come ashore at a cove,
under cover of darkness, bearing seeds of strife.
Grasped reins of sea-horses, clouds raising anchor:
everybody's clearing off, you bet your life.

The Response rigmarole is trusted: we must prepare,
and anyway it has all bought time,
to have the whole country swing on a dime
and shelter as one, within local habitations.
This is a dog-whistle sheep round-up issue:
herd the mob together and get them to trot.

Forty-eight hours, town's already looking bare,
as a single seagull sculls up George Street,
slowly its wingtips rise and dip;
soon all towns will be silent and queer
as a five-cornered square with emptiness.
The cancel culture is everywhere.
Abyssinia: in a while, crocodile: after lockdown.

4.

Visitors grab their things and run,
the abrupt surge inwards has begun,
leaving the outdoors to the outdoors,
to roving magpie, ravening possum, furtive wallaby,
the antic rantipole stoat that darts bushwards,
the swamp harrier that airily rides a skyhook down.

Oh to sail like a falcon over Franz Josef,
its bluey white ice, to the grizzled silver
of braided rivers in their mournfulness,
coasting leeward of the Alps, one more time.
Those braided tresses rise out of the skull
of Hine nui te Po, mountain-white in the night,
and quiver, for she humps earthquake weather on her back,
and each silver braid flexes its own track.

As we close New Zealand's showroom curtains,
it seems an advantage to be distant islands,
even though it's only a small world after all.
A shiny vacancy of rental cars surrounds Queenstown,
and ghostly tumbleweeds bowl along her streets;
no cafe now does cinnamon toast to go,
and no snowflakes swirl out over the lake.

5.

Alert Level Four's all padlock snick, shove of rusty bolts,
lawns being mowed, home repairs being done.
Fear is a plume of airborne droplets;
you may try not to inhale, but that's bound to fail;
best not to go anywhere, just stay here.
Home-alones zone out with headphones.
Travel agents decommissioned; tourist hordes demobilised:
big oil offshore sucks it up through a straw.

Autumn in lockdown's something half-criminal,
half heroic, because, by breaking the rules,
you could get someone infected, even kill them,
so the country expects all to do their duty,
while fallen leaves turn a russet brown,
and rosella parrots flit between branches.

There are briefings daily at 1pm on the TV,
where, calm and collected, Doctor Bloomfield nixes
the bravado of masks, unless you're hospital staff.
Stilts and oystercatchers patrol our beaches,
checking up on invertebrates beneath the sand.


6.

Compass needle feels dead set; might get more deadly yet;
couldn't get much higher than Level Four;
how sombrely introspective each face looks.
From front windows, teddy bears, more and more,
stare at the dormant glooms of suburban streets.
All the shopping malls have gone quite quiet,
just rumbling of trucks sidling into docks,
bringing container-loads of perishables:
hot cross buns, well as fruit and vegetables.
April Fool's Day, Bauer Media folds our best bets:
North and South, Woman's Weekly, Listener magazine;
though journos storm on Twitter, Bauer has no regrets.

Evening skies from the back porch, halfway to nowhere,
go from yolk-yellow to bark-ochre to starry dark.
Sometimes there are borrowings from Tiepolo:
clouds like pink cherubs on a palace ceiling in Venice.
Other nights, the raging orange of Jeffrey Harris,
capturing some high operatic drama;
or else the chill diluted blue of Joanna Paul.
Each dawn brings its own eureka,
and panning the bright fine gold of autumn days.

Experts predict a graph rising like Kaikoura,
towards mountains of the whited dead;
and every frowning emoji on a computer,
stalks the double-fault of eldritch metaphor.
It's closing time in the gardens of the West;
lamplights are burning out all over Europe;
and the virus is a riddle wrapped
in a mystery inside of an enigma,
but we are assured that its code can be cracked.

7.

On social media, shrill trolls moan and mutter
their throw-shade conspiracy schmutter,
but if all the conspirators' theories
were laid end to end to the moon,
I think you're gonna find
they still couldn't bend a single spoon
with their hive mind;
and only Jeff Bezos can levitate
Bill Gates to the pangolin eldorado
at the end of any Amazon rainbow;
while Jacinda Stardust twinkles benignly,
like snow on cloudpiercer Aoraki.

Jacinda Alert, she triggers the alarm,
hammers the message, and nails it home
with the force of a judge's gavel,
to orchestrate the polyphony of God Defend New Zealand
for a godless age; and globally there are requiems
and outlooks grim, while numbers of the dying
go on climbing; and Neil Gaiman
chats about loving the slow pace of life here,
and how he'd like to stay and stay,
then immediately breaks bounds and flies away.

As Covid-19 shuffles closer, like a phantom plague of skinks,
we sink into the domestic like mudfish in dried-up wetlands.
So we might read tomorrow in the tea-leaves,
in the smoky taste of lapsang souchong,
or in the gumboot taste of Choysa,
through days of warmish mild weather,
while leaves wind-beaten to bruise-yellow
drop simpering out of the trees.


8.

Māui's fishhook glitters in the sky at dusk,
and earthshine lights up the lunar disc.
In midnight's silence, ghost-calling owls mope,
and mercy errands are dashed on by health workers.
Daylight, from dewy grass, brings forth field mushrooms,
and the pale brown caps of Blue Meanie shrooms.
In Wanaka, they are hurrahing in the harvest;
this year it's a bumper vintage crop.
The grape-pickers are unemployed guides and climbers;
above the must hovers a kind of delicate dust,
that settles its motes through the vineyard air;
while chilly gusts flap the golden tapestry of leaves,
as if to chase out some deeply hidden dragon there.

Here in Dunedin, from within the cocoon we call home,
we contemplate the burl of a Barry Brickell pot,
in which garden flowers unfurl,
and ponder the coronavirus froth
that gargles in compromised lungs
like a mustard gas attack at the Battle of Verdun.
They are pulling the plug out on old-timers
where healthcare's overwhelmed,
as we learn when we nurse to our bosoms
the glimmers of data streams,
held mesmerised and hushed by our screens.

Hedgehogs do battle on the back lawn
like mighty mammoths,
lit up by a torch in the small hours;
and by day there's the humdrum business
of dishwater down plug-holes,
and the smell of bread and biscuits being baked.
And everyone plays detective or enforcer,
even dobbing in the wayward Minister of Health,
after photographing his whereabouts by stealth.
The TV has turned into a kind of tureen
ladling out brown Windsor soup into the bowls
of the masses in the Sabbath calm of every evening.

9.

To venture forth for fresh air, like a witness,
is to see each person englobed in amber, on their own island,
or else in lockstep with a significant other,
or with well-exercised dogs;
and then closer, half turned away, apprehensive,
to make a wide berth, give you the swerve like a fata morgana;
and blackbirds, those grave-footed mincers,
haunt wastelands brambled with neglect,
while sentinel thorns surround ramparts of rock,
below a shuttered and barred church,
yellow-striped Level Four notice pasted to the locked door.

Easter, and children place Easter Bunny cards
in bedroom windows, while cats doze
and vigils are kept by toy figurines
lying abandoned in front yards
where finches flitter,
as some of the young and restless chafe at quarantine
and barge in groups through desolate car-parks,
as out of the blue air spins a kererū feather,
and day after day is sunny.

Ebikes whizz by, saddlebags loaded, 
the cyclists wearing sunnies and gloved and masked 
in splendid isolation.
Iso-bubble drivers are edgy in rear-view mirrors,
in solitary confinement for the duration of their trip,
supermarket-bound before quickly back to lockdown;
and George Street is becalmed at eventide in a brownout,
as if powered down near zero on the grid,
but traffic lights still blink and police cars glide.

10.

Moon is underwater, drought is in the land,
Covid-19, curious term, now one we all understand.
No country's neutral, all in thrall to the catchy virus,
and the spectre of economic anarchy haunts
both populist and globalist narratives,
from Britain to Brazil, by way of Washington,
Orbán Bolsanaro to Boris Putin,
Duterte Modi to Marine Trump.

The Anzac Day fanfare is subdued this year
to standing unified apart,
at the front gate, in faint echo of a brass bugle,
as red fills the sky and sunrise flashes on
the instant bronze age of house window panes.
Bright berries glow like drops of drawn blood,
and is that The Last Post catching on the wind,
or just the wheezy hinge of the unlatched gate?
Or is it the cry of the Covid-19 barbarian at the gate,
trying in its pesky microbe way to aggregate?

Some couch-surf all day in an anti-viral fug,
others putter round, play Candy Crush, or want a hug.
I hear Ashley Bloomfield, voice of pragmatic calm,
suddenly say, with a Dalek's krark krark:
Eliminate! Eradicate! Exterminate!
For that is what the Covids hate!
And then his voice pitch-shifts back to normal,
on RNZ National, the sensible public official,
giving his Daily Briefing on the need for vigilance.

11.

At last we're descending to Level Three,
a quota of freedom for you and for me,
and it's very nearly May, up in the hills,
we in our sunshot bubble admiring Red Admirals.
They nest on nettles then dance arrestingly away,
as noon burnishes the long-stemmed ragwort,
pestiferous grand-daddy to all the young ragwort;
and bracken winds spiderwebs down to the clay,
here by the shine of the wind-punished tussock;
and hark, hark, to the lark that trills,
above roofs, Stadium, and factory mills.
Weatherwise, the clouds turn dressing-gown grey,
as we get in our car and drive carefully away
from others, following distancing that must be obeyed,
or render perilous the whole blockade.

From Michigan in the USA,
we learn of protestors who boast that they
are willing to take a bullet for their neo-liberal beliefs
in the right of consumer choice and the right to Live Free or Die,
and that to follow rules of social distancing
is to be brainwashed in a Communist laundry,
with your mind pleated and steam-ironed to uniformity:
net result, virus spread increases and more people die,
the uncanny like wildfire leaping from host to host.
As P.M. Ardern said, it's a pandemic, damn it —
and you assemble at your peril and your loss.

Trump, at first, advised Americans just to relax,
and carry on with eating to the max;
and then he changed this soothing tune,
for a sinister dirge of blame and blame again,
anyone he thinks is lame, or in his way.
Although a proven liar,
he promises a miracle cure,
and drinks his pepped-up quinine
with a horrible equine whinny,
making tasty smacking noises through tiny lips.
Never say never, but Americans ever
need to trace the Rona with a scanner,
then hit it with lockdown's hammer till it's done,
or the menace will go on menacing forever and a day,
and America's very fabric continue to fray,
in a kind of Fantasy Sci-Fi Horror Thriller Show.

12.

Now the month of May advances,
the skies are bright and clear,
Orion's belt turns, the Southern Cross blazes,
in this Plague Year.
A black river careers deeply through the gorge,
as the last embers of sunset are snuffed out;
so it's bravo to frontline nurses both here
and overseas, while our teams largely prepare
to stand down, as we get ready
to go down to Level Two on 14 May,
when you can get a takeaway from a cafe
to take home;
and while at first no more than ten
at a pinch can be together,
if the logging of new cases stays steady at nil,
then in a week or maybe a fortnight,
a hundred souls can gather
as their birthright,
without fear of the long tail.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson,
who has dispensed largesse of money
for the sake of the economy,
on Budget Day promises further subsidy.
Hopes are, that, thanks to track and contact trace,
the least person will not be found out of place,
before the next wave breaks
on a further shore for a more weary nation.

So the future's not what it used to be, nor are we,
and here we go, here we go, here we go,
or rather here we stay;
and is that Teddy on the window sill still,
and will we go back to Level Three,
and will there be jobs for you and me, after lockdown?
This is the end of autumn, the end of May,;
and we are backing into a Southerly,
towards the warmest winter ever,
while in the garden in the sunshine,
a heavy kererū clings,
like a happy homing pigeon
to the branches of a favourite tree;
and by the sugar nectar feeder a bellbird sings
and a bumble bee bumbles
and the tūī argue at high frequency.
Ominously,
I read online in USA Today that American
columns of the sick and columns of the dead
march in ever greater numbers.
As humans, we are always approaching and leaving normal.
Deep breaths then, and a slow and even breathing.
Breath is a vapour. Skin is a porous border.
A poem is a kind of respirator.

- David Eggleton

The view from here VII

  In these troubled times

It’s a small enough thing to contribute,
but hanging out washing, dipping time
and again to the green basket so I
think of a crane at a friendly pond –
well, poetry’s notions aside, it is one
man’s small but significant shot
at a better world.
                               I would not, friend,
be too surprised should aliens
think this is how earthlings connect
on Mondays right along the street,
the suburb, the other side of town,
as answers return by camisoles,
vests, shirts spread solemnly
which may speak of death, more
sensual signings off with flimsier
colourful garments.
                                  I have red pegs
in my mouth which might be mistaken
for draculean thirst, a taste for
jugular embrace. (Oh, we joke
too, we washerfolk, slapping
sheets in place!)  One might erect
a library – more than that – a truly
fictive world, our taut lines
stretching their crisp goodwill
one city, one continent, to another. . .
Annunciations might whizz across wires
like shooting dockets in old-time shops. . .
Being Monday wherever. Yours ever,
Sock.


Vincent O’Sullivan


More poems in ‘The view from here’ series

The view from here — Ian Wedde

Takahe — Bill Manhire 

Cilla, writing — Elizabeth Smither

h e l l o   a n d   g o o d b y e — Michele Leggott 

Breach — Cilla McQueen

Between Shingle Creek and Fruitlands — Brian Turner

The view from here VI

Between Shingle Creek and Fruitlands



Cast your mind back to the first time you came this way,

      the road windy, corrugated, dusty,

the surface mostly the colour of yellow clay, cuttings

      stained with the leer of water seeping.



On the left the ever-ascending slopes,

      the Old Man Range, white flecks

in blue gullys near the summit,

      and your young old man wondering when



we’d ever get to Alexandra, your mum complaining

      about ‘the blessed dust’, both of them

cursing the ‘wash-board surface’ and you thinking

      about the number of times she told your father



that ‘it didn’t matter’ when it clearly did. And that

      was the way it always was with them,

it is with you, it is, period. Until, you might say,

      something happens that’s never happened before.



Like love came back and sent hate packing

      never to return, and peace of mind arrived

like a dove from afar, decided to stay, and you

      no longer dreamed of what might have been.



Brian Turner

More poems in ‘The view from here’ series

The view from here — Ian Wedde

Takahe — Bill Manhire 

Cilla, writing — Elizabeth Smither

h e l l o   a n d   g o o d b y e — Michele Leggott 

Breach — Cilla McQueen

In these troubled times — Vincent O'Sullivan

The view from here V

Breach


First check your meniscus
then step into the air
where Bluff lies silver-grey
in calm seclusion,

Sky oyster silk       like kissing
when once we used to touch      to scent
each other's skin          soft
as a thistledown clock.

Tomorrow the daylight hours turn back
towards a colder quarantine,
when trees hiss through their teeth
and sunlight leaves the deck;

This winter, to write at the outside table
I'll wear my old fur coat,
'Pichanaki' penned in some elder hand
on the note left in its pleated satin pocket.


Cilla McQueen
Motupōhue
April 2020


More poems in ‘The view from here’ series

The view from here — Ian Wedde

Takahe — Bill Manhire 

Cilla, writing — Elizabeth Smither

h e l l o   a n d   g o o d b y e — Michele Leggott 

Between Shingle Creek and Fruitlands — Brian Turner

In these troubled times — Vincent O'Sullivan

The view from here IV

h e l l o   a n d   g o o d b y e

remembering that we don’t always read to believe, 
sometimes we do it to travel, to forget, to dream, to change
Martin Edmond


there is a path that climbs
out of sleep with clear notes
on five fingers
blown across sweet grassy
plains    there is no holding
them they move like the wind
over your sleeping face
which knows where it has been
and why it must remember
the path that climbs
out of sleep and into the green
heartstring morning


vibrato the bell in the throat
the ball in the whistle when it’s low
and your breath is the slow bounce
of ropes that braid and twist
and hold up the floating planet
as if by magic
tremolo a fibrillation of the air
and its concertos better even
than a neighbour deciding between
harpsichord and salt fish
running through his fingers
and over the dark garden to where
we’re walking along
looking for the sound
of a word so deep in theft
its adventures have hardly begun


delirium    lady
in Illyria with a lily he calls
Elysium    the newly alighted angel’s
lineal poise    lirio what would you
on her silver tomb lirica
the white notebook up against
the red wall the black words
going on into the light 
lady I am negative wingspan
in Illyria and he is
Elysium    a lily a lyric
a white delirium


I saw you, you were
a minim wraith of silver light
the day moon a figure
on the road the blue moon
resurrected    sister lucy gone
to heaven in her silver boat
grass ghosts beginning to sing
and you on the spiral road


when I walk sea waves
as I turn glass mallets
and turn again wind chimes
sleeping with the last track
climbing the stairs in the dark


I wait and wait
and the weight of waiting
is impossible    cicadas shrill
above the cricket boys
over the daughter chorus 
that pearly necklace
I’m looking for in all the stations
on the way to Ocean City
Go with Eros    it’s plain as day
a mob of arboreal lorikeets
another kind of whistle
for the chorus
chiasmos comes and goes
thiasos is my east
my new looking my ghost
along the spiral road


looking up
from the dark garden
the vision of the boat
sailing in the sky
Fra Angelico’s room and nobody
left behind    no one missing
out on its mother of pearl ceilings
I cannot bear the pain
liths of orange    what does it mean
liths of orange roughy on
a big white plate
life and limb    kith and kin 
lift us into heaven tonight


she is a wounded bird
ringnecked dove where the air stopped
being vitreous and she fell
like a stone    the sonic boom
of her catastrophe
left a hole in the air the shape
of one meeting disaster
on a clear blue day
she could tell us
what it feels like to hit aporia
he has found her
on the ground who was a blur
of wings in her world
immaculate Viennese
coffee with cream what is that word
she is dying and he is sixteen
he lifts her tenderly
who has never touched death
soft feathers and dark eyes
lined with kohl mama
you were beautiful    schlagobers
dancing on the tables
of the Kaffeekammer Katzenjammer
whipped cream with ruffles
he buries her
by the white flowered ginger
and the air repairs itself
becoming the way she was
becoming the way it was
always about to be


sun in Aries monarchs sailing
in blue air
wingprints like blossom
or leaves on the ground
in front of the iron gate
an egg, an echo
riro on the hill leading
the grass ghosts
who are everywhere now
we’re listening
and here they come
two kids with a camera
by the obelisk
wanting a photograph
hand in hand
and a long way off
the sound of someone
breathing as if every breath
is a memento
Easter moon frangipani
lifting out of the ocean
how could we have known
wingprints blossom leaves
riro ghost the sound
of years running backwards
and forwards over the grass
against the blue air
and the inexorable weave
Easter moon white ginger
sun in Aries we stop swimming


flutes and bells
in the dark garden
and above it
passiflora making her way
across the sky
low whistles and white shells
touching the ears as we go
past the ghosts of ourselves
who have been here
who will go with her now
as she climbs molo molo
into the sky
O Easterners day by day
we are drawn
to your opulent diary
the cabbage trees tika tika tika
the grass that says only
thiasos 
break one string
and ten thousand things
will replace it
bells and flutes and drums
on the seaward side above
the place called Paradise
morning sun
and the boy who roars
swimming along the beach
I don’t see him
but I know he’s there
the whole neighbourhood
hears him and knows
he’s singing
hello and goodbye


Michele Leggott

More poems in ‘The view from here’ series

The view from here — Ian Wedde

Takahe — Bill Manhire 

Cilla, writing — Elizabeth Smither

Breach — Cilla McQueen

Between Shingle Creek and Fruitlands — Brian Turner

In these troubled times — Vincent O'Sullivan

The view from here III

Cilla, writing


We are the shortest laureates*. But this afternoon
Cilla almost touches the sky, writing
on her motel balcony, two storeys up.

Her head in its peaked cap, her pen
are outlined in a strange significant shadow
a little laureate traced by Rouault

and in the shadows a shorter laureate watching
admiring her application, her skywriting.
The day moon is there, the blinding sun.

Her neck grows warm, her neat head bends
over the page, she stretches her arms
and seems to frown and squint.

It is words, you clowns, the other laureate thinks
not sun in her eyes, not pain of thought
but heart and pen at work again.


Elizabeth Smither

*Cilla McQueen (2009-2011) and Elizabeth Smither (2001-2003) are the two shortest New Zealand poets’ laureate.

More poems in ‘The view from here’ series

The view from here — Ian Wedde

Takahe — Bill Manhire 

h e l l o   a n d   g o o d b y e — Michele Leggott 

Breach — Cilla McQueen

Between Shingle Creek and Fruitlands — Brian Turner

In these troubled times — Vincent O'Sullivan

The view from here II

Takahe


I’m takahe
I eat all day
don’t bother me
can’t you see

I’m feeding

my big red beak
my big strong legs
I call a lot
I plod a lot

I’m heavy

I’m takahe
I’m bad ballet                                   
I love the sky
I see birds fly

above me

I’m looking down
I love the ground
I’m here to stay
I’m A-okay

I’m standing

I am not loud
I eat pale cloud
I eat blue sky
I multiply

but slowly

oh I was lost
to deer and frost
the tussock sang
around the man

who found me

found and saved
and unafraid
found and saved
and unafraid

I eat all day
I eat all day
I’m takahe
I’m takahe

I’m feeding


Bill Manhire



This poem is part of a commission from baritone Julien van Mellaerts to Bill Manhire and Gareth Farr for a set of songs about New Zealand birds. The other birds are the dotterel, the tui, and the huia.

Watch this YouTube video of the 2019 performance of the full set.


More poems in ‘The view from here’ series

The view from here — Ian Wedde

Cilla, writing — Elizabeth Smither

h e l l o   a n d   g o o d b y e — Michele Leggott 

Breach — Cilla McQueen

Between Shingle Creek and Fruitlands — Brian Turner

In these troubled times — Vincent O'Sullivan

The view from here I

It is a time of the view from here, where each of us is, ensconced in our bubble, and so this seemed like a good peg to suggest to former poets’ laureate, on which to hang a few poems. The response to the invitation was generous and diverse in range. With poems came email conversations and further views, ‘of this place, this time of year, new footsteps overlaying the old ones’ from Michele Leggott. This view of Bluff port from Cilla McQueen: ‘In my study looking out at the port. The cranes immobile, little movement on the wharf, occasional trucks across the bridge. Log piles, woodchips, containers, pale blue sky, bright sun, slanting shadows, misty horizon. It feels like a solemn public holiday.’

A view of ‘a beautiful tree with shadow branches’ from Ian Wedde. Of Elizabeth Smither’s neighbourhood, ‘first quietened’ now resuming ‘some of its activities – lawnmowers and chainsaws but also music and conversations.’

My thanks to Bill Manhire, Brian Turner, Elizabeth Smither, Michele Leggott, Cilla McQueen, Ian Wedde and Vincent O’Sullivan for the gift of these poems. Gathered together in solidarity with current Laureate David Eggleton, poets everywhere, readers of poetry, and as Vincent O’Sullivan put it, ‘to keep poetry flickering away, whatever the adverse winds.’

Peter Ireland


The view from here


For David Eggleton, Poet Laureate, Sunday 5 April 2020


The view from our balcony
three floors up

in the leafy canopy of a
lush late summer tree

whose shadow branches
scaffold an almost

empty street
and a lone walker

whistling down the
middle of the road

unaware of the ghostly other
London 1970

a heavy Christmas Eve snowfall
and on Christmas morning

a lone black baritone
sauntering down the middle

of frozen Brixton Road
singing Good King Wenceslas

first looked out
on the Feast of Stephen.

Bet that sun feels good
and the tree’s

filigreed sampler
of blue sky.


Ian Wedde

More poems in ‘The view from here’ series

Takahe — Bill Manhire 

Cilla, writing — Elizabeth Smither

h e l l o   a n d   g o o d b y e — Michele Leggott 

Breach — Cilla McQueen

Between Shingle Creek and Fruitlands — Brian Turner

In these troubled times — Vincent O'Sullivan

Poets’ Night In

The weekend of the 4th and 5th of April was to have seen a gathering of poets at Matahiwi marae in Hawkes Bay, where David Eggleton, current New Zealand Poet Laureate, would receive his laureate’s tokotoko, carved by Jacob Scott. Like most public gatherings at present, this couldn’t happen, though it will, later in the year.

Not doing something creates an opportunity to do something else in its stead and over the next few weeks we are featuring poetry to mark the weekend we couldn’t have. We begin with poems by David and the fellow poets he invited to join him at Matahiwi: Michael O’Leary, Jenny Powell and Kay McKenzie Cooke.

Then, from next week, there will be poems by former Poets’ Laureate: Bill Manhire, Elizabeth Smither, Michele Leggott, Cilla McQueen, Ian Wedde, Vincent O’Sullivan and Brian Turner, in solidarity with David, fellow poets, and friends of poetry everywhere.

Laureate readings began as part of the programme for the Te Mata Poet Laureate, and Bill Manhire started these with a reading in the Barrel Room at Te Mata Estate.

Poets’ Night Out has been part of the Matahiwi weekend since 2014 and has become a fixture in the cultural calendar of Hawkes Bay. Given present circumstances, it seemed appropriate to adjust that banner to Poets’ Night In for the first selection of poetry.

Poet, teacher and horse racing enthusiast, Marty Smith, has been an essential part of all our Laureate visits to Hawkes Bay, both at Matahiwi and as MC for Poets’ Night Out. So, let’s imagine we have a seat at the Havelock North Function Centre and Marty is about to introduce the evening of poetry.


Peter Ireland



Tēnā koutou, Tēnā koutou, Tēnā koutou katoa

Here in Hawkes Bay, where I am, it’s warm and bright; so still you can hear all the notes in tūī’s song, and even the thrushes and starlings. It was like this last Saturday, a day to welcome a Poet Laureate onto Matahiwi marae to receive a tokotoko. Early autumn, still unseasonably warm, the sun still in the leaves in the carpark where people would get out of their cars, come to hear David and his guests read for Poets’ Night Out. That day is still coming, whenever when, and may it be such weather again.

It’s very quiet. You can see a long way from here. There are no cars on the road that goes across from Bayview to Napier; there are no planes at the airport, not even parked. There’s this enormous silence, so still you could hear things growing. And into this come the poems, some known, some freshly grown and picked in these strange times, by David and his guests, Kay McKenzie Cooke, Michael O’Leary, and Jenny Powell. They have put them together for our celebration, Poets’ Night In.

Cheering on from the balconies to tautoko David are Bill Manhire, Elizabeth Smither, Cilla McQueen, Michele Leggott, Ian Wedde, Vincent O’Sullivan and Brian Turner.

It’s quiet enough to hear all the notes in these songs. May they be like cats’ eyes, glowing in the dark, watching over, and watching out.

Please join me in celebrating our Poet Laureate, David Eggleton. David, we’re all clapping.



The Archaic Order

Inside a fubsy dream,
bees treasure summer,
its gorse and bloom entanglements,
its gravid hush before the storm,
in lilac or violet flexure of irises.

Daylight is burnished by bird wings,
by the lazy ripple of the wind.
Crickets hop about as spiders abseil,
flies waft to hie themselves hither and yon,
a hedgehog rambles beneath brambles while tabby cats yawn.

A sunshower trips the light fantastic,
with pitch contour shifting upwards,
to be fainter and fainter, and away,
leaving rooftops drenched in raindrop finery,
so the hydrangea-headed suburb shines.


Sargeson Towers

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Not in narrow seas light fires of no return,
nor where blows the wind of fruitfulness,
but at dead low tide amongst brooding mangroves,
while the crab scuttles, the lone gull crarks,
and the mudflat poets gather buckets of cockles.
A plumb bob swung through an open portal
might leave us no wiser as to where we are,
but think of it as Auckland in the 1950s,
crossing the pitch and toss of the Waitemata
on a harbour ferry, to the fabled poverties
of the North Shore bohemians trying to survive
in Grog's Own Country when bliss it was to be alive,
under an overstory of mythic timber heights,
lately cut down and burnt to black stumps.
Thus a window opens in a villa's kauri heartwood,
and a hooting ruru eyes doubtfully the dawn.
Oh, for the days when every town had a fountain,
jetting coloured water, pinks and greens, like a dream
of what might yet be spouted in Takapuna, where
Keith Sinclair plays tea-chest bass, Smithyman's at the forge,
and in sackcloth and ashes McCahon sips bodgie's blood.
From Bruce Mason's navel, thespians wander and yarn,
stewing on the rhubarb of a play's first night.
Then the smoky green, countersunk, koru spiral,
sly mileage of a coastal steamer, a yacht groping a zephyr,
dense gloom, hidden light, Grafton Cemetery vapours,
volcanic caves glowing with spittle of worms.
A thousand city planning boo-boos owned up to;
that barge Glover sat in, poled by King Rex Fairburn,
shorewards to the tootle and fife of good old Sarge,
leading the way to jugs of gleaming Lemora,
and a sugar-sack full of withering lemons,
beneath a skull-white George Wilder moon.
In the Lounge Bar, ladies perch on the good chairs,
as if pubs might be shrines to higher thoughts;
in the public bar, blokes get soused on bowsers of booze,
swearing the longest word they know is corrugated-iron.
They howl, miaou, bark, bray; they yell hooray.
Outside, sparrows settle on toetoe plumes to peck away.
Enter the poet with face like a map of New Zealand,
A.R.D. Fairburn, all his china ducks lined in a row,
announcing free pot-shots on for young and old,
as the beer goes flat and the ashtrays stale.
Here's the New Zealand of how are you getting on,
here's the New Zealand of get out of it yah mongrel,
New Zealand of get stuffed, get a gorse bush up yah,
New Zealand of get back to from where you came,
get away and never darken our Customs Shed again.
Then Rex steps forth like a pukeko risen from manuka,
the alchemical man with gladiator sandals,
saying don't talk wet and pour us another one.
He's got an affinity with eels, with damsels and dragonflies,
launches into his riverrun of Finnegan's wakespeak,
claims he's lost his marbles, but most of them are in his mouth.
Like flagpole halyards whistling in the wind, sings Rex,
of the blab of the pave, the paper boy's call,
a wolf whistle from the railway station bookstall,
the blokes raising crown-and-anchor on tar-spotted canvas,
Maurice, Maurice and Maurice tapping typewriter keys,
ivory towers making hay bales into learned academese.
Bob Lowry's on the rocks with the Opononi dolphin;
R.N.Z.A.F. Mason makes his books into flying boats,
and skates them off the end of the Devonport Wharf.
Then hail crashes like a flail to clear muggy air,
for romantic North Shore's dead and gone,
it's with A.R.D. Fairburn in the graveyard,
and so is the Sarge, and all the Sons of Sarge,
and now only brand-new Sargeson Towers stand
as deluxe living for those with ready cash in hand.


David Eggleton



A Working Holiday in Wanaka     

(Lake Wanaka, 1938)

Attracted to the mirror of a solitary tree,
attached to the willow-weeping of stark branches,
we trial the angles of beginning.

Petals of sun graze on the drift of water
as singular cells of paper light

or

Weak sun-spill through summer’s parasol husk
dapples the lake’s gentle edge.

Gold tinged roam of hills
ripple and rise in a history of place

or

Mounds of tussock retreat
to the saffron shade of hills.

Mountains range in shy peaks

or

Mountains ruffle a pearl sky.


Through empty branches
a stillness of sky enters the lake

or

Sky enters lake
lake is sky.


Love’s Elevation                                                                          

(Rita Angus and Douglas Lilburn)

In him                                                                  you made landfall                       
anchored yourself                                  in his likeness
explored high country passes
                     surveyed the relief
                     of love’s elevation.


In his eyes
your glacial melt

In his hands
your jagged protection

In the shock of passion
a shift of fault lines.


Cartographers of the unsaid
both of you
reached the source                                               of a new edge.                       




Jenny Powell


Jenny Powell
Image: Craig Cumming
Jenny Powell is a Dunedin poet. Her most recent collection is "South D Poet Lorikeet" (Cold Hub Press, 2017). She is currently researching and writing poems based on New Zealand artist, Rita Angus.



Brown Purple Haze

The brown purple haze
Hung over old Sydney town
The surrounding bushes blaze

Breathing its dragon breath
The fiery red Rainbow Serpent
Brought destruction and death

All down the line of land
Central and South coast burned
Also too the areas inland

The first-nation people
Knew to move on when the fires
Covered the skies brown purple

Then the others came
With their guns and convicts and plans
To build towns and cities that remain

In the same place with millions
Of people: buildings, railways and
Roads from which you can’t just move on

So the fires and the beds still burn
A billion animals and several people consumed
No one knows when it is their turn

The whole nation may yet go walkabout
My brother, his family, my cousins and the rest
Australia my be beset by eternal drought

The lucky country has lost its bet
There is a price to pay for driving people over the edge
So the brown purple haze of guilt has yet

To expunge the memories of dream-timers
Whose loved-ones were driven over cliffs
Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide & Perth
Great icons of Western Kultur & birth
Yet, the brown purple haze is upon their brain
To recognise the memories of dream-timers


With Serah at St Heliers

(for Serah Fesolai)

Sitting together, two old friends
A gentle breeze in the air, we
Talked, with Rangitoto behind
Swaying trees on the beach front.

Like the trees we were at ease
As the evening sun’s last light
Shadowed the darkening sea
Which shimmered along the small

Waves breaking onto the beach
As buses stopped at regular
Intervals near the table we ate
From, perhaps to remind us

We both had come from difficult,
Poverty stricken backgrounds;
To gently tell us how special it
Is for the two of us to be able

To experience the finer things
In life, a glass of wine, a bowl
Of seafood chowder, and a plate
Of whitebait fritters, in such beautiful

Surroundings. Remembering my
Time in Auckland last year when,
Like two children who had discovered
The giant’s house, you would

Visit me nearly daily in Westmere
Saying it was almost like the time
We shared a house together in
Mt Albert all those years ago.

So, take this poem as the poem
I have always meant to write to you

Alofa – Michael



Michael O’Leary


Michael O'Leary standing outside a KiwiRail train
Image: Dave Johnson
Michael O’Leary lives on the Kapiti Coast. His writing includes five novels, non-fiction publications, a book of his artwork, and ten volumes of poetry: including a selected poems, "Toku Tinihanga"; collected railway poems "Main Trunk Lines; and Collected Poems": 1981-2016, all published by HeadworX.  His Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop imprint has published over 180 titles of New Zealand literary works (mainly poetry), and in 2019 celebrated 35 years of publishing.



warding off

Again today
the mid-afternoon flight
of two oyster catchers
zip-lining

pale, low cloud,
riding the grey light
in quick, flick-knife flight,
not missing a beat,

winging it, avid
for the ocean, their cries
sounding out
a kind of homesickness, or

a repeated one-note song
that is both a warning
and a warding off. I saw them
the same time

yesterday
– easy now
to remember particular
sightings and sounds

in these numbered days
of confinement.
And at night
I hear their calls,
perceiving
in each note
transmitted grief
emphasised

by the dark.
These birds always travel
in pairs, stick together,
insist not all is well.


glass paperweight

Friend, I hold your birthday present,
this glass paperweight,
and test its measure of sand
turned by fire to liquid then
to clear and solid containment. An entire world
I am able to hold in one hand, to look
inside and see an ocean frozen in motion

where indigo-and-dandelion cat’s eyes float
on candy-striped waves of periwinkle
and mint. Suspended
in the rounded space that such a snow globe
sphere allows, the artist’s trademark
flower flies with starfish wings — petals of a lily
worn to a skeleton of filigreed sunlight,

like the frayed remnant of a dress
in a coloured, Instagram photograph
yellowed with age, or leaked sunlight
from that day over fifty years ago now
when we both discovered
a common disregard for the shallow
and the popular and laughed at how easy

it would be to become friends for life, surely
sensing back then the possibility that all
could be weighed and kept, like the heat
from the fiery core of the globed planet
on which we both stood and turned and even now,
keep on standing, spinning under a golden,
lily-sky spent from the weight of sun.



Kay McKenzie Cooke


Kay McKenzie Cooke
Image: Kate Cooke
Kay McKenzie Cooke lives in Dunedin. Her fourth poetry collection is being published by The Cuba Press and at this point is scheduled for release in June 2020.

Two Mosques, Christchurch

This previously unpublished commemorative poem was written in the wake of the terrorist attacks that took place at the Al Noor Mosque and at the Linwood Islamic Centre, in Christchurch on Friday March 15, 2019, in which 51 people were killed.

Two Mosques, Christchurch

The poem writes the gunman invisible:
a him who hates so much is indefensible.
Scrupulous, they followed their beliefs to peace
he chose to deny and scythe with brutal lies.
Their blood unfurls as that of martyrs,
though they never wanted their altars.
All that's impure, he brought with a smirk;
he will be forever cobwebbed by the dark,
his darkness sawn out of rocks in his head.
But they will bloom forever, each one dead,
as the nation mourns and mountains crack.
Sad days amid rainbow petals, freshened stems,
a tide of grief that will never leave the path,
that winds with so many threads and colours.
He wanted ammunition; they bade him welcome.
He wanted crime; they gave him forgiveness.
He wanted erasure to fill the hole in his soul.
They barely sought to acknowledge him at all,
but only as a shooter who rose in a jabber,
and blind with loathing pulled the trigger.
Let them be a mass of flowers,
that are vessels of keening spirits.
Let them be a mass of flowers,
bunched and wrinkled and handwritten.
Let them be a mass of flowers,
like the remains of a maze trampled down.
Let them be a mass of flowers,
like a storm system stirring the ground.
Let them be a mass of flowers,
like a compass and a journey.
Let them be a mass of flowers,
that winds from mosque to mosque,
and then around the city, dusted with pollen and history.

David Eggleton