Landfall 228 : Aotearoa New Zealand Arts and Letters 9781927322437, 9781877578472

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Landfall 228 : Aotearoa New Zealand Arts and Letters
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aotearoa new zealand arts and letters



November 2014

Editor David Eggleton Founding Editor Charles Brasch (1909–1973) Cover: Lorene Taurerewa, Yellow Boy, 2014, 200 x 203 mm. Oil on canvas. Above: Barry Cleavin, A Leaf from Leonardo’s Book, 2014, 40o x 265 mm. Etching. Published with the assistance of Creative New Zealand.


4 Landfall Essay Competition judge’s report 6 An Attachment to China, Diana Bridge 21 Four Circles, Sarah Bainbridge 32 The Strangeness of Purple, Elizabeth Smither 33 Art portfolio, Lorene Taurerewa 42 So Angry, Nick Ascroft 44 Dinner with the Dentists, Liz Breslin 45 The Plot Flaw, Morgan Bach 47 Things to Do with Lists, Lynley Edmeades 48 Diane, Unexploded, Anna Jackson 49 River-time, Simon Thomas 58 Hut, Carolyn McCurdie 60 Southerly, Michael Hall 63 Southern Farmers, Richard Reeve 64 Extract from Maukatere: Floating mountain, Bernadette Hall 66 Native Fantasies, Iain Britton 67 A Defendant 1 (2012), Barry Cleavin 68 Pacific Burglars, Tom Weston 72 And Blessed Be, Reihana Robinson 73 Marching and Fighting in the Friendly Islands, Scott Hamilton 82 Mango Archipelago, Jessica LeBas 84 Rex, Carin Smeaton 86 White Girl; Māori World, Semira Davis 88 Ngā Kēhua, Vaughan Rapatahana 94 Dawe: A Black and White Portrait, Russell Haley 98 The Design of Butterflies, Kerrin P. Sharpe 100 Mantle, Jen Crawford 102 The Rose Garden in Rome, Jennifer Compton 104 The Skull in the Wall, Marisa Cappetta 105 Antarctica, Kevin O’Donnell 106 That Night So Bright, Sheridan Keith 2

113 Baggage, Kate Davis 121 Freeze Frame, Claire Orchard 122 Choker, Maris O’Rourke 123 The Clouded Ruins of a God, Andrew Paul Wood 125 That Derrida whom I Derided Died, C.K. Stead 126 O Melbourne, David Herkt 135 Hunting God, Alice Miller 136 The News from Poems, Tony Beyer 137 The Speed of God, Rhian Gallagher 138 LDV Belt, Alan Roddick 140 My Father, Dead, Amanda Eason 141 Jumping Frogs, Doc Drumheller 142 14, Rata Gordon 143 The Toy-maker’s Daughter, Joanna Preston 144 Art portfolio, Mary McFarlane 153 Self-portrait: Still Life, A Family Portrait, Michele Leggott 161 From The Ice Slide, Sandra Arnold 167 Signet, Kirsti Whalen 169 A Closet Elitist, Jenny Argante 171 Poem for John Pule: The Last Days of Peter Hooper, Jeffrey Paparoa Holman 173 Epitaph, Sue Wootton 174 Landfall Review Online: books recently reviewed LANDFALL REVIEW



The Hardest Poem is the One You Write About Your Mother, C.K. Stead



I Have Nuffink Else to Say, Anna Jackson



Kiwi Aviatrix, Simone Oettli



Strange and Powerful Music, James Norcliffe





Respect and Respectability, Gerry Te Kapa Coates

Art for Connecting People, Damian Skinner


208 In Tatters, Denise Copland 3


Landfall Essay Competition 2014 There is no single prescription for essay writing. Any topic, any style, almost anything goes. But an essay must cohere, its elements must combine informatively and entertainingly—and for the Landfall Essay Competition there is a further requirement: essays must be under 6000 words; it’s in the rules. But further to this, no essay should be longer than it needs to be to say what it wants to say. Clive James in his essay collection The Revolt of the Pendulum (2009) suggests that if we want an essay to do more than what it does, that’s a condemnation. But if we want it to do more of what it does, then that’s an endorsement. You read to the end of a good essay greedily; you reach the end of a mediocre essay with a sigh of relief, if not exasperation. There were 39 essays in this year’s Essay Competition and all were read attentively and closely. Most of them were generally well written: engaging, dramatic and staying on topic, as you might expect from Landfall writers and readers. So I had to search for and ponder on flaws in construction, shortcomings of detail, miss-steps of tone, overly knotty sentences, overestimations of personal literary virtuosity. I was looking for sharp expression, a lucid exposition of ideas, an honesty of response, an authenticity of experience, and an element of originality and self-reflexive agility. There were eleven finalists (listed in alphabetical order of title): ‘An All Time High’, by David Herkt; ‘An Attachment to China’, by Diana Bridge; ‘Dogs in Cars’, by John Horrocks; ‘Four Circles’, by Sarah Bainbridge; ‘Janola Bottles’, by Shelagh Duckham Cox; ‘Mania: Gift of the gods’, by Michael Morrissey; ‘Marching and Fighting in the Friendly Islands’, by Scott Hamilton; ‘No Hugging, Some Learning: Writing and personal change’, by Damien Wilkins; ‘On Arriving Home’, by Ingrid Horrocks; ‘This Compulsion in Us’, by Tina Maketeri; ‘We the Encircled: Poetry, memory, ideology and an empty house’, by Siobhan Harvey. Brevity is the soul of lingerie, wrote Dorothy Parker; it’s also the soul of a good essay. What is left out is as important as what you include: your 4

anecdotes, your allusions, your quotations, your pulse-readings. Also important is an ear for the rhythm and beauty of language—be it a cautionary tale, a family fable, an eco-polemic, or a confessional essay. Those essays that rose to the top were those I faulted least, according to their own lights, their own aims and ambitions, as realised. A number of essayists sought to establish relationships of comparison and contrast with landmark New Zealand figures as a way of orientating the notions their essays were intent on teasing out. Colin McCahon, Janet Frame, Martin Edmond, Clarence Beeby, Dennis McEldowney were touchstones. So far, so good, except that often this name-dropping became less of a helpmeet to elucidation and more of a hurdle or weighty burden. The problem was, sometimes, the reflex invocation to a proven quality, as if that might serve to lend lustre, but more often the problem became a failure to illuminate further the known, the proven, the generally acknowledged in unexpected and surprising ways. Essays invoking ‘New Zealandness’ ought not merely offer an earnest rehash of the totally expected but, as Allen Curnow intimated, something newly difficult, something not counted on. The winning essay, by Diana Bridge, offered the poignant as well as the perceptive, the subtle as well as the erudite, the panoptic as well as the local— and all these elements were held in elegant counterpoint. The three runnersup, Sarah Bainbridge, Simon Thomas and Scott Hamilton, tackled aspects of the medical, the archeological and the anthropological respectively, not as ‘big subjects’ but rather specifically, precisely and passionately. These four essays appear in Landfall 228; another finalist, ‘This Compulsion in Us’, by Tina Maketeri, will appear in Landfall 229.



An Attachment to China foreword I am wandering around a city as contemporary as any in which I have lived, with gleaming silver towers that thrust up to a skyline lost in haze and, at its root, a maze of glittering shops. Wherever I walk in new Shanghai poems of old China break through the crowded surface. It is not so strange for someone who has studied Chinese classical poetry to summon lines and the memories of poets’ lives as she sits in a tea house, slips into a corner of the Yu Garden, or simply walks about the lovely streets of the old concessions. Even a former colonial possession, if its physical leftovers are attractive enough, can act as a nostalgic trigger, leading back to a literary memory with which originally it had nothing to do. Some of the poems that come up will have been written in the Yangzi River Delta region, but only sometimes will poems be prompted by actual location. I know that, were I to situate myself on the centuries-old bridge near the Han Shan (Cold Mountain) Temple, just out of nearby Suzhou, my mind would dart between the scene in front of my eyes and Tang poet Zhang Ji’s famous poem, ‘Moored by Maple Bridge at Night’, with its evocative repertoire of the moon sinking, crows cawing in a frost-filled sky, and the sound of a temple bell reaching the river. In 1979, when I first stood on Maple Bridge, the poem, engraved in a vigorous calligraphy suggestive of a full wet brush and a strong temperament to back it, was actually placed under my nose—one of the high points of the tradition entrusted to a rubbing. But for the most part lines, or the shadows of lines, simply radiate in and out of a consciousness that basks in one prevailing sensation, that of being returned to a tradition with which it had once been infatuated. I look back at what I have written. What did I imagine I was up to when, loosed like a wild cadenza, I skimmed shimmering sky-scapes and bridges of the mind? Seriously constructing fantasies in which I had, without irony, placed myself. The adverb and the lack of irony are true. It is only the location of myself in Shanghai that is not.



translation I had read few Chinese poems when I first went to China. Now, two decades on from a thesis that had required immersion in the classical tradition, I am once more involved in the translation of poems. This time it is a gentle collaborative voyage undertaken with an excellent China scholar at the helm. We have conversations that branch out to touch on the reliability of Marco Polo’s account of his voyage to China. Peter, my collaborator, cites the accuracy of Polo’s place names with backup from a distinguished French scholar whose work he pulls from his bookshelves in scarlet tomes. Paul Pelliot, whose posthumously published Notes on Marco Polo came down in favour of Polo’s having gone, died before he was able to put paid to the clouds of negative speculation that have trailed his subject.1 I am instantly attracted by the title Peter proposes for our own venture: ‘Love, leisure and loss’. This has something of the ring of the title suggested by my brother-in-law for a book he thought I might write. I don’t think Gordon knew that I had worked on hill censers, perfumed braziers and the pursuit of immortality in pre-Tang verse, but his suggested title was ‘Substance abuse in the Tang Dynasty’. Peter’s suggestion sounds almost as snappy while promising far more amenable themes with which to work. an ongoing conversation In the last decade my relationship with China has been a largely interior one. It is often present when I am writing, slipped into as you slip into an ongoing conversation. … The scene keeps on re-forming as a soft estranging mist winds through it, like one of those most inward of adagios seeking repose. Objects await some more than momentary assembly—you might find it in an album leaf by Ma Yuan, the painter who returned to space its parity with solid form. Like the viewer who looks out from a terrace, I am drawn by boundless mists into a Promised Land, one which starts in the mysterious occluded present, the way a rainbow starts in nearby hills or a rear garden, before it leads us upwards and beyond. (‘Morning Mist, Karori’) 7

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I know there can never be more than momentary assembly but my sense of requiring to take on, to take in a different direction, the miscellaneous strands of my China experience persists. looking out, looking in Genre these days is a very tolerant noun. The review, the article and the essay seem to hanker after the formal looseness, the grab-bag capacity, of the journal. What brings a piece of prose home is often the only thing that pins it down. The homing instinct, the overriding impulse to return to topic along the way, is what, for me, marks out the essay form. Each morning I canter off along an untried track with no thought of where I shall end up. By early afternoon, some momentum that resists examination will have returned me to the same clearing, the tree that marks the true centre of my immediate stretch of bush, or the rocks in which the track along the foreshore terminates, a place where I have stood before and where, deposited once more, I stand, looking out, looking in. With China, for most foreigners, it is almost always a question of looking in from the outside. The point has been made and underscored innumerable times: the Chinese word for foreigner is waiguoren, ‘outside-country person’. I learned to approach China by looking in through what windows its society and culture allowed. This is an action tinged with the discovery of difference and accompanied by at least a degree of excitement. It was certainly so for my family and me when we went to Beijing, posted by the New Zealand government, in 1978. I think, though so much has changed, it is, in essence, still the same experience for most New Zealanders. through windows The literary tradition itself understands about windows. Here is a portrait of a woman framed in a window and glimpsed from a distance. She has all the mystery of someone so placed. Through the centuries we have been able to see her, and to sense the sort of story that will attach to such a woman, before we reach the disclosure of the final four lines. A true green is the grass along the river, And the garden willows grow so very thick.



In an upper storey is a lovely-looking woman. Against the casement window, how very fair she is. Exquisite is the deep pink colour of her powder. Long and slender the fingers of her pale extended hand. Once a girl who graced a singing house, Now she is married to a man who strays. A wanderer goes off and won’t come home. How hard to keep an empty bed, to lie alone.

(Old Poem Number Two)2

In his small but groundbreaking volume of translated Chinese poems, Ezra Pound composed a compelling version of Old Poem Number Two.3 Pound places the woman in a mediaeval context. He transplants the scene, the close garden, the mistress in the midmost of her youth, the distance and the yearning, the connection proffered by a slender hand, to southern France and the High Middle Ages. Such looking in and looking out fits neatly into the tradition of his beloved troubadour songs. I am not sure if a ‘courtezan’ is consistent with a scene in a castle keep, but I trust Pound’s emotional intelligence, his nose, his ability to net detail and imaginatively to transpose it into the new world of his translation. Most attractive of all is the unique and confident tread of a language that veers between registers and metres, between the archaic pitch and alliterative beauty of his ‘midmost’ and his equally old but uncomfortably concrete and ugly ‘sot’. There are six doublets, known as ‘reduplicatives’, in Old Poem Number Two. These endow the original with its lushness and its ballad-like quality. Pound has ‘Blue, blue is the grass about the river’. Lacking his world-making genius, I have replaced the doublets with words that qualify or intensify each single adjective. Intriguingly to a non-Chinese, blue is as accurate a translation as green for qing, and it catches the colour of grass viewed from a distance, perhaps in the Provençal heat. But to most English speakers garden grass is usually green. To say that grass is green is very flat; so—a true or real green. The theme of this poem is inconstancy and ‘true’ has resonance here.


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a full moon A personal story attaches to a later poem, in which another woman is envisaged standing at her window looking out. In Chinese, as in other literatures, a greater degree of psychological explanation crept in as the lyric genre matured. Readings were also informed by more information the closer you get to the present. 756 CE is not very close to the present but the Chinese have always been excellent record keepers. With the next poem we move forward about 600 years, out of the shadows of ballads appropriated by literati of whose names we are largely unsure. We learn from the histories and the commentaries, filtered through David Hawkes in his classic volume, A Little Primer of Du Fu, that the background to the following poem by Du Fu was one of civil war, detention and separation. The poem was very likely written around the time of the full moon, which is the focus of the Mid-Autumn Festival, when Chinese families traditionally celebrate together with mooncakes, wine and gazing at the moon. In September of 756 Du Fu had been captured by rebel soldiers and detained in the capital, Chang’an. Here he sings like a captive Prince Igor to his wife: A moonlit night Tonight there is a full moon in Fuzhou. My wife will watch it on her own. Away from them, my thoughts are with my children, Themselves too young to understand, or miss me in Chang’an. A scented mist has wet her mass of hair. In the clear moonlight her jade-white arms are cold. When shall we two lean in the open window, Light drying up the joint tracks of our tears?

What can you do with words glued together by convention? If you unyoke them, would these words, like a horse’s front legs without its hind ones, be unable to walk, let alone trot or canter? In this translation I am reaching for the quality of light peculiar to moonlight in the hope that I can find a less conventional adjective than ‘clear’. I know moonlight first of all by its opposite, sunlight, and the generative warmth that sunlight brings. Moonlight is chill; it may be arid for nothing grows in it. It can be ghostly. Its chill illumination transforms. By its light buildings become balconied mansions, or castles with battlements. Houses are like gingerbread cottages, 10


invested with both sweetness and an un-attributable menace. From a certain distance, people attain the attenuated elegance of shadow puppets. Not Du Fu’s wife. She looks out of the window at the moon, a woman of blood and bone, a full-bodied presence the skin of whose arms gleams like white jade, and grows cold. She appears twice in the poem. The first time she is alone on the night of the full moon. On the second occasion, the poet situates himself beside her in the window, the two of them leaning by a flimsy curtain looking at the moon. They are together once more, the tears, which might at this point be tears of happiness, drying on their cheeks. Occasions have fused. In a tradition in which, by political and sometimes sexual design, relationships deliberately slip from one kind into another, it is a vision that is not easily forgotten. I think it is remembered for being just what it is: an image of a man and a woman joined in marital happiness after separation. At the time of its composition Du Fu could not have known how things would turn out but the final couplet is so powerful that it overrides anything as pale as conjecture. shop fronts This morning, I am looking in shop windows rather than the windows of houses. These large illuminated windows, infiltrated by the world’s most glitzy brand names, blot out the shop fronts of thirty-five years before. What I remember in the department stores of those days, in Shanghai as in Beijing, are the phalanxes of da yi, large, shapeless, cotton-padded overcoats in dark blue and a green that was close to khaki, some with fake fur collars. I wore one for anonymity when I travelled by bus. My children wore them for warmth. I have crossed the line into memory. At a certain age, and earlier in some lives, there is nothing that seems as biologically determined as the urge to write memoir. I lived in Beijing at the end of the seventies. When I recall that time it is coated in haze. It is a haze that had little to do with pollution. In 1978 we didn’t know that pollution existed. I let my three children play in a carpark. We looked out of our apartment’s windows every winter evening at a breathtaking crimson sun. As it slid below the horizon I did not connect it to the coal fires that were being lit in millions of dwellings across the great city. 11

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The haze I’m thinking of is the fine haze that hung over many of our activities and gave them an unstable quality, like the shimmering of mirage. Looking back, I equate it with that layer of uncertainty that lay over what we saw, what all of us, Chinese or foreign, saw. We did not know what anything official portended. We could not imagine how any act or any event would end. The great political metaphor for this uncertainty was Democracy Wall. The Wall was a 200-metre brick structure located in central Beijing on Xidan Street. In late 1978 it acquired a coat of handwritten posters, dazibao, to which were entrusted the grievances and hopes of people who had recourse to no other channel. Students, poets, the laobaixing (‘old hundred surnames’, used for the people) festooned the brick with a patchwork of pleas, protests and political poems. Mao was dead. His successor, Hua Guofeng, was something of a nonentity. If the Wall became a shrine, the god petitioned there must have been the Chinese state. the Interpreter At first the Chinese staff of our embassy were apprehensive and did not want to talk to us about the Wall. Soon though, when it seemed that the Wall must have been sanctioned by the Party, they displayed some pride in this astonishing turn of events. Proudest of all was the embassy’s chief interpreter, a man placed in our office to report back, more seriously than most of our Chinese staff, to the Party. About three months after the Wall had burst into life, my husband, Nick, and I were driving along Xidan. In the car with us was the Interpreter. Looking out of the windows at the familiar urban scene, we experienced a kind of startled readjustment. Stripped overnight of its layered fringe of paper tracts, the Wall itself seemed to have vanished. ‘What’s happened to the Wall?’, asked Nick. ‘What wall?’ was the answer. small scenes Events of that time did not, and still will not, stand still. Those dancing perspectives fuel an impulse to read scenes through the prism of other eyes. Here is one, in which I imagine how my family and I might have looked to the young woman with whom I used to chat when I dropped off my son, Ben, at his Chinese kindergarten. 12


As the Cultural Revolution slid towards its end, I spent most of my time teaching in a kindergarten. This was no ordinary place where the teachers bind the chunky ankles of little emperors to the bars of potty chairs to encourage regular performance. Our kindergarten, Beijing’s Number 1 Kindergarten, was open to foreigners. Most of the parents who braved our system were Asian, African or a handful of Europeans who spoke the language. The Europeans all said that they were interested in China. We wondered what they knew. I remember one of them, a woman who wore a sheepskin coat that matched the colour of her hair. In those days my own hung down to my bottom in two thick braids turned up and finished with rubber bands. I was curious to know what her life, and especially life outside my own country, was like. I wanted to ask her these questions. It seemed to me I could ask her. I knew she was alive to what was around her, to all of us, from our doorman broad-faced as the stone lion beside which he sat, to our strictly spoken director, who tried to discourage her from impromptu visits. She came anyway, walking into the school to deposit or collect her son. The children would swarm around her, twittering and touching. Once she wore a beret as red as the Chairman’s book. They laughed out loud and she took it off, shaking out her hair, laughing with them. Soon her child was swimming in our water. He was a fearless little boy who ran his fingers over anything he liked. He even tried to get into the glass case that contained the presentation toys. One of which, a solid plastic garage that was like a village in itself, his mother had given us. Once she brought his sister, a dark-haired facsimile of her brother, eyes even rounder, glittering with interest and surprise. I dreamed of one day walking with them through the courtyards of our school, out through its large red doors with their brass decoration, over the demon-repelling step and into their life. foreign children My son’s straight fair hair was chopped in a bowl cut, left long at the back. Whenever I took him to the barber at the Friendship Store I would bribe Ben to say he was a girl. The barber knew he was not a girl but we all connived in the fiction in the interests of sparing Ben a boy’s haircut. Known to us as a hedgehog cut, this was something like a ‘number 1’ grown out into a covering of little spikes all over the head. I didn’t expect the floppy haircut to deceive a foreign friend, as we were known to the Chinese. But one day in the carpark that served us as a playground I heard the newly arrived wife of an Australian journalist say, ‘That third little girl is the prettiest of the lot.’ 13

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safety Each weekend we would walk with our children in one of the spacious Peking parks. We enjoyed the dry continental climate and, in contrast to our own close-grained bush, tall individual trees. A favourite spot was Beihai (North Sea) Park. We loved walking around the great lake, taking in peony exhibitions, or the lotuses that flowered for a few precious weeks a year during summer; and, everywhere, among pavilions, halls, screens and the landmark White Dagoba on the hill, the vestiges of history. In front of what looked like a gardeners’ lodge were goldfish in giant tubs. We were told that the Empress Dowager Cixi had possessed goldfish, similarly housed, which she liked to watch. The luminous fish swimming in their dark water fused in my mind with a film I’d seen at the Chinese Embassy in Wellington, in which a beautiful concubine who had danced for the Emperor was denounced by Cixi and drowned in a barrel on her orders. Although the tide has turned a bit for the Empress Dowager and her reputation, I am reminded by a review of Jung Chang’s recent book that two young women higher up the scale, the widow of the Tongzhi Emperor and the mother of the Guangxu Emperor, were also done away with on Cixi’s orders.4 Something of that history lies behind these lines from a poem I wrote later, in which the fish have morphed into the shadowy perpetrators of Cixi’s murderous commands: But the empress’s fish are always there, flicking dark tails in barrels where they live forever. (‘In Beihai Park’)

For a foreigner, Beijing in the 1970s was probably the safest city on earth. There is an anecdote we told of our time in China that our New Zealand friends found hard to believe. We are approached by a Chinese family and a gaggle of their friends, out strolling in a park on a Sunday. Could they borrow our little blond boy? Did Benjie want to go with them? Yes, he did. In his redand-grey, checked, cotton-padded dayi three-year-old Ben melted into the crowd. He was gone for a good twenty minutes before he was returned to his parents. They were unperturbed. The anxious one was the newly arrived New



Zealand Ambassador to whom we were introducing the parks of Peking. He and his wife had recently returned from a posting in dangerous New York. characters No wonder Richard called for A horse, a horse At least it had four legs.5

It no longer does. With a blade as honed and a stroke as secure as our local butcher butterflying a chicken, Mao Zedong carved them away from under it, replacing the four dots of the legs in the traditional character 馬 with the single slice of the simplified version 马.6 In so doing he offered literacy to millions. Many dictators have been dubbed ‘butcher’. Mao is no exception. Some say that he is the worst in an unspeakable line from the last century. Jung Chang’s monumental biography paints him from the start with no degree of light and shade. Others allow a more nuanced picture, especially as regards the early years of his leadership from 1935 through to 1949 when, having won the civil war, Mao famously proclaimed that ‘the Chinese people have stood up’. sticking to NZ sources Listen to what an astute New Zealand observer on the ground has to say about Mao and his persuasive powers. James Bertram, in China in 1936–37 on a travelling fellowship from the Rhodes Trust, was the journalist who broke the news to the outside world of Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek’s capture, and release, by the young marshall Zhang Xueliang, in what became known as the ‘Xi’an Incident’. Several months later, Bertram was invited to go to Yan’an to interview Mao Zedong. This assessment is taken from his ‘Interview with a Chairman’: In plain fact, Mao Tse-tung struck me as having incomparably the coolest and most balanced mind I had encountered in China. Talking to him, one is immediately aware of an immense intellectual force, a brain moving easily and surely along orderly lines of thought. This penetrating intelligence is combined with an essentially practical approach to any problem, and with a deep understanding of his own countrymen.7


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plans, plots & pests I think of Mao, like the Iranian double agent in the American television drama series Homeland, as quicker on the draw than most leaders. Quicker, that is, at decision-making, including the decision to revoke personal loyalty. It was up to his team to execute his determinations. Although some of the Chairman’s more extreme directives could hardly have remained unquestioned in private, and while there must have been occasions when they were quietly subverted by colleagues such as Zhou Enlai, the widespread nature of obedience could be counted on. And so bizarre plans were implemented: millions smelted down their household metal in the interests of large-scale industrialisation during the Great Leap Forward. Many of the same millions had also turned in their little plots of land, to see them merged with other plots and come under the management of communes. From the late fifties a kind of insanity began to take hold. War was waged against sparrows. Tens of thousands of birds dropped from the skies, felled by the relentless day-long clang of metal on metal. Later, on the politicalpersonal front, a fleeing plane was brought down, and old and trusted colleagues were left to languish in circumstances so dreadful that eventually they expired. Millions upon millions of ordinary people died too, in the service of ideas so unhinged they cannot even be filed under the heading ideology. Shanghai women Mao was never completely at ease in Shanghai. In China, the city has always been a byword for sophistication. Coming from the conservative north in 1979, we were surprised to notice on the streets of Shanghai a strip of pastel nylon cuff softening the edge of a dark blue sleeve, an apricot- or lilac-coloured sock glimpsed, a bright corridor of secret life, between the leg of a padded trouser and a black cotton shoe. A great deal has changed for women now. I wonder about women in the countryside. Woman Had he followed tradition, Arthur Waley might have called his translated version of third century poet Fu Xuan’s ballad ‘Bitter Fate’, or ‘A Cruel Lot’, after its first two words. Instead he chose to highlight the poem’s theme by 16


calling it ‘Woman’. It was a choice destined to attract the attention of a young woman who was inclined by temperament, ideology and the events of her own life to read on. How sad it is to be a woman! Nothing on earth is held so cheap. Boys stand leaning at the door Like Gods fallen out of Heaven. Their hearts brave the Four Oceans, The wind and dust of a thousand miles. No one is glad when a girl is born: By her the family sets no store …

(Arthur Waley, One Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems)8

Robin Hyde placed the first two lines of  Waley’s translated poem at a critical point in her semi-autobiographical novel The Godwits Fly. initials It is very likely that James Bertram, like Robin Hyde, would have read some of Waley’s fine and popular translations before he went to China in 1936. A few years ago, while I was working on Hyde’s China-based poems, I came across Bertram’s copy of  Waley’s Chinese Poems in the Victoria University library. The book, published in 1946 and reprinted in 1948, is a selection from four of Waley’s earlier books of translations; it includes, with a revised first line, the poem ‘Woman’.9 Bertram has underlined the title, placed a vertical line to the left of its first two lines and written to their right the initials ‘RH’. Hyde’s Godwits was published by Hurst and Blackett in November 1938 during a period, in London, in which she saw a great deal of Bertram. He might have known then about the quotation from Waley. Some time after he returned to New Zealand, lighting on the poem from which it was taken, he must have pencilled those initials—not IW for Iris Wilkinson but RH for her penname, Robin Hyde—in his own book. No conjecture about dates or initials could tell me whether, when he read the poem, Bertram connected its Jobian catalogue of woes to the girl whose own short life was not much less tough and tragic than the ballad’s archetypal heroine. And whether he was moved by the connection.


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reassessment In London, in the months before she took her life, Hyde became very fond of Bertram. She had much for which to be grateful. Bertram helped her a good deal with her account of her experiences in China, Dragon Rampant, and responded sensitively and practically to a compatriot ill with the depressioninducing disease sprue, and rent at times by need. The letter she wrote him on the day he departed again for China is poignant acknowledgement: ‘… you’ve given me some of the courage and confidence I altogether lack, and that saw my book through … it couldn’t have been in existence at all, but for your coming along as you did, taking me in the ragged shape you found me, and remaining friendly in spite of a good many provocations.’10

I find it hard to reconcile his earlier kindness and the responsive warmth of this letter with the aloof tone of Bertram’s postwar essay, ‘Robin Hyde: A Reassessment’.11 Hyde and Bertram were alike in being in China to observe and record modern political history in the making. Caught up in the throes of that desperate struggle, each wrote remarkable books about China. But there is no sense of parity conveyed in ‘Reassessment’. There is, instead, a sense of withholding, as if Bertram, an acute critic, was unwilling to accord his fellow writer the literary judgement she deserved when she emerged from a China venture less supported and at least as taxing as his own, to write and complete her finest poetry and, arguably, her best book of prose. ending with Du Fu China’s grip is especially strong when it is the language that holds you. An erratic but nearly forty-year engagement with the Chinese language has shaped my aesthetic sense and infused what I write. It has opened the way into a culture whose classical treasures—painting, pots, poetry and calligraphy—speak with an astounding human relevance as well as beauty. Everyone likes to end with Du Fu. He offers us a salve, laced with humour, for the loneliness and pain of existence, and he provides it in a way you can trust. We respond to an integrity that is envisaged as a single tall mast, to the enduring order of a night sky structured by parallelism, in which stars reach down and the moon wells up; to a man who recognises that writing will not



make his name. And we are recharged by a final couplet in which the poet takes as his likeness a gull, adrift between, yet on a par with sky and earth.

Writing my thoughts while travelling at night

A slight wind stirs the fine grass by the bank. The mast on a boat alone in the night soars up. Stars hang low over a vast stretch of plain. The moon bobs up in the Great River’s flow. Writing is not likely to make my name Now that, sick and old, I have given up my work. Blown about, without bearings, what is it I am like? A gull adrift between the earth and sky.

It occurs to me that there are many ways of going to China. One is to read her poets.

Notes 1 2

Most notably in Frances Wood’s witty and iconoclastic account, Did Marco Polo Go to China? (London: Secker and Warburg, 1995). My translation. The poem comes from the hugely influential series known as the ‘Nineteen Old

Poems’, a collection of largely anonymous poems from different hands, one or two possibly composed as early as the first century BCE, but most assigned to the first and second centuries CE. With the exception of ‘Woman’, the translations in this essay are my own. 3 The Beautiful Toilet Blue, blue is the grass about the river And the willows have overfilled the close garden. And within, the mistress, in the midmost of her youth, White, white of face, hesitates, passing the door. Slender, she puts forth a slender hand;

And she was a courtezan in the old days, And she has married a sot, Who now goes drunkenly out And leaves her too much alone.

From Cathay, trans. Ezra Pound, based on the notes of Ernest Fenollosa (London: Elkin Mathews, 1915).


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Empress Dowager Cixi: The concubine who launched modern China (New York: Knopf ). Reviewed by Pamela Crossley, ‘In the hornets’ nest’, London Review of Books, 17 April 2014, p. 9. 5 From an untitled four-line poem by Elizabeth Smither, The Journal Box (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1996), p. 106. 6 This fictional account takes the transformation of the bottom section of the character for horse, ma, and makes it stand in for the simplification of many Chinese characters, a process promulgated after the communists came to power. 7 8 Constable’s Miscellany (London: Constable, 1928). These are the first eight lines of a 26-line poem. 9 For ‘Woman’, see pp. 84–85 of Chinese Poems (London: George Allen and Unwin). The poem’s first line has been revised to read ‘How sad it is to be framed in woman’s form’. 10 For Hyde’s letter, see Derek Challis and Gloria Rawlinson, The Book of Iris: A life of Robin Hyde (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2002), pp. 700–02. 11 Landfall 7.3 (1953), pp. 181–91. Reprinted in Flight of the Phoenix: Critical notes on New Zealand writers 4

(Wellington: Victoria University Press, 1985), pp. 15–27.



Four Circles I was a child and she was a child, In this kingdom by the sea: But we loved with a love that was more than love— I and my Annabel Lee— Annabel Lee Edgar Allan Poe

In labour I spent hours listening to my daughter’s heartbeat, a monitor strapped around my belly. My body’s efforts of expulsion overrode her usual communications of rib kicking or rolling in her internal sea. She was head down, hard at work. Her heartbeat fell with each contraction, but rose again, as if a thumbs up, an ‘I’m OK folks!’ It was such a basic, reassuring sound. But as a cardiology technician, I know the heart’s rhythm can tell us so much more. Most of us are familiar with what an electrocardiogram looks like from watching television medical dramas. The actor, looking immaculately ill, lies in a hospital bed. The camera zooms in on a monitor. The ECG pulses across the screen, then collapses to a flat line indicating the character’s demise. But it’s more complicated. Each component of the ECG is named. In sinus rhythm, the heart’s normal rhythm, the first tiny blip is the P wave. The large spike that follows is the QRS complex (made up of the Q, R and S waves), followed by a small hump called the T wave. Each of these is related to what’s happening electrically inside the heart. The waves show depolarisation, which happens just before a chamber contracts, or repolarisation, when it recovers. These phases are regulated by the flow of ions of potassium, sodium and calcium across cell membranes. Cells in each chamber need to contract in unison for the heart to work as a pump. All the cells in the top chambers, the atria, need to contract 21

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simultaneously, then, after a tiny pause, the ventricles. To ensure this order and timing, during the recovery phase, the cardiac cell is usually unresponsive to any rogue electrical stimulus. Ions have been flowing. It’s as if the cell is running the perfect bath, then hangs a Do Not Disturb sign on the door and refuses to answer the phone until it has had some time to itself. A little over 48 hours after my daughter was born the midwife took her for her heel prick test. Or, as the more hormone-riddled parts of my brain insisted, a woman disguised as a medical professional had stolen, no, been handed without protest, my baby, and taken her … somewhere. I had a strange sense of rootlessness being unable to determine her exact location. My eyes kept flicking from the door to the information pamphlet—‘Your newborn baby’s blood test’—on its cover a pair of pink infant feet cradled in an adult hand. The heel prick test, also known as a Guthrie Card, screens for twenty-eight disorders. Most are unrecognisable (cystic fibrosis probably the exception) and unpronounceable, and are followed by their acronyms as if pleading, ‘Don’t make me try and say that again.’ The pamphlet listed seven of the twenty-eight. Six were described as potentially leading to life-threatening illness or complications. One promised slowed growth and developmental delay. Those words ‘life threatening’ had been enough for me to consent with little hesitation. Never mind the word ‘potentially’ or that the quoted incidence for some of the diseases was as little as one baby every three years. The results of the heel-prick test would be stored. Later, from the National Screening Unit website, I would read about the things they might use the remainder of the blood spots for. The first few were almost administrative: they might need to re-test if the first result wasn’t clear. If the test gave an incorrect diagnosis they might re-investigate the blood to find out how they got it wrong. They might test the accuracy of their equipment. It could also be used (with consent) to investigate unexplained illness or death, and by court order the police could use it for identification purposes. It all sounded reasonable, but I still felt a little disconcerted. A piece of everyone born after 1969 in New Zealand in storage … somewhere. It hadn’t been many years earlier that Greenlane Hospital admitted to having over a thousand hearts from babies and children in an organ library. I had defended this at the time but now, thinking of my own baby, was not so sure. 22


My daughter was returned. I worried over the flecks of blood on her onesie—had she kicked her foot as the midwife grasped her ankle, milking blood from her heel? I kissed the small puncture wound. I ticked the box requesting her blood sample not be sent away and stored, but returned to me. It was a bit like taking the placenta home for burial, keeping the umbilical cord. It seemed important to keep all of her together somehow, all of her intact, if she was to thrive in the world. When the card arrived days later in the mail I tucked it quickly away in a hinged box, to be joined in time by locks of hair, baby teeth.

Janet Frame was at home the day her sister Myrtle drowned in the Oamaru Baths. Myrtle had tried to persuade Janet to go with her and their sister Isabel. I imagine Janet contentedly nursing her books, while at the baths the water is choppy with people, the air chlorine cut. Discarded wet shadows steaming off the hot concrete. The dull red thin-slatted seats. Myrtle, her flashing eyes daring anyone to ignore her. Sixteen but acting as if she had the key to the door, in a red bathing suit with a narrow belted waist. Isabel, in her pale yellow costume, copying the way her sister stands, one hand resting on a tilted hip. Myrtle diving, swimming splashy freestyle lengths, and turning somersaults underwater. How long did it take to notice her dim red shape motionless at the bottom of the pool? Her ‘getting into difficulties’? How long before Myrtle was pulled from the water and laid on her back, her beautiful hair a wet wavy halo? I wonder if Janet ever felt she should have betrayed her mother’s confidence and told Myrtle, who had collapsed twice in the preceding months, that the doctor thought she had a heart defect, that she could die any time. But Janet herself had barely believed it. ‘For a time we watched and waited, curiously and fearfully,’ Frame recalled. ‘[But] Myrtle didn’t stop breathing, and we soon forgot, for death was stillness, and Myrtle was full of movement and dancing, and a wireless star too.’ Unexplained death in the young can have a profound effect on the bereaved. After Myrtle’s death Frame found her mentioned by name in poetry lessons. ‘“Yet once more ye laurels and once more ye Myrtles …”, written of a 23

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drowning, too … and hearing the name in class sent such a piercing shock through me that I clenched my toes and gripped my hands on the lid of my desk to stop myself bursting into tears.’ But there was solace and surprise to be found also. ‘[The poets] knew about Myrtle’s death and how strange it was without her. [In] each day there was a blankness, a Myrtle-missing part.’ And, ‘I was amazed that my book should contain other poems about Myrtle—Annabel Lee—“It was many and many a year ago / In a kingdom by the sea …” A kingdom by the sea! Oamaru, without a doubt … What marvellous knowledge of the poets who could see through my own life, who could be appearing to write poems of people in Oamaru.’ Even so, Frame was still grieving as the ten-year anniversary of Myrtle’s death approached. ‘The idea of death is with me all the time’ she wrote— unaware that further tragedy was imminent.

There’s a period of time between waves on the ECG called the QT interval (from the beginning of the Q wave of the QRS complex to the end of the T wave). Any longer than 0.5 seconds and the heart cell teeters in a state vulnerable to rogue stimuli. A stimulus could spark off a dangerous heart rhythm called Torsade de Pointes. Its rather poetic name refers to twisting columns on buildings, and is used to describe the way the ECG waveform pirouettes above and below the baseline. However beautifully described, the heart cannot act effectively as a pump during this rhythm. It’s too fast and uncoordinated to maintain blood pressure and the person loses consciousness. The rhythm may self-revert to normal, or devolve into ventricular fibrillation and death. This ECG abnormality is called Long QT syndrome, and it’s estimated one out of 2500 people in New Zealand’s population has it. Each year 100 people under the age of forty die suddenly and without explanation. Some of these deaths will be due to Long QT. Long QT syndrome is something you can inherit. In fact, if one of your parents had it, there’s a 50:50 chance they passed it on to you. But some people don’t develop symptoms, and even if they do, symptoms can be 24


mistaken for something else—some people with Long QT have been misdiagnosed as epileptic. Others may carry the gene, have symptoms, but have a seemingly normal ECG—like Mark. Mark came to Cardiology for a treadmill test. In Cardiology, treadmills are always used with the hope of gathering good clinical information but with the possibility of inducing a nasty rhythm. Today there was an extra degree of nervousness in the room. The cardiologist was supervising the test himself, rather than leaving it to the registrar as usual. He had me check paediatric paddles were fitted on the defibrillator. Mark had sandy hair, freckles and blue eyes. His teeth were large and white in his long, serious face, but looked like he’d grow into them. At eleven he was a mixture of the boy he was and the man he was about to become. His legs were lean, but hairy. He excelled at all sports, and was a representative hockey player showing excellent promise. The Commonwealth Games were already being talked about as a real future possibility. Mark was here because he’d passed out in the swimming pool recently and his father, John, had pulled him from the water and resuscitated him. Mark’s resting ECG was normal, but he’d tested positive for a Long QT genotype (twelve genotypes have been identified to date). We had a lot of questions to consider. Was Mark’s collapse due to his Long QT? Should he start taking medication as a preventative against dangerous heart rhythms? Did Mark need to have an intracardiac defibrillator fitted? Would he be able to pursue a professional sports career? Should he be allowed to take part in sport at all? I hooked Mark up to the ECG, clipping leads to ten little stickers on his chest, explaining that they would monitor his heart throughout the procedure. John declined a seat and stood against a wall. He was freckled and lean, too. He’d mentioned how important sport was to the whole family. Not long ago they’d all been on an orienteering race through the Tararuas. It was a team event, everyone starting and finishing together, but John proudly described how Mark had beaten them to each checkpoint. Mark was faster and could navigate better than both his parents and his older sisters. I nodded and smiled, and thought of the isolation, the distance to roads, the limited cellphone coverage. 25

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Since Mark’s blood results came back for Long QT the cardiologist had been in touch with John and suggested the immediate family be tested as well, and that they all have CPR training. Neither of those things had been done and the doctor asked why. John spoke reluctantly, glancing at Mark who was standing on the treadmill, eager to get on with it. He explained the family had been through a lot. He didn’t want to stress them out unnecessarily with tests and lessons on resuscitation. Mark had stopped playing sport in the interim, and he felt that was enough to ask for right now. I remember thinking that he was in denial. I wondered how you could pull your boy’s limp body from the bottom of a swimming pool and risk that happening again. But then I also understood the irrationality that feelings of protectiveness could provoke. It was a good sign they were here at all. Exercise testing can be helpful in people who don’t show ECG changes at rest. In Long QT the interval may look normal at lower heart rates, but it remains long as the heart rate increases, whereas normally it should shorten. Mark blasted through the prescribed stages of the exercise protocol. He was the picture of fitness on the treadmill, obviously relishing the physical exertion, and almost reluctantly slowed to a walk, then lay down while we recorded some more ECGs during recovery. The cardiologist called John over to look at the rhythm strips. With a little ruler he showed John how the QT interval had not shortened as would be expected with exercise. Mark and I listened in as the cardiologist had a long discussion with John. He explained that Mark had the Type 1 variant of Long QT, which was triggered by exercise, and by swimming especially, due to multiple factors. People with Long QT have an abnormality in their cellular ion channels that makes them sensitive to epinephrine, which is released with excitement and exercise. Alongside this is the ‘dive reflex’, a nervous system response that slows the heart while swimming, and the immersion of the face in cold water, which also prolongs the QT interval in these people. Type 1 was the most common variant, affecting up to 60 per cent of those diagnosed with Long QT. Other variants had other triggers. I knew that the first case in history attributed to a variant of Long QT (before the invention of the ECG) was in 1856 when a teacher yelled at her deaf student who dropped dead. It transpired her older brother had died after a fright. The cardiologist explained that beta-blocker medication could be helpful 26


for Mark’s variant, but there were side-effects. Other treatment options to be considered included having a cardiac defibrillator implanted, which would detect a dangerous rhythm and shock the heart out of it, or a cardiac sympathectomy, which was a surgical procedure to cut nerves to reduce impulses that might trigger an arrhythmia. Again the doctor urged family testing and CPR training, and he arranged to have a followup with John and Mark the next week. John was quiet. It was a lot to take in. Outwardly at least, Mark appeared more concerned about the pain of ECG electrode removal. Would it be best to peel them little by little, or to rip them off in one go? I tried to keep the mood light. I teased Mark that he might have to give up licorice allsorts. Licorice was one of the depressingly long list of substances ‘to be avoided or requiring special caution’ because they could lengthen the QT interval, with the hasty proviso that they ‘should not be seen as all inclusive’. More than one licorice twist was considered a big dose. It lowers potassium levels—those pesky ions again. Liquid protein diets are out, as is cocaine, but the list also includes antibiotics, antihistamines, appetite suppressants, asthma treatments, decongestants, antidepressants, antipsychotics, vasodilators, anti-arrhythmics (frightening when you consider that they may have easily been prescribed one if presenting with an arrhythmia) and also, somewhat worryingly given the condition’s history of misdiagnosis as epilepsy, anticonvulsants. I hoped John would take the doctor’s advice. A 2009 study published in Disease in Childhood looked at ten case studies of children who were identified as having long QT after presenting with a water-related event. Family screening (where possible and consented to) led to twenty-six further identifications. One patient reported a grandparent with a history of seizures while swimming; another had an aunt with a history of epilepsy who died while swimming. One patient’s mother died dancing, and another lost a sibling to sudden infant death syndrome. At least three had Torsade de Pointes documented; their intracardiac defibrillators, implanted after diagnosis, captured the rhythm. Some had been dragged from a pool and regained consciousness spontaneously. But what if they hadn’t been pulled out in time?


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Robert Guthrie invented the heel prick test. He was a microbiologist whose interest in investigating ways to identify conditions that could be treated at birth was spurred by his own experiences. His son was born with a disability that was never diagnosed, and his niece was found to have a metabolic disorder called phenylketonuria, which causes neurological damage if not picked up early. It was Guthrie who came up with the test to identify his niece’s disorder. It was a simple method: extracting blood from a baby’s heelprick and collecting it by blotting onto filter paper. It was wildly successful, and adopted in many countries around the world to test for a whole range of abnormalities. What no one could have predicted was just how valuable those small spots of blood could become. By 2003 the Privacy Commissioner noted that more than half the population of New Zealand had individually identifiable blood samples in storage, and that proportion was growing each year. There were a number of concerns. The sample cards had been retained long after they could be needed for auditing purposes. So why were they being kept? The potential for DNA analysis had exploded, and the cost of doing so had reduced. Blood gathered for screening for a metabolic disorder could now be tested for a whole raft of other conditions. It was recognised that technology had moved on since 1969, when the Guthrie Cards were introduced, and that there was a need for consent and privacy issues not considered at its conception to be addressed. So far the Newborn Metabolic Screening Programme Advisory Committee had rejected using the samples for population-based research, on the grounds that this was not what parents were consenting to at the time of the test. But all sorts of potential benefits were proposed, including such things as finding genes that might predispose women to breast cancer, and the Privacy Commissioner found that there was no specific law that covered the programme or sample retention. Some of this uncertainty filtered through, distorted, to the public. There were rumours that one of the circles of blood was sent directly to the police. There was an increase in requests for the return of Guthrie Cards from storage.



Six years later New Zealand had approximately two million Guthrie Cards in storage and the debate seemed no further forward. There was talk of destroying them all. Dr Jon Skinner, a paediatric cardiologist at Starship Children’s Health in Auckland, was one who was mortified by the proposal to destroy the cards. He claimed that most people in his field had no beef with strict controls or regulations but condemned the destruction of sample cards as a mindless exercise. He explained that the Guthrie Cards were so valuable because it was only in recent years that pathologists had kept tissue after unexplained death. In the case of Long QT an ECG is a crucial diagnostic tool, but cannot be obtained once someone’s heart has stopped beating. In April 2010 a study involving Skinner undertaken at Auckland University was published in Heart Rhythm Journal. It demonstrated what we could be set to lose should the blood spots be destroyed: Posthumous diagnosis of Long QT syndrome from neonatal screening cards. Guthrie Cards were used as molecular autopsies in twenty-one cases of sudden unexplained death. The deaths, of victims mostly aged between one and eighteen years of age, were investigated up to thirteen years later. The cards themselves were up to thirty-nine years old. The researchers used high-performance liquid chromatography screening or direct DNA sequencing. All of the samples had adequate DNA extracted (though the level of purification and amplification necessary meant it took a long time). Four pathological variants were found and have been used for family screening. Two other variants of uncertain significance were also found. The families of those people now had an answer as to why their loved one died, and they had the chance to take action to protect another tragedy. In 2011 the government announced that the Guthrie Cards would be kept indefinitely and claimed greater protections had been put in place. Although individual written consent would be needed for population research on samples collected before June 2011, samples after that time were stored with parents’ informed consent. Any applications for population research would also first need to be approved by an ethics committee and the Newborn Metabolic Screening Programme Governance Team. As recently as last year the same debate was played out in Ireland. On 12 March 2012 the Irish government announced that the public had until Easter Sunday to request cards that had been collected between 1984 and 2000 in 29

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apparent breach of EU data protection legislation. There were over one million of these Guthrie Cards, and after Easter Sunday any remaining would be incinerated. The Irish Heart Foundation swung into action, launching a Stop the Destruction campaign. A survey revealed that only 12 per cent of the population was even aware of the government’s plan. The foundation estimated that more than 1000 extended family members of young victims of sudden cardiac death could have their lives saved via testing for Long QT. They quoted the New Zealand study. Within two weeks the government reversed its decision. Back home the work on Long QT continues. Jon Skinner has been instrumental in setting up the centralised registry, the Cardiac Inherited Disease Group. It’s a multidisciplinary medical group that aims to develop guidelines for the field, and to provide education and also facilitate screening of individuals and families.

When I saw Mark in the waiting room six months later, his family had all tested negative for Long QT. ‘I’m the freak,’ he told me. John was with him, and much chattier than I remembered. He told me Mark had taken up archery, and was excelling at it. He’d never be eligible to compete professionally, of course—he was still on his medication, and beta blockers are banned as they lower heart rate and blood pressure and reduce tremor. But they were working on other things to do as a family. ‘Vegetable gardening,’ John told me, ‘is actually a competitive sport.’ We talked about our holiday plans. I was going to the South Island on the ferry, and hoping my daughter wouldn’t prove to be as prone to seasickness as me. John told me that his brother, Mark’s uncle, had drowned in a boating accident as a teen. ‘I was just a kid at the time. He was twelve years older than me,’ he said. ‘He wasn’t wearing a life jacket, but …’ John shrugged his shoulders. ‘It was a long time ago.’ I thought about Janet Frame’s sister Isabel. A strong swimmer, she drowned in Picton Harbour while holidaying with their mother. Frame wrote of the tragedy, ‘It was almost ten years since Myrtle’s death, and this new 30


blow, like a double lightning strike, burned away our thinking and feeling.’ Suddenly I felt any time before Guthrie Cards were introduced seemed too long. Recently I pulled out my daughter’s Guthrie Card test. I looked down at the four perfectly inscribed circles, marked to ensure enough blood was collected. The blood was browner than I’d expected, but still intense in density. The card was slightly porous and the blood had blurred across the edges of the sample area, like the first attempts in a child’s colouring book. I looked at them anew. I thought about what Janet Frame wrote to John Money after Isabel’s death: ‘I think we are such a sad small people, standing, each alone in a circle, trying to forget that death and terror are near. But death comes, and terror comes, and then we join hands and the circle is really magic. We have the strength then to face terror and death, even to laugh and make fun of being alive, and after that even to make more music and writing and dancing. But always, deep down, we are small sad people standing humanly alone. Oh for the hands to be joined forever and the magic circle never to be broken.’ I looked at the bloodstained circles. And I thought about sending them back.



The Strangeness of Purple Put on a purple garment and see how, in the dressing-room mirror you fade, unlike any other colour. The colour of royalty and immaturity, I thought until I saw this disappearing act, the figure slimmer, instantly as if possessed by modesty (despite Royalty) the colour against which to set sceptre and crown or simply good taste: effacement in a room of strangers or paintings at a gallery.



These portraits by Lorene Taurerewa resemble oneiric visages—dream-like, haunted and haunting—their expressions a composite of emotions: they preen, smirk and chortle, or else are cold, aloof, scowling. As with other figureworks by this artist—in a variety of media: ink, watercolour, charcoal— they are oil paintings that evoke nightclubs, sideshows, carnivals, circuses. Yet while her images possess a sense of the eccentrically phantasmagoric— all the bulging-browed males, baleful or comical protagonists in occluded psychodramas—they also connect with a great swathe of art historical portraiture, from Goya to Balthus and Max Beckmann, from Toss Woollaston to Paula Rego and Jenny Saville, in richly reverberant fashion. David Eggleton 1. The Gentleman, 2014, 758 x 606 mm. Oil on canvas on board. 2. The Bearded Man, 2014, 386 x 482 mm. Oil on canvas. 3. The Paper Hat, 2014, 1223 x 1217 mm. Oil on canvas. 4. Donkschnorter, 2014, 439 x 337 mm. Oil on canvas on board. 5. Scheiner, 2014, 682 x 531 mm. Oil on canvas on board. 6. The Magical Man and His Horse, 2014, 458 x 352 mm. Oil on canvas. 7. The Convertible Toy, 2013, 202 x 254 mm. Oil on canvas on board. 8. Yellow Boy, 2014, 200 x 203 mm. Oil on canvas. Images courtesy of Milford Galleries, Dunedin. Photography: Glenn Frei.


So Angry (For Kate on the occasion of her 31st birthday)   Hark. Harken. The morning sky is peridot dark. As the hours crunch, it will only darken. Hark, harken. The fark? The alarm. The kraken. You writhe a tentacle from the sea of bed, it slaps at glasses, shoes, an unread tome—ah the phone—and taps the snooze. We float out into the city wasteland like litter. Flitting over fox turds, and stuttering lamplight and Polish and the ghost of last night’s killer, whispering bismillah. As beautiful as an icicle and as frozen in the blanketless air, your thoughts go jangly. You are so angry. The amber light on the Oyster reader is tutted awake, as your card asks it to calculate the girth of its net worth. We beep like sheep our routines of digital confetti. The Tube poles are sweaty. The eyes are hot, who frot, they sneeze spaghetti in a sauce of mange and HPV. One lady has the breath of an anchovy. As beautiful and sick as a sausage, you summon a lemon lozenge. Aunty Britain. So cold, so thick with dark 42


and funk and sick. Her ganglia grow angrier. The dungeon of London. So wilfully pants backward with its buck teeth stuck in its nineteenth century. So catastrophically bollock-follicle choleric and diabolical. (A land awaits of flax and light and breeze and the dangling limbs of orange trees.)



Dinner with the Dentists Out of season, but I buy them anyway, from Essouira, the label says. I’d know where that is if I’d paid more attention in Geography. Wild strawberries, bursting sweet, strewn over folds of meringue, bitter chocolate, lascivious cream. The Eton Mess I make is not like this. Hard white crumbles, angles of unripe red. She’s married well. Worked for him, now they’re partners, opened a clinic. In her kitchen diner I think maybe the décor was a two-for-one deal. More Eton than Mess. I can smell success. I am conscious of my teeth. We haven’t spoken since 3DP. Cutlery clicks politely till the wine winds back the years. Aertex shirts, braces. Scratch’n’sniff. Show and tell. My Mess is saved by proper posh bowls and silver spoons. Orgasmic, someone claims. I wouldn’t know, our host says, smiles at the sugarfest and only I hear. She’s eaten Mess before, we made it together, first week in homecraft in 3DP. Her spoon shines like one of those mirrors they use to look at the other side.



The Plot Flaw I once feared flying now I live by the airport. My hand reached for pens but I now prefer the slow peel of pencils. I was lame then I became the gin trap. I used to resent my thighs now I use them like weapons. I played defence, but I’m better at attack. I used to fear the sun now I challenge it to hurt me. I burnt my letters but now commit them to memory. I used to sing to birds but now I vacuum in silence. Once I climbed stone walls now I walk in rivers. I angered blindly now I harbour wild calm. 45

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I kissed ice cream until I rolled in salt. I used to buy birthday cards but then I saw the plot flaw. I smelled like wonder and now I taste like regret. I used to sleep with books but now I bury men. I used to hate children now I am one of them.



Things to Do with Lists For Catherine Dale Put them on the fridge drop them in the supermarket pick up other people’s lost lists and keep them in an envelope in the drawer by the back door collect them beside the washing machine when you find them in pockets use them as bookmarks and then forget where you left them tell your friends about them compare yours to other people’s tweet about them tweet about losing them in the supermarket make a list of all the lists you’ve written make up a name for the collective noun of your lists use that as the title for a new list write a list of famous writers who wrote lists write poems about them and their lists write a list of the poems you’ve written about the writers’ lists put that in a list



Diane, Unexploded She wandered into an empty church so far down the aisles it was like leaving herself behind, a foreign country, her camera loaded with shots, unprocessed. The walls lined with paintings, so dark she could see nothing, or whatever she wanted— she saw a most improbable swan. She was out of her depth the moment she entered, raised in the shallows of a department store where hiding amongst fur coats she found herself constantly appearing in mirrors, smiling, a twin awaiting a trauma, her self still to come.



River-time I grew up on the edge of a swamp beside a great river, and through my growing years absorbed a deep connection with fish and the unseen landscapes of their watery world. A bond that, like a tide, I have felt both flood and ebb throughout my life; a fluvial connection so strong that whenever I walk beside a river my mind naturally sinks beneath its surface, seeking to understand the world beneath. Water bodies have this mystery for me. Always the thought—what lies beneath? Over the years, experiment and experience have taught me much about this world. My youngest memories follow the water’s edge, lifting rocks in search of swimming, wriggling streamside creatures. As I grew I delved deeper, and summer days would find me on the beds of swimming holes, a rock hugged to my chest and blending with the boulders until my lungs betrayed me— becoming one with fish. I’d seek clues in the water’s surface—observing the flow around a rock and how it pushes water up in front of it and sucks out a hole behind. Noticing that every wave and trough reflects some solid structure in the flow beneath. In this way, I’ve come to understand much about the nature of these places. Where the rocks or quiet spots lie; how deep it is; where the fish might be. To test my theories, I cast a line and plumb the river’s depths. Working hypothesis and experiment in constant action—the fisherman-scientist. Across the paddock behind my home lies an ideal testing ground for these theories. Here, the Waikanae River spills out from its lower gorge above the town into a broad landscape of shelterbelts, fields and orchards. I often take myself down here on a summer’s evening, walk up into the gorge, and cast my line and thoughts out onto pounamu waters that surge against steep, bush-clad banks, and let them drift and merge with the river and the world about me. Today I’ve come to explore, after winter’s floods. I delight in such visits; they feel to me like Christmas—the river’s gifts laid bare as waters fall and 49

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clear. I seize upon the sight of new pools opened up and old ones filled in, and today delight in a flat and welcoming new shingle bank that stretches out mid-stream, pushing the rushing waters back from the bush edge and allowing me, I note with pleasure, enough distance to execute a graceful back-cast. The spring sun warms my neck; and birds, like street musicians, play from the trees about me. Here, below Toata’s pa, two worlds blend—the old migrants and the new. At my back, tall poplars hold back the sky and shelter a nursery of young seedlings—Coprosma, tawa and pigeonwood. Before me, across the swirling waters, steep slopes rise to the skyline where a pair of Australasian harriers nest and soar each spring. The vegetation grows here tenuously. Roots of mahoe and tutu clutch the plunging bank above the pool, and a bare slip-face disappears upwards into slopes that glow green with kohekohe and pate. It is edged with gorse that clings and nods bright yellow flowers in the cool air. I love how the river here effortlessly combines these elements of ancient world and new arrival. It reminds me of the places I grew up. Feral spots on the edge of town, where boys and nature fought, and where, like here, new colonists and old grew tightly intertwined. I moved here from the city four years ago—a refugee from its steely, windswept streets. Bought a house and a few acres and developed a garden; began to merge gently with this river’s life—letting myself seep in and become a part of its history. Living beside the other ferals on its banks, and going slowly native. Earlier today, along my garden’s edge, I watched pigeon dine on willows that bud bright green, while tui fought and chased their way through sweet pink camellia flowers. I casually wondered how long it takes before that term ‘native’ begins to take hold. Are we natives when we can call the country’s plants and animals our own? When we’re no longer in a struggle to hold them back, nor fearful to preserve them? Or is it when we and the land reach some sort of equilibrium—attain a balance of comfort with each other? Become equals? The river today runs high and clear, carrying a hidden cargo of pale sand grains and dark brown leaves and twigs washing down from the gorge above. They rise into my vision briefly, as the current boils them to the surface, then 50


fade back into the pool’s green depths and away downstream. Two days ago this shingle bank was blasted by hurling brown floodwaters. Now, on its edge, against the matted roots, a line of flotsam parallels that epic flow: a log of ancient tree fuchsia, trunks of mamaku and ponga, a length of six-by-one fencing board. All worn smooth by rolling river gravels, and snuggled up here against each other; fluttering above, a tattered supermarket bag wrapped around an overhanging willow branch. The foaming crests of water in the channel rise and then dissolve as they wash downstream. Each, a moment of compression between waves that slap together, their waters bursting upwards in a flurry of bubbles, then dispersing back into the flow again. This river is a world in flux—always moving between high flow and low, between a pool and shingle beach. The sands and gravels, cobbles and boulders of the pool are moving too, and any plants and animals living here are perfectly adapted to such change. No trees. No shrublands. Just tiny algae one cell wide that hug the rocks in coppered slime, or join hands in luxuriant green filaments that stream and flutter in the summer ripples. Change is constant here. In fact so constant that rivers seem to me a source of stable permanence, flowing through a slower, yet significantly more profoundly changing world. As a child, I would watch the gutter water race away downstreet and imagine myself shrunk to the size of an ant, riding a matchstick log or at the helm of an iceblock stick. Navigating the maelstrom of swirling waters, leaves and rocks, dog turds and gutter grates. Today, on the Waikane, I feel the opposite—like I’m wearing giant’s boots and striding my way along the bed of some great North Island mountain river—the Waioeka, Ngaruroro, or Otaki perhaps. This river feels like a microcosm of all that flows through our North Island’s splintered mountain spine—a flow that’s tiny, sure. Yet still surrounded by forest, stalked by anglers, plunged by shags and worshipped by dark longfin eels. The Waikanae runs clear on more days each year than almost any other river in the North Island, a special fact that makes it home to rare banded kokopu—fish that grow from tiny whitebait. Its clarity also endears the Waikanae’s waters to the local council, who chlorinate and reticulate them 51

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through the kitchens, bathrooms and businesses of local townships. Sir Walter Buller, writing in 1891, considered the Waikanae a last refuge of the huia, a bird that stands beside the moa as a national emblem of extinction. In his time, Sir Walter witnessed a thunderous landslide of species lost. Since then, we’ve seen continued but lesser rockfalls. It takes many years for the land to settle, for the plants and animals to adjust, achieve a new balance among themselves. I push out into the water’s flow, crossing in the shallows at the pool’s tail, where the river’s force is spent and it offers a friendly hand to my weight and balance. On the far side, I clamber up roots of mahoe and pukatea that grip and twine through riverbank cobbles on the edge of a thick forest tongue. As I walk inwards from this forest edge, light sifts through the big leaves of pukatea and bathes the world a peculiar green. Glowing, almost. Above, old man tawa sprout Astelia tufts the size of armchairs, and on the forest floor piles of these epiphytes lie crashed and scattered like monstrous fledglings fallen from their nest and doomed to die. I often wonder at how a forest can appear a static scene, when in reality all is movement and a race. Two big tawa lie storm thrown; I wade waist-high through the mahoe, Pittosporum and pigeonwood that grow around them, scrambling to plug the gap of sky where the light streams in, fighting to grow and take over. Or perish in the trying. Once, bird hunters came this way with long spears and pikau, heading upstream to the giant fuchsia forests of Maungakotukutuku Stream. I imagine their footprints here beside mine in the soft flood-washed sands of the forest floor. A forest that looks probably much like it did back then, and still surrounding pools that harbour eel and kokopu. I saw my first ever kokopu upriver, on a tributary above the gorge: two shadows swimming in a thigh-deep pool, looking almost like young trout as they held midstream, nosing the current. Fish as long as my hand-span. Not pale grey, like trout, but darker. And moving in some way that spoke of eel— that sensuous drift, not the bolt and flurry of a salmonid. I watched them break quietly from their place in the pool’s eye and drift across the flow to merge fluidly with a tangle of naked roots and snags against the riverbank. A freshwater biologist once told me these fish spawn in a deluge—sticking their eggs to the roots of forest trees on the lapping edge of flood. 52


Abandoning them to the forest’s safekeeping and hoping that a later ‘fresh’ will hatch and wash the young larvae out to sea. There they grow and, in spring, shiver their way along the coast, sniffing out a suitable river, following the damp and musky scent of forest trees. This anadromous habit seems perfectly suited to fish that live in such unstable lands as ours, where whole river catchments might disappear into the ocean every few million years. It’s a short journey from the coast to reach refuge here: a two-hour walk for me, a few days’ swimming for a tiny fish. The Waikanae’s compactness reduces what mess we make of it, and lets it run with waters smelling mostly of forest trees. A whitebait magnet, apparently. Recently, scientists created a computer model to try to quantify a river’s value to these fish. It accounted for that river’s length, its girth, the weight of sediment it carries and, like some fluvial Body Mass Index, ground out a score that ranked the river among its peers. The Waikanae tops these scores: a water of national importance. I live and sit and write beside this national treasure. From the desk in my study, I look out across onto an ancient river terrace—a fossil remnant of the last great ice age. It was created back when these lands here on the mountains’ edge were cold and arid, when the hills were crusted in tussocks and low brush, and wept grey slides of scree into the river below. I sometimes imagine that terrace as it used to be: a flat plain of lichened cobbles and boulders, divaricating shrubs, and matagouri perhaps, that stretched out to today’s horizon. Back when the world’s oceans were so low that if you wandered north and west from here you would cross low-lying dune and swampland that joined eventually with the South Island of New Zealand. Across this land-bridge, Euryapteryx moa wandered north from their South Island home, an invading species, new to the native plants and animals along this riverbank. My eye and mind struggle with that concept. Try to reconcile today’s expanse of foam-flecked seas with those once-rolling lands of flax and spinifex, and the knowledge that all this and the bones and polished gizzard stones of moa lie entombed out there, deep in the seas beyond Kapiti Island. On another island, some 400 kilometres north, I found a moa gizzard 53

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stone myself one day. From red volcanic dirt, on the edge of a farm track, I plucked it out—a shiny orange pebble with a rare gloss. A stone that looked like it might have been polished in a rock tumbler. It glowed translucent as I held it up against the sun and I knew instantly what it was. That stone sits before me on my desk—a time capsule that links me with another time and world. Since those days, the river has cut back the ancient terrace gravels into a promontory that holds commanding views both up and down the valley. This easily defensible position guards the entrance to the lower gorge, and here Toata’s people—Muaupoko refugees—once built a palisade against the muskets of  Te Rauparaha and Ngati Toa colonists. They are gone now: killed, eaten, scattered. All that remains is a high grassed terrace, covered in quietly grazing sheep and watched over by power lines and a dark green shipping container. Muaupoko were this river’s first people. They spread here from their homelands in Polynesia, with plants and rats and dogs and names for all the things in their new lands. I learned the secret of names as a young man, working deep in the Ruahine Ranges. Each day my workmate and I would map and catalogue river tributaries. We’d pull on wet boots and hunker around a beechwood fire, warming ourselves over breakfast. Then hop and stride our way, boulder to boulder, up the water-worn argillites and sandstones of the Pohangina Valley. Wading through rapids and climbing jams of logs and debris, until we reached the next river tributary that needed mapping (and naming). We took turns. Starting with girlfriends’ names; how many rivers, beaches, mountain peaks are named after women? We’d later slip into favoured objects (a Triumph Daytona motorcycle was one). Until one day we sat lunching at a stream mouth that was mine to name. My mind went blank, scrabbling for words, and it came to rest on a just-emptied tin of pears we’d eaten. Pear-Can Creek it became. Since then, I’ve seen all names in a new light. Not wellconsidered thought-out things, but freer and more spontaneous. Slippery objects. Applied, often on a whim, and sticking more or less erratically. Later, I lived among the locals of western Polynesia, on an island they call Araura. To my delight, I found they called the coconut palms there nikau, and the giant Pacific clam pa-ua—the same name as Aotearoa’s own reef 54


shellfish. And the same taste, too, when wrenched raw and dripping from the ocean. As I learned these things, something within me clicked, as if the tumblers on a combination lock all suddenly aligned and opened in me a deeper connection with humanity, with names, and with my Pacific home. I saw for the first time these names here connecting into the wider universe of Polynesia—as outlying stars in that human galaxy of language, gene and custom. In a similar way that I see the world built around me on this river as an outlier of southern England, Spain and Saxony. As this river’s most recent colonist, I am working my own changes on the land. I’ve started to dismantle the 20,000-year-old ice age terrace and move it downslope, rock by rock, to build raised beds for vegetables and herbs. Asparagus, beans and pumpkins—plants that came here from the Mediterranean and Central America. Rosemary cut from the hot hills of Spain and southern France, garlic pulled from the arid steppe of southern Russia and mint from lush Vietnamese waterways: all now living here around me, beside the Waikanae River. On restless days I take my bike from its hook on the garage wall and ride down the valley road to town, passing through the suburbs and shops of Waikanae, then turning down a side-street off Moana Road and onto the river walkway. There, I cycle past tidy rows of native trees planted by the local river-care group and past the sportsfield, where poplars line up against the sky, and layers of rounded boulders stack neatly as rip-rap protection on the outside of each bend. Here, on a summer’s day, teenagers and dogs splash wildly through the pools and runs. Today, the water runs cold over clean cobbles, while swallows turn and dart close above, like miniature acrobats of the Red Bull air races. This is the realm of blackbirds, and of joggers and strollers escaping a dull Sunday afternoon indoors. I ride past and wave, as these fellow refugees stride, ride, roll in from the coast along this river’s lower reaches. Making their way on a path beside willows and wandering willie, and blackberry. After twenty minutes I reach the coast. Curved parafoils swoop and hover, as kite-boarders bluster through surf along the beach. The sea is a background of white noise, and beyond the river’s mouth Kapiti Island 55

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hunkers just offshore, merging with the grey formlessness of sea and equinoxial clouds. Crouched low among rushes and saltgrass by the water’s edge, I imagine this scene as it might have looked in 1825, when an armada of waka and their warrior crews waited on the beach beside the boating club. Preparing for blood and death where today an old woman stands vigil beside her whitebait net. It feels strangely, pleasantly reassuring to know all this. A tree’s skeleton has grounded in mid-estuary and lies awash with shags. Nearby, a flotilla of black-backed gulls jostle and screech, riding out an ugly day at sea. And somewhere close by, unseen, whitebait run upstream on the high tide. Tiny quivering ghosts heading upriver towards the roots and buttressed headwalls where the mountains fold in above the gorge and those thigh-deep pools where they live. It’s been two months now since winter’s floods. Algae have recolonised the riverbed below the pa and summer’s coming promise breathes on the air. My feet lurch and slide on the slick cobbles as I cross, throwing arcs of water that splash the way ahead. I stumble ashore and find a place to sit and take in the day’s last minutes of full light. I feel the sun’s warmth. It lights an insect— perhaps a caddis—a tiny bright flutter, skating the film of the pool’s surface. By my feet, a fern leaf rocks as ripples hit it, tiny waves lapping the beach of the pool’s edge. I peer into its belly through a windowpane of smooth water, and across pale fine sands to where boulders loom on the edge of vision. And I imagine a great eel down there, tucked hard against the black bedrock. Most that I have learned of eels has seeped in. I heard it from farmers. From farmers’ sons. Duckshooters’ sons. Trout-fishers’ sons. Sons of sons. As a boy, I learned the slow pull of eels caught fast on a green hemp line. Learned to lead them from their lairs with rotten meat. A primary school truant with an old mutton shoulder left over from a Sunday roast—redolent and dripping maggots—heaved into the swirling brown eddy of a flooded backwater. My friends and I speared eels and cooked them on a willow campfire by gravel pits on the edge of town. The flesh was white and full of bones. But we ate them. And they were ours. Back then, eels were unwanted and slightly sinister creatures. They had strange powers of survival and dined 56


on baby ducklings and trout. Cold demons that lurked among dark snags and boldly menaced the still and overhung waters of our swimming holes. And, like the manuka and gorse that farmers battled on steep hillsides, they stayed unloved, persecuted even, by European colonists. Today, garden centres sell manuka, and councils pay farmers to plant it on their hillsides and stream banks. Gorse is cherished as a nursery for native seedlings to grow up through, and eels are revered as the apex predator of our inland waters. People worry about them dying out, and cry ‘Save the eels!’ I think Europeans are now at the point Polynesian colonists were five or six centuries ago, when they began that post-colonial process of becoming one with, rather than taming or torching their new land, when they began to blur the line between introduced and native species—melding old and new worlds into one. Eventually, I think these worlds will merge and balance so completely they will create a new landscape; one where humans are an integral and central element. Where the word ‘pristine’ is hard to comprehend. I like to ponder how long this will take. A friend told me of his recent trip to England, and of a visit to that island’s oldest yew forest. He saw there trees that predate Christianity. Older by millennia than New Zealand’s oldest living kauri. Were these yews a relic of some original forest? Or were they planted by men across a sacred site before the days of bronze or iron? No one knows for sure. This helps put our human scrabblings in perspective. Gives me permission to relax, and celebrate our land—its new and its old. The things we carried to our new homes … karaka trees and names, and the willows and blackberry scattered here below the gorge. The sunlight slips off me and up the hill, as birds begin to call the day’s end and stake their territories for the night ahead. Sitting on the shingle bank, listening, I hear their voices blend together, like gurgles combining to create the faint roar of a far-off stream. A tui throws its song from a nearby tawa branch, and a magpie warbles from the topmost branches of a distant pine. Shining in the last rays above the ridge-top flies a glider. Just released and drifting, like an Australasian harrier arcing its way across blue Aotearoan skies.


C A R O LY N M c C U R D I E

Hut If I come back as a building it will be as a tramping hut. I’ll perch at the end of a hard day, alert as a musterer’s dog, watching for the pack-horse bob of your heads. Inside, you’ll dance the side-step shuffle of cramped space, an unreasonable amount of room being taken by fireplace. Wood will be stacked around the back. While your socks and boots steam I’ll offer you a broad doorstep to sit on. Cold. Hard on your bums. But worth it because I’ll give you sky. And ridge-lines in long folds upon folds of wilderness to the planet’s edge and over, where the sun unfurls inventions of orange, wild pinks and gold. From your centres of gravity you’ll feel the earth turn. Then when the night is star-spilled and reaching, air-chill will send you in to the fire. I’ll give you shadows. You’ll be encircled 58


and stroked, till each is opened to thoughts you never knew you had, to words you shape with slow carefulness. From corners that shelter spiders and mice tenderness will creep. It will unlock in each a sanctum where another can place her own fragile flames. Silence will sit with knees in the warmth, time unmeasured except for the tick, click of wood’s transmutation to ash. The fire will subside with flutter, snuffle, settle of embers. Then I will give you a morepork. Far. Clear.



Southerly Along the coast road, spume amid the fallen branches and broken leaves, the powerlines dark candles blown all afternoon. Snow falls onto the ranges— and a few lower places south. The ferries wait. Wind against wave. At the airport, grounded planes like lonely songs about a broken heart. Roads closed too. It seems the whole country is being pushed northwards shunted like smoke from a house chimney or with umbrellas, coats into the meagre places



into the narrow land itself thin as a radio signal with its stop signs and hills, rugby fields, and gravestones, corners of paddocks, and bush that circles our lives like the blades of a rescue helicopter. Even the search team must wait like pedestrians. Those going home standing under the narrowed verandahs of mainstreet shops at evening like a waggle of strange ferns, gutters spreading, flooding, watching the rain beat in, at the crossing. Only the seagulls seem dressed for it a few have blown in from history to stand on leeward roof edges of the memorial hall of the library like angels they stand 61

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without briefcases or bags near empty taxi stands in parks stare into early evening toward suburbs some standing on one leg



Southern Farmers Forget about the major test, leave town a week before your final bills are due. Frustrate all transactions, turn tips down, bring honesty to the interview. Trust nothing they say. Don’t play the clown— listen to nothing. Listen to the ground of things going on; to the outer spaces that rustle in and out of shape and sound. Listen to nobody, its nineteen faces. Listen to dust, the arty lost-and-found. Better by far to trust the country people, let their mundane concerns inform your muse. By whom I mean the grass, a minor pebble, those southern farmers of hypotenuse. Let man beat up a soufflé with his babble, their game long settled in its comfort zone goes on unreckoned, needing no man’s thinking. The mote in flight, a wind-evicted stone, old sunlight in the orchid lashes winking. Not first nor last, together nor alone, knowing no other life than this to share, I am such things as will not stop for signs, the ocean at the gate, a rounded square. I make a man, mix up the slow declines with fervid growth admonishing the air. 63


Extract from Maukatere: Floating mountain behold a field of snow, an arabesque, the trees weighted with sun he writes of hooded men in chains, the warders slipping past on felted feet in transports, the Green Brazilian Toucan and the Shrike Thrush a memorialist was tried for having blank paper found upon her a band of ripples like a fancy hemline and all the glister of happiness accused of being a forger, she was found guilty and sentenced to transportation * The moss on the sycamores and on the oaks is as thick as my finger. The wedding ring has been found after two years or more lying in dust under the bed. The thin plain circlet, just in time for the anniversary. So things come back, and I turn to see my brother walking into the supermarket in Blarney. The long thin height of him, his beautiful jaw. And my eyes fill with tears as is the way with those who walk in two worlds or more at the one time, the walls between the past and the present are so thin. They walk as shadows, the dead, still themselves but silent. Walking inside the membrane of the years that are as soft as the white smoke that rises from grey trees of a certain kind that glow like hooded lanterns in the distance. An exhalation that vanishes as you approach it. * Who was it fell in love with la siffleuse, the girl whistler? * There’s a little red heart stuck above the pedestrian button on Hope Street

Cute I was watching to the left and the traffic was coming from the right The only thing to do is to make a rough estimate of your chances of survival

Are the people restless here? Are they anxious? Broken lines of stones mark a broken genealogy



QUEST and CURRUPT in a trashy black scramble on the skip near the works depot DOREEM in black zigzags, pizza boxes in a big hole in the ground X for eyes, a banana for a sad mouth

You have to give up control & let what wants to happen, happen Look, someone is using this broken wall as a pantry *



Native Fantasies streams sparkle with candles / reflections plunge i unpick stitches of a draft plan / study the way it falls apart my fixation is habitual / i play Rachmaninov on my phone for the lady breaking bread for her carp / foamy substances slide as she hops barefooted across rocks / her native fantasies open to the river


Barry Cleavin, A Defendant 1, 2012, 70 mm x 50 mm. Etching.


Pacific Burglars If I stole fire, so what? I would not be held to account. Fire was there for the taking. It was not diminished by the taking of it. But what of the coral terraces as fire imposed its will on massive blocks and set them loose from one another? With fire and stone I built a tower. I was amazed at my daring. * The sun spoke to me in my tower. There was nothing else to take. The coral remained as coral. It was not mine, although it was mine for the taking. Was I lonely in my tower? The sun branded its burn-mark on me. I took this as companionship. 68


* Was I the thief of water, making off with its small waves in my pocket? The lagoon emptied itself into the sea. I did not complain. I was not the thief of water. The sea fed the lagoon. * If my wayward feet approached the door was this my fault? Did I become the thief of day because I went by night through open doors? Surely, they invited me in? * I addressed the sun: see, there is nothing here for me. It was simple bravado. If I took, it was there for the taking. I was the first memory of fire taken. I could not be persuaded otherwise.


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* The moon stole fire from the sun. Polar opposite, poor cousin. The moon reached inside, caressed my face. There was no need for any haste. Here, I set it down. This was my confession: the moon was the unclean thief of night, its burn-blisters were my blisters. * My fingers burned. I could not be persuaded otherwise. I was the light-fingered thief of heaven. If it were stars or even laughter. If it were summer’s growing. If I stole summer itself. If I asked a thousand times. The answer, still, was this: I am the essential flame, the thief of



everything, the architect and the jailed man, the carbon consumed by fire, the fire consumed by fire. I am the thief  imprisoned in a stolen tower.



And Blessed Be and blessed be the bee bop a loolah be the bees a-buzzin and a-thrivin and a-hummin in the trees and blessed be the hippity hoppity bunnies a-runnin and a-skippin and a-flippin on their knees and blessed be the jammy clammy slammy cockles slippery slidery rockle rockle rockles and blessed be the yowey wowey miaowey puss cats a-leapin and a-froggin running after the rats and blessed be the gibbily gobbily wild goats a-jumping and a-frolicking in the wild oats and blessed be the wheelie wiley wonky wild pigs a-rootin and a-tootin and a-blastin up their digs and blessed be the jiggle jelly jolly jellyfish a-dreamin and a-schemin just as they wish and blessed be the juvenile birds in the bush kiwi screamin kiwi all night til they hush and blessed be the divin and a-thrivin be the hawks a-cruisin and a-schmoozin higher than the storks



Marching and Fighting in the Friendly Islands Every year students from the schools of  Tongatapu assemble in Nuku‘alofa and march through the centre of the city to the Tongan royal palace and the country’s parliament. After wandering down to Taufa‘ahau Road to join the crowds celebrating School Parade Day, I was confronted by the Liahona High School brass marching band. Liahona is a village in the centre of Tongatapu that is famous for its enormous Mormon temple, which comes complete with a faux-gold steeple, and for the large SPEAK ENGLISH ONLY PLEASE signs that are nailed to its bus stop. The Mormons are regularly accused of wanting to turn Tonga into a replica of that latter-day Zion, Salt Lake City. Fifteen thousand Mormon converts from the Friendly Islands have settled in the capital of Utah, with the assistance of the American church. Wags insist that the green colour of the Liahona school flag and uniform is a reference to the green card that all Tongan Mormons allegedly covet. The band I encountered on Taufa‘ahau Road took their inspiration not from the staid streets of Salt Lake City but from the vulgar and lively city of New Orleans. Led by a young man wearing a gold crown and the sort of white and gold suit that James Brown appropriated from southern Baptist preachers fifty years ago, the Mormons alternated fusillades of jazz with casually synchronised dance moves. They might have line stepped off the set of Treme, David Simon’s post-Katrina tele-portrait of New Orleans’ embattled but joyous dancers and singers. The Mormons were followed down Taufa‘ahau Road by members of the Anglican St Andrews School, who carried a Scottish flag and thumped on outsized drums. The Anglicans had chosen austere blue uniforms, but students of Apifo‘ou College, the huge Catholic institution on Nuku‘alofa’s swampy eastern margins, showed off reds and oranges and were led by a young man twirling a rainbow-coloured cane. As school after school marched past, I remembered a recent suggestion by


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Lose Jenner-Helu, who was one of my colleagues at the ‘Atenisi Institute, a doggedly liberal little school on the outskirts of Nuku‘alofa. Lose believed that ‘Atenisi should send a detachment to the parade. ‘The whole of Tongatapu will be there,’ she had told one of our staff meetings. ‘People will notice. We could beat on drums, one of the students could blow a flute, we could all dress up, and march in lines …’ When I asked them, though, ‘Atenisi’s students were unimpressed by the prospect of becoming footsoldiers in Lose’s army. ‘That parade is very tiresome,’ Tevita Manu‘atu had said, looking up from the volume of Nietzsche he was reading in a corner of the classroom and scratching his Afro. ‘You’ll think it’s impressive because you will not have seen it before. But every year is the same. The same banners, uniforms, slogans. No change. No development.’  Other students simply laughed or sniggered when I asked for volunteers for a march down Taufa‘ahau Road. A day or so later, at one of the gatherings where ‘Atenisians drink kava, gossip, sing Tongan poems and argue about subjects like pre-Socratic philosophy and local politics, the poet and dramaturge Murray Edmond, who was visiting our institution, tried to reconcile Lose’s and Tevita’s positions. ‘Think of it in a Zen way,’ he urged. ‘You’re participating by not participating. You make your contribution by being absent.’ Now that I was watching the parade I was pleased that ‘Atenisi hadn’t attempted to join it. How could we compete with the dance moves and jazz solos of the Mormons, or the sartorial splendour of those Catholic schoolboys? The crowd that stood on the pavements of  Taufa‘ahau Road—thick concrete pavements laid a couple of years ago by the Chinese coolies imported to rebuild downtown Nuku‘alofa after the riot of 2006 but already cracked and tilted—was applauding loudly, but many of the marchers appeared both solemn and subdued. An hour or so later, as I walked westward towards the ‘Atenisi campus, I saw handfuls of them waiting for buses in the shade of coconut trees that craned their necks curiously over the iron fences of Nuku‘alofa’s suburban front yards. A Liahona student had thrown his puffy white hat onto the roadside dust; a tuba sat, snout down, in the lap of a yawning classmate. An inmate of Lavengamalie, the school of the fissiparous,



wildly Pentecostal Tokaikolo Fellowship, was pulling at the brass buttons of his waistcoat, loosening his tie, and sucking in the hot afternoon air. Looking at these handsomely and uncomfortably dressed young men, I remembered a story that a senior New Zealand journalist had told me about a journey he had made to Cuba. Not content with wearing a T-shirt adorned by Che Guevara’s glare, the trade unionist had gotten a tattoo of Che on an intimate part of his body. When he was finally able to visit the nation he admired, he took the opportunity of joining a huge march held to celebrate May Day. As they stomped through downtown Havana the marchers chanted slogans against imperialism and for socialism, and waved placards decorated with portraits of Che and Fidel Castro. Walking home after the march, though, the Kiwi friend of the Cuban revolution noticed hundreds of abandoned placards. Once they had appeased party bosses by performing their annual ritual, the marchers had dumped Che and Fidel into the nearest gutter. I wondered whether the student paraders of Nuku‘alofa were motivated by the same sort of dull duty as the reluctant marchers of Havana. Back at ‘Atenisi I found Tevita Manu‘atu lying on a long bench in the sun, reading Facebook rather than philosophy. When I offered him my theory about the motives of the school marchers, Tevita recovered his Nietzschean querulousness. ‘They have passion for their school, but they show it in their own way,’ he insisted. ‘They show it by fighting. Go downtown late on Friday night—you’ll see students from different schools facing off, fighting. They use fists, but sometimes also bush knives. Sometimes petrol bombs get thrown.’ When I asked how the police dealt with inter-school brawling Tevita snorted. ‘The police are fat and slow. You see big policewomen puffing up Taufa‘ahau Road, and giggling schoolkids sprinting away from them. The police have no power over the schools.’ A month or so after School Parades Day, fighting between Tongan schoolboys made the news in Australia and New Zealand and kicked off a tearful public debate in the Friendly Islands. Tupou College and Tonga College are the country’s two oldest and most prestigious schools. They also have a long history of warring. One night in


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June, in revenge for some previous act of violence, hundreds of Tupou College students piled into a truck and other vehicles and descended on the home of a Tonga College student in Ma‘ufanga, an eastern suburb of Nuku‘alofa. By the end of the evening 150 Tonga College students were in hospital, and 150 Tupou College students had been stuffed into the cells of Nuku‘alofa’s central police station. The principals of both schools were soon crying and praying on television, and Tonga’s Police Commissioner, a grave, gaunt palangi mysteriously transferred from his beat in New Zealand, told a radio station that his force could not solve the problem of schoolboy warfare. Letter writers to Tonga’s newspapers called for the closure of both Tupou and Tonga colleges. A week after the riot in Ma‘ufanga, ‘Atenisi held a kava session in honour of the veteran Pacific journalist Tony Haas, who was keen to talk about the problems of the Friendly Islands. Between downing cups of the sacred brown liquid and singing—or, in my case, uncertainly humming—the poems of Queen Salote, we discussed Tonga’s schoolboy wars. Tevita Manu‘atu was in no doubt about the cause of the latest violence. He pointed out that the rivalry between Tupou and Tonga colleges went back to the 1880s, when King Tupou I had founded the Free Wesleyan Church to free his country from what he considered the imperialist influence of the Londonbased international Methodist movement. Tupou’s mentor was Shirley Baker, a former Methodist missionary turned Tongan nationalist, and Baker’s great enemy was John Moulton, an ‘orthodox’ Methodist who opposed the establishment of the Free Wesleyan church and maintained close relations with the British High Commissioner for the Western Pacific. Encouraged by Moulton, thousands of  Tongans refused to join the new church; these dissidents, who became known as the fakaongo, suffered imprisonment and beatings. One night in 1887 a band of Moulton’s disciples tried to assassinate Shirley Baker as he rode his horse along Nuku‘alofa’s waterfront. Baker dodged the bullets, but hundreds of fakaongo were exiled to a Fijian island, where they subsisted on wild coconuts and the Book of Revelations. After three years the outcasts were recalled and allowed to form the body that is nowadays known as the Church of Tonga. While Tupou College is run by the Free Wesleyan Church, Tonga College is a government school, and has always been hospitable to students from



Church of Tonga families. Tevita Manu‘atu sees the recent battles between the students of the two schools as a recurrence of the struggles of the 1880s. ‘They’ve fought each other ever since then,’ he said, ‘and they’re not going to stop.’ Maikolo Horowitz, a long-time staff member at the ‘Atenisi Institute, had a different perspective. ‘Has anyone noticed,’ he asked the kava circle, ‘that only the Protestant schools are at war? Apifo‘ou College has no problems with violence. The Catholics don’t fight.’ Maikolo grew up in a Jewish section of New York City with a kabbalist father and a Trotskyist mother, and has always been interested in the sociology of religion. He discussed Emile Durkheim’s famous contrast between the high suicide rate in Protestant northern Europe and the relatively low rate in Catholic southern Europe. ‘Protestants are tightly wound,’ Maikolo insisted. ‘Look at where fascism was most successful in the 1930s— and look at the American Bible belt today. The Protestant internalises violence through repression and then externalises it.’ The Tongan-Waikato sculptor and scholar Visesio Siasau could not accept Maikolo’s dichotomy. Visesio grew up in an intensely Catholic family, and attended Apifo‘ou College, but has begun to create astonishing artworks that juxtapose and sometimes fuse the symbols of Christianity with the imagery of traditional Tongan religion. He has shown the ancient artisan-god Tangaloa Tufunga writhing on a cross, and Hiku‘leo, the overseer of Pulotu, the Tongan land of the dead, befriending Mary and Joseph. ‘Catholicism works subtly,’ Visesio said, ‘but its doctrine is more powerful because of its subtlety. It is a total system, a total view of the world, totalitarian.’ Visesio could not see Tonga’s Catholic minority, which has been excluded from power by the Tupou dynasty and helped to found the prodemocracy movement in the 1980s and ’90s, as a bastion of liberalism and pluralism. His syncretic artworks, with their implicit appeal for religious tolerance, have not always delighted his family. Visesio wondered whether Tonga’s warlike schoolboys weren’t simply aping the behaviour of their elders. ‘There is violence at every level of Tongan education,’ he said. ‘Teachers beat senior students. Senior students, prefects, beat younger students. This is all legal—legal and expected. Is it any surprise students go out and fight their peers?’


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‘Opeti Taliai, the Dean of ‘Atenisi, did not disagree with Visesio, but cited boredom as an additional reason for schoolboy warfare. ‘These schools are stuck out in the countryside,’ he pointed out. ‘The boys sit in the bush without any stimulus. They aren’t taught how to use their minds. They don’t read, think.’ ‘Opeti noted that old boys of many schools are involved in the violence. ‘They finish school and go back to their villages and have nothing to do,’ he said. ‘They can’t take part in the agricultural economy, either because they don’t have the skills or because of a lack of land. They are surplus labour. They find it hard to marry. Their school is what they have.’ ‘Opeti’s comments made me think of the role that the geography of Tonga’s largest island might play in its social problems. From the air, Tongatapu looks like a small place. As they fold their trays and click their seatbelts, passengers on incoming jets can glance out their windows and take in the whole island, from the beach-lined curve of Hihifo peninsula in the far west to the sun-struck roofs of Nuku‘alofa in the north to the big plantations of the southeast. With its flat fields of crops framed by coconut trees as straight and pale as the pillars of Greek temples, the island looks both orderly and inviting. On the ground, though, Tongatapu is more complicated. The smoothest and widest road in Tonga connects the airport, in the southeast corner of the island, with Nuku‘alofa. Paved roads strike out hopefully from the airport route, only to decline, in a few metres or kilometres, into muddy tracks shelled by coconuts and tormented by sharp turns. The plantations that looked like tracts of savannah from the air turn out to be tangles of chesthigh tapioca or vanilla. Creepers studded with thorns and thistles guard ancient sunken pathways between the fields. The traveller’s eye looks for relief toward the horizon, with its empty stretches of ocean, but is blocked by those walls of coconut trees. Unlike rural New Zealanders, with their penchant for isolated farmhouses and lifestyle blocks, Tongan countryfolk live together in tight little villages. Only outcasts, madmen and the odd palangi hermit live in the stretches of bush that lie like a sea between official settlements. The broken roads, claustrophobic fields and uninhabited zones of the Tongatapu countryside can make visitors very lonely very quickly.



With its English-speaking population, its colonies of Chinese and palangi and its cafés, bars and supermarkets, Nuku‘alofa is a place apart from the rest of Tongatapu. Some Nuku‘alofans refer to the inhabitants of the villages beyond their town as ‘fakapoule’, or ‘the unenlightened ones’. Many wealthier Nuku‘alofans are more familiar with Sydney and Auckland than with the outer villages of their own island. The self-consciously modern village of Liahona is an exception to the rule of the countryside. The riot that destroyed a third of downtown Nuku‘alofa in 2006 was blamed on Tonga’s pro-democracy movement, but it was teenagers from Tongatapu’s remote villages who did much of the burning and looting. ‘Iliasa Helu, the son of ‘Atenisi’s late founder Futa Helu and the keeper of the institution’s library, told me he saw cars speeding up and down Taufa‘ahau Road, through the smoke from the ruins of Chinese-owned stores and the city’s cinema. ‘They were opening their doors and leaning out the windows and shouting at us,’ ‘Iliasa remembered. ‘They were shouting: “The capital will return to Lapaha!”’ Built on the shore of Fanga‘uta lagoon in the east of Tongatapu, Lapaha was the seat of the ancient Tu‘i Tonga dynasty, which dominated the country until being pushed aside by Tupou I in the nineteenth century. Today Lapaha is a village of overgrown stone monuments and dried-up moats, whose Catholic inhabitants complain of neglect at the hands of Tonga’s establishment. For some of these marginalised Tongans, the 2006 riot was a chance for revenge. Some Nuku‘alofans have seen the recent schoolboy riot in Ma‘ufanga as another invasion from the countryside, and another hint of the future. The uniformed young men and women who strode so smartly through Nuku‘alofa on School Parade Day may return, in different dress, to conquer the city. I drove out to Tupou College one warm afternoon with ‘Opeti Taliai and New Zealand architect Andrew Alcorn, who was looking for an antique falechurch—a dome of light, hand-cut logs lashed together with thousands of coconut fibres—which had stood on Mount Zion, the Nuku‘alofa fort and former besieged stronghold of Christianity on Tongatapu, before being moved somewhere inland. We turned off the road around Fanga‘uta, the shallow muddy lagoon that takes a bite out of northern Tongatapu, and drove 79

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south, into the centre of the island, past fields filled with burning elephant grass. A great circle of wooden cottages radiated from a concrete office block on which a hermit crab, the emblem of  Tupou College, had been painted in blue. The cottages belonged to teachers, ‘Opeti explained: staff, as well as students, are obliged to live on this remote campus. The Dean of ‘Atenisi gestured at a large concrete house that sat on a grassy mound. ‘That mound was built a long time ago, for the fale of a local chief,’ he said. ‘It’s a sign of status. They’ve built the headmaster’s house there.’ The students lived and studied in a complex of rectangular, low-roofed buildings behind the office. Further back still was a wall of coconut trunks. ‘There’s a big plantation out there,’ ‘Opeti said. ‘It goes all the way to the airport. The students grow a lot of food. The school tries to be self-sufficient.’ As we walked across the campus, searching for the curving walls of the Mount Zion fale, ‘Opeti pointed at the wire grille fitted tightly across a window. Faces smiled through the wire, and somewhere behind them a deep bush preacher’s voice pronounced a series of prime numbers so slowly and reverently that it might have been reciting the Lord’s Prayer. ‘I’m afraid they’ll grab us and put us in the Tupou uniform,’ ‘Opeti whispered. An unsmiling teacher wearing a blue tupenu, a white shirt and a blue tie eventually emerged from the office to tell us that the fale from Mount Zion stood on the other side of the island, in the grounds of the Wesleyan theological college. ‘Opeti asked him whether we might make a short presentation to any senior students who were not in class. ‘They might like to know about ‘Atenisi, in case they’d like to study there next year,’ he explained. The teacher, who still hadn’t introduced himself, produced a tiny key, unlocked a large metal door and ushered us into a dim room filled with rectangular tables. We stood in the gloom and waited, until half a dozen students filed in, smiling tightly. They were wearing blue tupenu and white shirts, but they lacked ties. ‘Opeti spoke to the students in Tongan. I sat down on a stool and listened hard, but could only understand his introduction and the occasional palangi proper noun: Heraclitus, Kant, Hegel. The students listened mutely. Shortly after ‘Opeti dropped the mysterious name Heidegger, a rat ran across the floor towards me, skipped over my feet, which had not had time to 80


recoil, and disappeared through a fist-sized piece of rust in the bottom of the door. When we were back outside, in the bright and suddenly comforting afternoon light, I told ‘Opeti and Andrew about the rodent. ‘Opeti, who grew up in the Tongatapu countryside, began to laugh. ‘What did you expect it to do?’ he asked. ‘Did you think it was going to raise a paw and ask to go to the bathroom?’ A couple of young men who had been in ‘Opeti’s audience were passing a rugby ball back and forth under a mango tree. One was short and muscled, the other tall and skinnier than any Tongan I’d seen for weeks. I wandered over and we began to talk. ‘What do you think you’ll do when you leave school?’ I asked them. ‘I’d like to be in the army,’ the muscled kid said. ‘Lots of my cousins are in the army. City boys, they get a hard time in training. That’s because they’re soft. But bush boys can take it.’ ‘Like Rambo!’ his friend said, between high-pitched giggles. ‘Go and kill some Japs!’ Most of the world knows Rambo as an all-American hero who killed commies and bent sheriffs, but in the kava clubs and lounge rooms of Tongatapu, Sylvester Stallone’s character has often become an assistant to the Tongan Defence Force as it fights the Japanese Imperial Army through the mountains and forests of Melanesia during World War Two. Many Tongans find it hard to stay still when they watch a movie: with encouragement from other audience members, an individual will often leap from his or her seat and both interact with and interpret a film. ‘Do you guys fight?’ I asked the students. ‘Others schools, I mean. Tonga College?’ They looked at each other and began to smile. ‘People have been fighting for a long time,’ the short guy said. ‘The old boys, they all fought.’ Before I can ask any more questions a bell rings. A fat man is standing under the administration building’s hermit crab, waving his hands. Without looking at me, the students hurry off in his direction. ‘They probably have work duties,’ ‘Opeti tells me as I walk back towards his car. ‘Lots of work in that plantation. We should get back to town.’ We drove back through the circle of teachers’ homes, down the long road to the lagoon.



Mango Archipelago This mango is a song sung till the tree shakes, Its heavy hips sway and the sweet ground sings along— This mango boogies at the Whatever Bar This mango strums island guitar This mango is a weather vane The heavy clouds of fruit a prophecy of summer cyclone Fat wind. The cry of rain— This mango weeps beside the kuru tree This mango bleeds pain free This Aitutaki mango arrives on an early morning flight with black pearls and sea grapes for the southern appetite— This mango rolls down Hospital Hill This mango is road-kill This mango is your first fruit where the yellow hornets built a nest where Papa John burned them out with his kikau torch. Conquest! This mango fell This mango will never tell


Le B A S

This mango falls hard in the night, bruised face and broken hearted between fat green leaf and full branch This mango slowly departed— This mango fell from grace This mango is commonplace This is the bravo mango Ani O’Neill cuts off its sides makes little orange squares and sucks the fat pip dry— This mango is the warrior queen This mango’s seen the beginning, the end and the in-between.



Rex it’s lunchtime at naina’s sweet curry shop we talkin teas and thali and the dates of diwali with arvind at the counter when i spy a ninja he no regular i’m pretty sure i used to work with him at the library on lorne st not sure if he still there but the library is so is lorne run by lords on skateboards & onlookers serving dem kids silent with a grudge but not this dude right here right now he sweet as chai with 3 sugars innut he’d be ok wit dem skateboarders tho his brown hair gone blu he wears a pitch perfect crew neck jumper not baggy like bain’s but black as a black cat’s back if it was black on the back 84


on a mission outta vision eyes i never did catch he too quick out the door tho that night at dragonlore jos tells me more he writes plays & they’re performed & he still at the library on lorne



White Girl; Maori World Ti hei mauri ora says the white girl as she stands who is she to say a mihi? this white girl with white ancestors mama speaks Te Reo a teacher at the kura ladies there thought she was being beaten coz she cut and dyed her hair black papa’s mates with Hone —you vote in the referendum Tim? —not Māori —but you’re always on the marae can’t roll R’s but knows where to find Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu always talks to pīwaiwaka bro’s got some sweet ink Te Hiku o te Ika lead the boys in taiaha does da meeeean haka but who’s this skinny white girl? well she does the pūkana in the front row at kapa haka she does the karanga at Oturu prizegiving she walks barefeet washes hands leaving the cemetery helps feed your mokopuna from the boil-up pot 86


so you and the other parents can drink crates and smoke buds her taringa ain’t painted on she knows to hold her hōiho repects the lands, the sea and carvings this white girl dreams of marama thinks of Hine Nui Te Po says karakia before a feed talks to the children of  Tane-mahuta collects tuatua and watercress and she teaches you things that munted chair ain’t paku it’s pakaru those muddy shoes ain’t patu, egg they’re paru as! there’s a white girl doing a mihi? Yeah but this white girl she shame her whakapapa all Pākehā words she’s no Māori she’s just this skinny white girl



Nga Kehua Tui didn’t like those bloody kēhua. They gave him the shits, actually, and he tried very hard not to think about them at all. But being the clever bastards that they were, they always dove right into his forebrain, especially if he had too much time to sit around and do nothing much: which was the case most of the time for him, eh. Tui found that going down to the RSA helped though. He could always yak a pile of bullshit to whoever else was lingering around down there, and the more Lion Red he sculled, the more piss talk frothed from his lips and the less ngā kēhua crept into him. It was only the next morning when he unwillingly woke up to the sun peering through his torn blinds, that they all too often were back with him, nagging away, pointing their bony little fingers at him and staring at him from their eyeless sockets. Enough to make a man go totally pōrangi. Tui hadn’t meant to kill the girl. It wasn’t his fault that she wasn’t very strong. He was only really playing with her when things went all wrong. She shouldn’t have stepped outside for a toke or three anyway. He shivered a bit more than the spring day deserved and bit his bottom lip just a bit too hard. No one had pointed their fingers at him about her disappearance—yet. Only those bastard kēhua—jeering and swearing and leering at him, even in his dreams. ‘Fuck it,’ he said to no one in particular in the steadily growing bar crowd. ‘Too right, e hoa,’ replied Jerry. Tui jumped a bit within himself. He hadn’t even realised he had uttered a thing, let alone that Jerry Bartholomew was standing there right next to him at the small corner bar, clutching his jug like it was going out of fashion. Tui smiled like a clown, which was quite ironic really, because half of the town 88


thought that was exactly what he was. It didn’t really help his jittery state of mind that Jerry was the girl’s older brother, and he was a big bastard too. They called him Hulk around there and he was covered in tatts, so that showed him up to be a hard man. Must be, eh. Tui forced a crooked smile onto his stubbled face and tried to crack a joke or two. No one laughed—least not Jerry, who was quaffing his ale like a doomed man. In fact everyone was too busy with their own problems anyway. They all knew the girl had gone missing—but, then again, hadn’t she done that before? She always had been a problem child. Kicked out of the college for smoking too much dope and already had a kid when she was pretty much one herself. Still smoked too much shit and tended to ignore her Nan, who was the only one who could ever get a handle on the girl. She was what they called around those parts a real spinner. Anyway, no doubt she’d be back soon. Her baby was now about four and Nan was looking after him most of the time anyway. Kāore ngā raruraru. Tui felt a bit better by now. The straight vodka shots were slam-dunking him into a sort of oblivion and everyone was happily just grooving, into their own thing. The music was laughing too, for someone had stoked up the jukebox real loud and Adele was sprawling herself across the entire floor. A couple of fellas were smacking pool balls around the stunted table in the other corner and the regulars were being exactly that. Tui looked around. No one seemed to be staring at him overtly. No one seemed to be indicating he was guilty of murder. Not yet anyway. He was sweating though. His hair was greasier than ever and his eyebrows had sprung a leak of their own. He plunged across the floor, past the akimbo legs and arms and back to the bar to claim another double shot straight. He wolfed it down and then went outside for some cooler air. The rest of the cast were out there, rehearsing their roles with their usual aplomb and in pretty much the same postures as they had been in last Friday’s performance. Old Sotty was snorting about the ‘useless fuckin’ rugby team’, and Mere Wihongi was shouting at her nephew for having knocked over her 89

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jug. Pretty much the same routine, all right. No one even looked at him. Tui drew a few deep breaths to steady himself a bit though. Guilt made you do some dumb things and even a clown had to watch out that he wasn’t too attention-getting. He sat down at the trestle table with a couple of jokers he had never seen before. Visitors, he guessed. They wouldn’t know nothing. He would be safe for a while. Trouble was, these guys had heard about the missing girl from their own cuz. There was after all a fair buzz about where she may have gone, seeing that she hadn’t been seen for about a week by now. It was because these guys were outsiders that they fronted up to the story far more than the locals who knew when to shut up in public—unless they spilled the shit because they had drunk too much and forgotten the rules about small-town gossip. So Tui listened quite intently when one of them offered up, ‘I reckon she’s hiked up to Auckland to see her ex, eh.’ He shrugged his skinny shoulders when the chap turned towards him and shot, ‘What do you think, mate?’ The other guy muttered something about ‘Maybe’ and changed the subject. But it had been enough to set off the bloody kēhua in his brain again. Tui was growing a headache two sizes too big for his skull. He couldn’t even fart by now. It was as if everything was cramming itself inside him, building up, building up, building up. He heard their incessant whispering: they just wouldn’t let up. He put his head down and tried to escape his synapses bleeding into him the picture of his sweaty hands grasping her throat that night and his shaking her like she was a bed-sheet being folded. He tried to suppress the memories of her choking pained snorts as he had applied the pressure more forcefully. ‘Fuckin’ bitch,’ he exclaimed to himself under his breath. ‘Should have just done what I asked, eh.’ He was back at the bar by now and this time there were a few looking at him strangely, for he had been muttering away a bit manically to himself. Jerry Bartholomew loomed up like a titanic iceberg, and it was him who asked in a loud voice, ‘What’s up, Tui? You talking more shit, you clown?’ He laughed raucously, eyeing up any potential claimants to his funny guy throne. A couple of the in-crowd laughed a bit at this, not just because Tui was a bit 90


of a dropkick, but more because Jerry would have dropkicked them without some sort of reaction to his guffaw. Tui was stumbling a bit now. His feet were misleading him and he was swaying to the vodka—and everything seemed to have gotten real loud and stuffy. Claustrophobic, eh. He latched on to his glass and launched himself away from the watching bar throng, without pausing to respond to Jerry’s jeer. He could tell that the dead guys hanging on all the walls of the RSA in faded sepia and black-white freeze frame were looking at him too—and theirs were stares of reproach. They knew, eh. They knew he had throttled the girl when she wouldn’t give him a blow-job out the back of Digger’s party last weekend. They knew he had taken her to the scrub of his older brother’s farm in the back seat of his old Valiant and just left her body in a pile of scrub and that he had been too bloody shaky to even cover her completely. They knew that he knew that they knew all about him. Fuckin’ kēhua. Wouldn’t leave a man alone. He remembered his own Nan telling him about them when he was a kid. How the spooks never let up on you, how they stalked you, as if they had some sort of unfinished business with the living. At least some of the living—the ones who had misfired somewhere along the stretch, who hadn’t been playing the game properly. They were like the proverbial hungry dogs who bared their teeth at the mere glimmer of a bone. Tui slumped against the corner near the shithouse and shut his eyes real tight. Squirrels of multicoloured lights were scrambling across his eyeballs. But ngā kēhua were also zooming around his inner spaces by now and they just wouldn’t let up with their rapid caroming. The vodka wasn’t doing what he had paid it to do any more and he could feel a backlog of tears betraying his throat and scorning his eyes. Just when he was about to scream out in sheer terror, roar like the Huka Falls, he sensed a bit of a commotion. He squinted. No one was anywhere near him. The music seemed to have faded into a warble. Quite a few loud voices of cheer and some of some surprise were ricocheting back at him from the verandah outside. ‘Where ya’ been, girl?’ ‘Haven’t seen you around for a while, eh?’ ‘How was 91

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Auckland?’ ‘Shit, I thought we got rid of you at last, eh!’ ‘Did you tell your Nan you were just going to bugger off like that, you bloody little hīanga?’ and so on and so forth. Nothing malicious, mainly just mirthful jibes among the extended whānau to one of their own. By now the folks inside the pretty packed RSA were also throwing a few more garnishes at the latest arrival. Tui stood there like a zombie. It was her all right, and she didn’t look any the worse for wear. She sure as hell wasn’t dead, anyway. Or maybe she was and she’d come to get him. She sort of half glanced in his direction and half smiled too, as she crossed to the bar. Her eyebrows sort of hitched up a bit, but nothing more. The patrons had already gone back to their usual prattle. Someone slotted on Prince Tui Teka, and a couple of gay guys were dancing. Same old, same old. But Tui was real worried now. He couldn’t help but let out a sort of primeval scream: quite frightening to those in the room and loud enough for a few others to squadron back inside to see just what that alien noise actually was. It was only when they saw the skinny guy with the blaring eyes and greasy hair start to spasm all over the hard wooden floor of the RSA that there was a bit more concern about him. One or two shook their heads, while Jerry Bartholomew just looked at his sister and exclaimed in his booming voice, ‘Sis—you back again. Just in time to see the village idiot playing silly buggers, eh … Where you been, by the way?’ The girl stared up at her brother as she sipped on her can. She sort of sniggered, ‘Well, that’s the funny thing, eh bro. I ended up going back up to Auckland last week for a bit of a rest after I got sick at that bloody party at Digger’s. Threw up all over the bloody back seat of  Tui’s car too, eh. No wonder he threw me out.’ She was chortling a fair bit by now. ‘Don’t remember too much there for a bit. But I did tell Nan I’d be back.’ Her big brother wasn’t really listening to her now. He was much more focused on the weird gyrations Tui was twisting into over by the toilet, as much as by the equally weird sounds struggling from his spittled lips. Wow— it was quite a show, even for the RSA on a Friday. Especially those whirligig eyes. 92


Jerry turned to his sister and slurred a bit, flicking his head towards the night’s main act. ‘Man, I always knew he had worms in the brain, but this is like the kēhua got that fellow real good, eh.’ He smiled real wide, shook his head, and slung back deep on his drink. His sister was tapping her feet. Prince Tui Teka was serenading them all in another song.



Dawe: A Black and White Portrait No one ever uttered the name of the hardwood tree on which the vindice sticks grew. The clubs, though, were often referred to in a threat or a joke. Dawe still found it difficult to guess which was which. It was hard to interpret the facial expressions of the island residents wherever they, their parents, or their ancestors, had come from. Local people, Estonians, Polynesians, Pākehā, could scowl fiercely and burst simultaneously into laughter. Or they might smile while wrestling with a male or female partner and twist their opponent’s arm so painfully that they were forced to surrender by slapping the earth with their free hand. Women could admire another woman’s clothing or an umu-cooked chicken, and turn away with their shoulder hunched as though they expected a blow with a bush knife. Dawe avoided eye-contact with any local females—even when he was buying fruit or bread at the Saturday market. Perhaps he was too sensitive about the red birthmark, no larger than an old copper penny, on his left temple. The path through the bush was steep and sandy. An oddly shaped boulder at the side of the track, marked with sunlight, looked like a grey rolled-arm sofa he’d once bought in Mount Eden. The vintage couch was so loosely sprung and uncomfortable he had to move it into his garage. Native bees crawled through a split in the upholstery and made a nest. Dawe thought about finding a professional apiarist to help him remove the swarm, but he closed and locked the garage doors and gradually forgot the bees. He parked his old Daimler in the drive and was happy when he saw that the sump didn’t leak a single drop of oil. Dawe placed the flat of his hand against the settee-rock. Yes, it was warm. Now, the huge stone looked nothing like his old velvet sofa. There were no dangerous wild animals on San Sebastian. Even the dogs, who roamed the roads and lanes, seemed fully occupied in their own canine affairs. He’d watched one a few weeks ago as it fished from the reef. It was a 94


thin but powerful bitch with pendulous dugs and it stood, completely immobile, staring down at a tidal pool. When it lunged open-mouthed at the sea it caught nothing. Dawe stood on the beach and thought about the spouting system for his water tank. The dog’s jaws were empty after another attempt to catch a fish. He wondered if the grey bitch knew about the refraction of light through a dense medium like seawater. And could animals feel disappointment? It was certainly a patient and determined creature. If the bitch was still nursing her pups she would eventually catch a fish. Even though he was not superstitious, Dawe looked away as he passed the opening to the vengeance grove. He knew that two elders in particular, traditionalists, visited the clearing where the semi-deciduous trees grew. He had never had any desire to explore beyond the borders of the track but a scarlet-flowering shrub caught his eye. It was two or three metres into the bush on his left. The earth here was oddly formed. There were small protrusions like miniature hills and hollows that seemed far too regularly shaped to be natural formations. Surely this place, so close to a public walkway, couldn’t be an ancient burial site. He had read that some prehistoric tribes interred their dead in an upright position. Dawe had lost sight of the flowering bush. Everywhere he looked there was nothing but green growth and sooty-black trunks of the canopy trees. He pushed forward a little further. A tendril of a climbing plant caught at his shirt sleeve. Dawe was glad that he hadn’t dressed in shorts and T-shirt for his walk to the beach. There were probably nettles here and he had been advised to watch out for two species of spider. The white-tailed one bit viciously, a local told him, and the sore could return years later and be as painful as the original sting. A full moon was an especially difficult time for anyone who had once been bitten. Young children and the elderly could become critically ill if attacked by the orange-backed spider. Something was crawling on his head. It was moving slowly and Dawe sensed that it was something far larger than a spider. Very gently, he pushed his fingers through his hair. He brought his hand down slowly and saw a harmless bright green stick insect. He held his hand close to a manuka bush and the insect stepped among the leaves and disappeared. The length and articulation of the insect’s legs gave its movements a particular dignity. Dawe wished that he could walk as delicately. He knew he shambled and, a woman 95

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friend once told him, one shoulder was often higher than the other. ‘I don’t know where various parts of my body are,’ he told Gloria. Dawe had the beach to himself and that was curious. It was vacation time for the island’s school pupils. He had expected to see numbers of young people surfing or simply lying on the warm sand—the boys idly punching each other on their arms or shoulders. He took off his faded denim shirt and kicked off his jeans. He’d brought his parau, and that would have to do as a towel. Dawe plunged into the sea and shouted in surprise. It was not quite as warm as he had expected. He was tall and thin, a little like the stick insect, he thought, and he felt the cold. He usually lit his first fire in the wood burner at the end of April and this year he had kept the stove going right through October. It was November now and time he started getting in wood early for winter. When Dawe turned to swim back to shore he thought he could see three men on the beach. Two of them were bulky figures; the third was skeletal. The larger men could have been wearing traditional clothing, however, and the layered tapa-cloth skirts made people look far stouter than they really were. Dawe was naked but that was of no concern. All four of them were male. He could not possibly offend anyone. His vision was blurred from the salt water. He rubbed his eyes and saw that there were only two human figures on the beach. The one he had taken for a third man was a pole that had been driven into the sand. It was surmounted by a round object. The two old men placed the wicker helmet on Dawe’s head. ‘This is a ritual punishment and it will not harm you. But no one must walk on Turtle Beach until we lift the ban.’ ‘Why?’ Dawe said. ‘I’ve come here almost every day since I moved here from the mainland.’ ‘A dolphin was stranded,’ the taller of the elders said. ‘She was the village favourite and she is dead.’ ‘The banning order will last for seven days,’ the other elder said. ‘I didn’t know,’ Dawe said. ‘I heard nothing.’ ‘Nevertheless, we will perform three blows each to your head with the vindice club. The helmet will protect you.’ The first strike knocked Dawe to the ground but he was otherwise unhurt. 96


The old men rushed at him to deliver the next blows. Dawe began to crawl up the beach. He had never been more embarrassed and humiliated. His parau and his jeans and shirt were left in a pile as he tried to escape the painless but demeaning sentence. There was a heavy weight in his chest. Each breath he took would not have filled a small wineglass. In—hold—out: In—hold—out. The only time he had ever had to think about breathing was when he lived in Mount Eden. Twice a week he used to run up the winding road to the summit of the volcano. Those were happy days. It was still warm and sunny here on the beach. Dawe removed the helmet and lay on his stomach. He rested his head on his arms. Running all those years ago was so simple. You pitched your upper body forward at an angle, and as you felt your balance becoming vulnerable you raced with your feet to catch up with your upper body. Running downhill, home to Valley Road, was different. You leaned backwards and rode yourself like a horse. He was dancing barefoot in a Bariloche street in his floral-patterned sarong. There was the scent of expensive European chocolate in the air. A large crowd had gathered in a circle around him. One young woman obviously believed he was dancing to one of the Traveling Wilburys’ songs. She called out to Dawe. It’s all right, Amigo! He gyrated for her. Dawe created elaborate expressions with his eyes open and then closed. He lolled his tongue. His hands spun in delirium. The people in the gathering were all young and in spite of the deep snow on the nearby hills, their arms were bare. They clapped in a rhythm Dawe had never heard before and some began to chant in unison. He could not understand their South American Spanish but the letters formed in his whirling head: Cabeza: Cabeza: Cabeza. Dawe knew he must respond. He leapt and clashed his heels together. I’m Germane, he shouted. I am Germane. Evening sunlight slanted across the beach. Tomorrow he would cut firewood and it would be well seasoned in five months. When winter came he might be able to find a tourist from overseas who could teach him another language. He would like his mind to fill up with unexpected things. He hoped the visiting stranger would be beautiful. But first he should take the cane helmet back to the old men.


K E R R I N P. S H A R P E

The Design of Butterflies it takes a strong man to design a butterfly

* butterfly bones difficult to find

* what kind of mother makes butterfly cakes?

* in Alaska the temple full of butterflies

* an ambulance the same effect as a butterfly

* under the boathouse just room for a butterfly

* my daughter once mistook a bee sting for a butterfly kiss

* 98

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you were never sure of that last breath your mother’s or a butterfly’s?





horse nose lifts

from an abandoned pool

eggs release from the slippery strands

& float easily about*

collapse, gate pupa uncase (empty the raffia house scatter bright insects into dusk unsaddle

* ‘Sex in this warm bath was easy and uncomplicated. Eggs released from slippery strands floated aimlessly about, and sperm were released freely into the water. New algae would grow from that chance fusion of egg and sperm without need of a protective womb, the water providing everything.’ Robin Wall Kimmerer, Gathering Moss: A natural and cultural history of mosses.



horse begin through foothills towards heat along the back of the mountain’s wave, back curving, cooling, back already cross ,

time soft and firm for the orchard loam spongiform scent already of the loam in the hooves hoof print already of the taste of an apricot grove breaking the moss, & water through roots, up, horse, walk, temperate towards heat, through green mineral shock settled ash sucked up into verticals, leaf platters sea-almond cannonball tree open mouths

to the peak



the mountain’s concave

a black dilation

untouchable radiance

which way does the mantle fall? it always falls away from you



The Rose Garden in Rome There—said Riccardo—is the rose that ruined Rome. He spoke in a bruised, weary tone. Romans know too much about waste and ruin, they hardly bear mentioning. The plant in question straggled down the slope, modest and unremarkable, with serrated, licorice-coloured leaves and an upside-down bloom—was it laughing up its sleeve? Once it was the utmost fashion of excess, to shower guests with something they could neither eat nor drink, an extremity of uselessness—pretty, yes, and perfumed. But they ripped out useful crops—olives, grapes, wheat, to supply the petals for lavish manifestations at feasts— was it a stratagem that sprang from fear? A hard-pressed tribe is profligate with gifts to draw a line—so far, no further. Or a thoughtless nod to something that is actually a nuisance —fondue, pig-on-a-spit, chocolate fountain—whatever is the latest. White doves, cowering in panniers—‘symbolising love, fidelity, peace, freedom, hope and purity, so are perfect for …’ released into an anarchy of territory, squandered metaphors, circling and circling, birds with white wings, stunned, lost. Or those balloons, aloft, until they touch the altitude where they annihilate, slumping back haphazardly down to earth.



Riccardo mouthed the soft Italian syllable that signifies— enough of that, such is life, I am not surprised—we turned our gaze to the potency of Circo Massimo, which lay below.



The Skull in the Wall If the pipes hadn’t started to leak water into the wallpaper, he may never have noticed she was missing. He sees a gleam of bone when the plaster flakes away. Curious, he pokes around with a screwdriver. A coronal suture is exposed, he realises what he’s uncovered and gets a bigger chisel. He works away until it falls into his hands, washes it and sets in on the window ledge to dry. The therapist suggests he bring it to marriage counselling. He spans the top of her cranium with his whole hand, threads his fingers in the eye sockets, turns it upside down. He hefts the weight.



Antarctica The famous painter went to Antarctica where he found that white was not a colour, it was everything. Snow was icing on a cake of ice thousands of feet thick and people were always covered, touching as little as possible. He couldn’t paint the horizon as there was nothing to give it perspective, sound only left him, there was no echo. His hands froze when he removed his thick gloves to grasp at pencils and he couldn’t draw what defined the place—the cold, the wind and that horizon which circled him at all times, belittling him for being there, the most powerful thing he’d ever seen. After three months he left. I later bought his book, there were no paintings only photographs, the horizon ended at the page border and my hands were warm as I turned those white pages.



That Night So Bright That night so bright, and the stars, they were so fat and sharp and everlastinglooking that my mind swirled with the water that flooded up the beach. That there were whales or dolphins or terakihi out there in those fathoms I did not doubt, the ink of the sea was their right, as was their invisibility. I had come to this beach alone, content to wait. During the hours of daylight I stayed out of sight; it was as if, being ill, I could not pit myself against such a powerful backdrop. There were venetian blinds that allowed slits of light to fall onto the wooden floor and, if I took my right index finger and carefully raised a single slat, I might allow myself a slice of the outside world from time to time, as someone on a diet might permit a thin slice of cake. The garden was wild, with flax bushes and stubby grass, a few misshapen titree shrubs that could have been bent into place by some Japanese bonsai master, but were wind-formed. Beyond the garden the land dropped down a few feet to the beach, a wide, long beach where black sand performed metallic rites, its sparkle indicative of iron. (Ah, the Magnetic Fields, she murmured.) When I ventured outside, the black grains, seemingly softer and finer than ordinary sand, clung to the soles of my feet so that, indoors again, my feet slid against the floor as if it had been prepared for dancing. The black sand gathered in the grooves between the floorboards, as if to underline their perfect straightness, and filled various knot holes and imperfections. To wait. To be. To be waiting. For what? For strength? For the separate components of myself to gather themselves into something I could recognise? For the air to settle back into some sort of cavity that might act as my lungs? To wait for the residue, the perpetually repeating images of that moment to precipitate into something I could encompass, like the remnants left at the bottom of some vessel where dried-out liquid could be scraped away and removed more easily? Always the face, her face, always her face that remained there, coalesced at the bottom of the beaker. The face repeated itself in the moon, and, attenuated, 106


it stretched over the ripples of the water as they approached the shore, like some Dali body part without bones. Parts of it recurred in drifts of seaweed, her hair. I saw the shape of her lips in the island and its reflection on the horizon. A difference there: while her two lips had very distinct shapes, the upper, a delicious double peak with a saddle between, the bottom, a lip that hardly ever seemed to touch its partner, but maintained the merest suggestion of separation, a single, engorged cushion forever waiting to accept the weight of the teasing shape above—this lower lip was replaced out there on the water by the repetition, the mirror reflection of the upper shape, and this discrepancy annoyed me. If I had to see her everywhere I wanted her image to be accurate. We danced together in the moonlight, under that Southern Hemisphere starscape. I knew her every move, her light touch on my shoulderblades, her dusty toes as they flicked the black sand, the gentle frottage of her knees against my umbrella. Don’t laugh! I implore you, don’t laugh! I know you might at that thought. And yes, it took me by surprise too. Why call it an umbrella? I had asked. She was into Surrealism and she explained it thus: It’s the only way I can make sense of that marvellous encounter between an umbrella and a sewing machine on an operating table. She went on, leaning her head slightly to one side as if to suggest a degree of insincerity, although the words were spoken with complete seriousness: The umbrella obviously stands for the male organ—after all, it goes up and down and is associated with rain. The sewing machine symbolises female domesticity; if you like it stitches up the male; and the operating table is obviously a bed in which lovemaking takes place. I had no answer to such an exotic world, but the strange power of her words and the images they conjoined filtered onto my mouth and made my lips tingle. So I have returned here, where she still inhabits the air. It’s cool in the night, but I admit the sound of the waves annoys me. I know it is supposed to be soothing, but I don’t find it so. The intermittent roar, the general rhythm seems to enfold a low, moaning, sighing discontent, like a strange grinding base note under some threnody. Yet I have tried silence, and that is worse. I have been finding out about Surrealism, wondering why it held such a fascination for her. The internet reveals so much, so quickly. It disgorges a world of fact and opinion, and yet there is no heart in it. The poet who wrote the lines about the sewing machine, the umbrella, the operating table, seems 107

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to have been able to achieve a certain amount of invisibility. He wrote under a pseudonym and died at twenty-four. That startles me; twenty-four was her age. Is this is meaningful discovery, or am I reading something into her suicide? There is only one photograph of him. He looks attractive, but how would I know? Women seem to fall for the most unexpected partners. He was born in Argentina, lived in Paris, had an olive complexion, tender eyes and wore a tartan bow tie. One photograph, and his books: the strangest, most compelling, malevolent but marvellous creations—world hating, woman loathing, but so powerful, engorged with imagery of wild, excruciating beauty, larded with agony. They frighten me. The circumstances of his death are largely unknown: we are told only that he died alone, in a hotel room, during some epidemic, and was buried quickly, without investigation. His death certificate is signed by a hotel employee. Just twenty-four and already so bold, so outrageous. I have his book, Maldoror. Another internet boon. It arrived on my innocent doorstep in this small country on the underbelly of the world in its wrappings, another fearful coincidence there. The bookshop envelope, one of those lovely padded enclosures, informs me it was sourced from the Exquisite Corpse Second Hand Bookshop. It’s a good name for a second-hand bookshop; easy to see all the discarded books, tumbling from the redundant bookshelves of the previous generation, forming exquisite corpses, curios to include in elegant montages along with the ghosts of zebras, a single chipped Georgian glass candlestick, sheet music. But Exquisite Corpse was the name the Surrealists used for the game they played, a child’s game, where you folded a piece of paper into three sections and one artist drew the head, and folded it under, hiding it from view; the next drew the central, sexual areas, folded that under; the third drew the legs and feet or whatever device the artist wished to provide support or locomotion to the body. The whole formed an ‘exquisite corpse’, a body in three disparate sections, a totality of fantastic allegiances. Often parts of animals were incorporated; also machines. In the book the despicable Maldoror makes love underwater with a shark. Is this why I have been drawn to this beach: is she expecting me to join her? Now that I have had this idea I am suddenly cold. I have often thought about what it might be like to drown. Yes, I have imagined the icy embrace of the 108


sea, the water of the sea against my cheeks, the water of the sea mingling with the water of my eyes. Salt in salt. The moment of surrender, the last bubbles of air released to float to the surface. No more fighting. A look upwards, a last glance towards the stars. But which way now is up? Impossible to know, everything Indian ink black. No stars. I’ve thought about this, and how the body, my body (mine, mine) now begins to slowly spin, slowly rotate, and descend. My thoughts disengage, spill out. You are there, this is as it should be. And now that I have lost all hope and breath and slowly subside through layer after layer of quiet water, cool and instructive are those mechanisms by which memories are released … images come to me and fall out of my face, through my nostrils, my ears, my open mouth and the first that is released and floats to the surface is this: You are walking across a room carrying a jug of water. It is a large white jug and you need both hands to steady it as you move from the doorway and over to the pedestal desk where flowers are wilting in a glass vase. The flowers are sweet peas, a cluster of pink and purple, colours I am not especially fond of. Their fragrance has been killing me ever since I sat down. You do not look at me, sitting in front of the window, pretending to read a book. You position the sparrow beak mouth of the jug onto the glass vase, and lift it to pour the water from one vessel to the other. Communicating vessels! This is the moment. The slight gurgle of the water dropping from the jug into the vase coincides with the moment your hair falls forward on one side, as if it were a bird’s wing. Now that the jug is no longer heavy you can take one hand away, and reposition your hair behind your ear. Now, and only now, you turn to look towards me and say: I had not noticed you there. You speak quietly; your voice has an unusual, breathy quality and I have to lean forward to hear your words. You speak without fear. You were not frightened of me then. And I say, simply, Well, I was waiting for you. And as I say the words it seems that they hold an inviolate truth. Although I have never seen this young woman before it feels as if I truly have been waiting for her, and moreover every cell in my brain was already anticipating that she would enter carrying a white jug, and my ears were already alert for that moment when the water, being poured from one vessel to another, would bring forth that distinctive sound of water falling into water. That gurgle.


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Another day, this as hot and bright and still as a red tomato sitting on a tin roof. Waiting to explode. We catch the ferry to the island. How the waters dance! But the trail to the volcanic summit is painful. The scoria radiates heat and sucks out the air. You tippytoe from boulder to boulder; I had not known you were a mountain goat! You said, If you wear heels you get used to prancing. You must prance! I have never pranced. I felt flat-footed, cowpat-footed. My shoes clumped along, veering off tiny rocky pyramids out to up-end me. I stumbled this way and that, grasped hold of the occasional frond from primitive fern that extended a furled pinion in my direction, stopped to have a swig of water from our bottle. Our lips around the neck of the flask, thus far all we had shared. We moved on again, higher, higher. I watched the backs of your ankles, delicious little hinges, so well lubricated you would not think any articulation was buried within. Your calves were slender bottles, and the knees! They could have been the handle of the bartender’s pump, releasing the burst of ale. You were in high spirits; yes, I say again, you were spirited that day. I thought of you as the circus beauty standing on the white horse as it gallops around the ring. Prancing! We reached the summit gasping for breath. You rushed to look down into the disappointing pit that alluded to a crater while I stood gazing, seeing the spread-out ocean as shimmering facets of turquoise liquid, a sort of barleysugar crust of intricate illusion. Any moment it might crack and send giant slithers of glass up into the sky. You had a mind to descend into the crater, though there was nothing of interest. No vent to the underworld, no wisp of smoke. Merely a dark basin with treacherous, crumbling sides, and, at the bottom, a few plastic food wrappers, of interest only to future archaeologists. You decided against it, and I felt relieved. Had you floundered on those perilous slopes would I have been able to rescue you? We sat down for a bit, though there was little shade. The city looked good, even exciting from this vantage point. Back at the shoreline we found a cool spot. I touched your shoulderblades from behind, those exquisite little triangles that had been bothering me all the way up the volcano. Were they vestigial wings? The lightest of touches. My fingers could have been a butterfly. I had not touched you before that moment. We lay under a low canopy of tree ferns, a grassy hidden place, not far from 110


the track and from where we could still see the water lapping. There were awkward moments, I admit. The translation of imagined opportunities into physical realities is never without peril: the various attachments and containments—zips, buttons, underclothes—what a jungle of difficulties there were! And like a peasant at the Lord’s harvest table I was overwhelmed by the richness of the feast on offer. I fumbled, and in fumbling began to laugh, an insane, uncontrollable laugh. You laughed too, and it seemed that our laughter opened a window wide to the expanse on offer. For indeed it was as if you had decided, after months of flirtation and bewildering eye rolling, to spread yourself for my many tongues. Did I mention the suckers on my fingertips? So sensitive, octopus like, ten tiny tongues for sliding over the terrain revealed so sweetly, innocently, spread out as if on a checkered tablecloth. I say innocently, but how would I know? Perhaps all along this was merely a role you played: prancing, eye-dancing, and the moving of your intricate elbows like some yawning Balinese puppet. It began to rain, a delicious sequence of splendid drops. I caught them on my lizard tongue and pressed them into service. The first wet slash I made (only my tongue, do not fear me) was across your closed mouth, that slim cushion that so resembled the island holding our backs, maintaining our shapes against the sea. The sky was growing ever darker, I asked it to. I needed cover. The lipstick taste was like toffee, but I wanted salt. Inside your mouth a rockpool of teeth and squishy flesh rose to meet the lizard. I ground away full throated, but let you go. You took a breath, for everyone needs a little air. You came at me then, eyes slanted; you swallowed several times. I remember seeing your throat as it performed that complicated muscular task. You took my wrist and licked each sucker slowly. The rituals you enacted I will not enumerate here; enough to say the tortoise head emerged from within its slippery carapace: the blunt mallet worked hard, but it was lovely work. It suffered no denials. Inside. The day so dark, the sun unseen, layer upon layer of blackened, gritty clouds swirling about in their communal, unfiltered engagement, striations of filth moving particle by particle, gathering momentum, hoping, stirring, striving to form a single, clear, crystal drop. It grew while I watched. How long for a drop to evolve? A drop condensed from everything: memories, umbrellas, her eyelashes, tree trunks and their leaves, the stars themselves, 111

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the black beach sand; how long for this drop to reach its critical mass? Throw in the lines of traffic, cocaine, washing, musical notes, floorboards, pencils, restaurant menus, birth notices, holiday homes, hedges made of bay trees. See the drop develop, watch its gravid belly. Gravity’s plaything. The swelling of it. Throw in rosebuds, school report cards, fragrant freshly baked bread, advertisements for prearranged funerals; it’s nearly there. One more big thing, the Great Wall of China, that should do it. Isn’t that immense enough for you? Still not there, not quite, something further, something small, something infinitely sad, yes, I know, Goya’s dog. And now the drop is finally released, with a snap, a glassmaker’s twist of the wrist, a tiny, solemn noise, a ping, a click, perhaps the echo of a single, startled cry. And then silence. It became cold, and dark. We did not move. And in the silence, suddenly, I heard a morepork; it was like the tolling of a gloomy bell, a worrying, ominous sound, insistent, its double notes of equal length coming again and again within the repeated silence. Was it the silence that held the bird’s sound, or the bird’s sound that delivered the silence? Time to leave, she said, her voice strangely deflated, like those balloons you find in the garden a week after the party, their colour condensed but with no vitality. Now I walk along this beach alone. The first evening here I found an octopus cast up on the black sand, a miserable, shrivelled thing, a few tentacles missing, the black sparkling sand sticking to its slime. Some of the suckers stood out, moonstones set into black lava. The note she left me merely said, No matter, never mind.



Baggage Bohemian Gemini, 53 I’m creative, intelligent, a good cook for a bloke. I crave vitality, spontaneity, and I love to dance. I am a 3D designer and sculptor, among other things… I ski as much as I can in the winter. I sail as much as I can in the summer. I’m open to trying something new. What’s your passion? I’m looking for Females aged between 43 and 53. I’m looking for a lady that I can love, respect and adore. So if you are an educated, eloquent, elegant woman who likes romance, knows herself in every way, is confident, infectiously happy, has a sparkle in your eye, a big smile, looks to the future and buries the past—have stored your baggage—then we may have a positive match. Naturally, all the normal pre-requisite values of honesty, sincerity and trust must apply. She read a lot of profiles before writing her own. She took on board the major themes expressed, the likes and dislikes, collated the data and then tailored her profile to fit. Once she found the perfect profile for her requirements, the man who at least on paper would be her Mr Write, her paper mate, it was only a matter of editing a few lines to make her perfect for him. Aeroman, 42 Dinner, movies, a DVD cuddled up on the couch. Someone who could stay the night cuddled up in my arms. Is that too much to ask? Is it selfish? Is it wrong? I am not looking for sleazy encounters but a long-term lover and someone to socialise with. A girlfriend. I do not wish to get married straight away or move in with you. I have my 113

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own life and expect that you have yours. Forgive me for laying this out but life is going by so fast. Into kayaking, travelling, camping, skiing and also enjoy the occasional beer. I’m looking for Females aged between 27 and 40. An intelligent and healthy woman. Prefer the natural look of a girl over one who is too done up: just be yourself. No need to cake on the makeup or spray yourself with chemicals. Not covered with tattoos or excessive piercings. I am healthy and clean and want to stay that way so no players please. Nobody who would be cheating; married but separated is OK. Definitely NO smokers or druggies. NO BAGGAGE. It wasn’t just the profiles she had to go on. She also had the years of advice and helpful comments from her friends and family. She had, after all, been single for a long time. With her fortieth rapidly approaching and the advice of her friends echoing loudly in her ears, she knew she had no time to waste. She didn’t really think turning forty was a big deal. She had reconciled herself to the fact she wouldn’t have children but, as a friend recently pointed out, dating years were like dog years, and after forty she was more likely to get shot by terrorists than find a mate. She had increased the amount she spent on her appearance and had started getting regular shots of Botox, and now she had decided to bite the bullet and try online dating. YEY_ME 51 Well, my female friends would describe me as a genuine, humorous, kind, compassionate and generous person. I tend to sometimes be a little OTT when it comes to things like dinner parties or weekends away. But no one is perfect so I’d say I do get frustrated with laziness and people who don’t keep their word, but that’s mainly on a business level. I try to make an effort to get to the gym and do a few laps in the pool 3 to 4 times a week, I LOVE good food and enjoy the finer things in life. My background has been involved with 4–5 star hotels so camping would be a challenge. Ha Ha. Enjoy social times with friends, weekends away, weeks away, dinner parties, doing anything spontaneous and quiet nights with a movie, maybe a wine and some good French brie.



I’m looking for Females aged between 40 and 48. From 1 to 10 … Doesn’t sweat the small stuff, Takes care of herself, Smart, Attractive, Loves a Laugh, Enjoys the finer things, Independent, Likes to Travel, Enjoys good Food, Has a fun group of friends … that should mean you’re fun as well … PERFECT Ha Ha So if you have checked your baggage … message me. There had been some boyfriends along the way but they never seemed to last more than a few months. It wasn’t her that ended the relationships, it was always them. She was happy enough, she supposed, but they always seemed to grow weary or irritable or bored. There was always something. In her twenties her friends had put it down to her just not meeting the right one. In her early thirties as all of her friends and family became more entrenched in their relationships, and as the last few singles found love she started to notice a change. Instead of blaming the fates for just not providing the right guy, the comments started to focus on her and what she was doing wrong. With every year that passed in her thirties her friends’ advice became less and less sugar coated. The comments once candied were now just plain candid, but still framed by disclaimers. ‘I’m just trying to be honest’ or ‘It’s for your own good’. Often her friends were going through relationship trials and tribulations of their own, and yet because they had children and relationships, even failed ones, they felt they had a right to point where she was obviously faltering. From the smug sanctity of their own coupled and recoupled domestic dogma, they coached her like a team. A team that just couldn’t win. On the outside she soldiered along, taking it all in her well-organised single stride. She was successful in her work, financially independent, freehold and she made a point of saying yes to almost everything she was invited to. She went to the gym and she regularly attended concerts and shows, often paying for a ticket to take one of her married-but-mortgaged friends along. They repaid her generosity with motivational tips on how she might alter in order to become coupled like them. Outwardly she didn’t react to the plethora of comments, but inside each comment entered into her ledger of self-esteem like a purchase on a credit card that was already approaching its limit. With the same attention to detail she applied to her 115

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household accounts, she remembered every single charge. ‘What have you done to your hair? That colour doesn’t really suit you.’ ‘Do you have to be so political?’ ‘Have you put on some weight?’ ‘I’m not saying to act dumb, but you don’t always have to be so smart. That’s all.’ ‘Have you lost weight? Your face is looking really gaunt.’ ‘Don’t tell them about your past. Divorced guys that value commitment will be put off because you haven’t been in a long-term relationship.’ ‘Are you doing a lot of weights? You’re getting really muscly. It’s not very feminine.’ ‘You know when you’re upset you can get such a bitchy tone.’ ‘I just think men probably find you really intimidating, with your job and your opinions and everything.’ ‘You’re always so dressed up. You need to look like you put in less effort.’ ‘Oh my god, you get so assertive and loud when you get excited.’ ‘Are you wearing that? Really?’ ‘Are you still collecting those old bears? Christ, why don’t you just start feeding stray cats.’ Now here she was at thirty-nine, spending a rare Saturday night at home. She was wearing sweats, with a blanket over her knees, the TV was on but muted, and she was slowly indulging in her secret passion for really, really good quality ice-cream. She was on to her second tub. She didn’t notice the quiet as her head was buzzing noisily trying to balance the bios from the online dating site while reconciling her friends’ statements. Diligently studying the online world of dating, she was so engrossed in her search for Mr Write that she didn’t even notice she was dangerously in the red. She ate the ice-cream in a steady rhythm of tiny teaspoon tasters, letting each morsel slide down her throat soothingly. She was so absorbed she hardly felt the brain freeze. That was when she found him. Ready2MoveOn, 54 Men are often defined by their amount of baggage, their level of emotional maturity and their financial prowess. Having succeeded at conquering all three, I have a unique view of what makes a relationship successful. I have no baggage (my wife got that in the 116


settlement. LOL). I manage a successful business and now I’m looking for the perfect woman who can manage me. LOL. If you wish to survive the many perils of dating in your forties, then it might pay to drop me a note (in English, not smile language) so that I can show you what a generous, successful and sincere looking man looks like. I’m looking for Females aged between 35 and 45. Attractive, slim 40-something women who are just coming into their prime. Someone who is independent and yet appreciates old-fashioned values. Must love to have fun, share my passions but also have hobbies of her own. Fun to be with but not opinionated or bossy. Someone who is keen to muck in, but is still elegant and likes to dress up. Someone who still wants to be treated like a lady but is still in touch with the little girl inside. Someone who wants to spend romantic weekends away, but also loves romantic nights and dinners in. Someone who hasn’t let herself go, looks after herself, slim, and well put together. Preferably petite. NO BAGGAGE. Only messages with a recent photo will be responded to. If that sounds like you and you’re ready to be treated like a princess then don’t be shy. Say hello. He was perfect. Older, divorced and he owned his own company. He lived nearby in an equally affluent suburb. He had two teenage children whom he loved dearly and couldn’t imagine life without, that he wouldn’t trade for the world, and he spent as much time as he could with them once a month. He didn’t want more. His photos showed a lifestyle she thought she might enjoy. Skiing in Queenstown, standing on a tropical beach, a variety of photos taken in front of iconic landmarks around the globe. Many of the photos had one of his arms cropped, or a disembodied shoulder of a petite brunette. He wasn’t good looking in a conventional sense, or even an unconventional sense, but he looked confident. He looked like he was in control. All she had to do was tweak the profile she had constructed and she would be Ready2MoveOn to the next stage of her plan. Just as she finished that thought the timer on her phone went off. She picked it up and silenced the alarm and then stood up from the couch, throwing the empty ice-cream containers into the rubbish on the way to the toilet. Pushing her hair out of the way she bent over and put her fingers down her throat. The ice-cream was still cold coming back up, and that made her happy as she knew she hadn’t 117

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waited too long. That was one of the reasons she loved ice-cream. It still felt nice on her throat coming back. When she finished the process of repeated purging she washed her face, cleaned the toilet and went to the kitchen, where she made herself a cup of green tea and then returned to her spot on the couch. She felt empty and light. As she read over her completed profile and started to neatly edit it to fulfil the requirements of Ready2MoveOn, she found herself believing her own responses. She filled in the blanks, drank her tea, and started to feel less empty. The only thing left to do before activating her online membership was to select a name. It didn’t take her long. The men were looking for an ideal, a princess. She needed a name that would reflect that. They also wanted someone to rescue and build into the ideal woman. So when she finally went live under the name of Cinders she was being neither ironic nor metaphorical. When she sent Ready2MoveOn a smile J she felt nothing but optimistic. As she tidied away her cup and straightened the cushions before going to bed she glanced around her immaculate but cosy apartment. Obviously it was time for her to pack away things like her antique teddy bear collection. Actually she thought she should probably pack up all the knick-knacks she had collected from her travels. She would start boxing things up in the morning. She went back to the bathroom and pulled off her tracksuit pants and brushed her teeth. Even though she examined herself intently in the mirror she never noticed the little bit of sick caught in the ends of her hair. The next day she started packing up. She had begun collecting the antique bears as a child. She only had around thirty, but still, she could see her friend’s point. She looked at their worn and sometimes scruffy condition. Occasionally one would be so pre-loved a little of the straw might be sticking out of a threadbare arm or belly. They were all individuals, purchased for the individuality of their expression. As she took each one from the shelves where they had been proudly displayed she couldn’t bear to consider each little face looking at her. So without allowing any emotion to penetrate her packing she started to stuff the bears roughly into the boxes. Once she started, she realised just how much she needed to do. She sent an email to her work alerting them to the fact she was packing and unable to come in. By the end of Monday she had stripped the lounge, 118


filling the boxes and then taking them downstairs and stacking them in her formerly unused storage locker. Then she started on her wardrobe. She pushed things into rubbish sacks and dropped them at the Salvation Army. On Tuesday she went to an expensive store and bought some elegant dresses. Then she stopped at a gardening centre and bought some practical-looking gumboots. On the way home she called in at a friend’s and explained she needed a photo. Her friend complied enthusiastically as she put on the elegant dress and the gumboots and they took a photo of her pulling a weed out of her friend’s garden. Elegantly mucking in. They uploaded the photo to her profile immediately. It wasn’t until the Wednesday night, when she was stuffing her photo albums and school yearbooks into the trash, that she saw the alert letting her know she had received a new message. There had been several messages so far, but she hadn’t opened or acknowledged any of them because they weren’t from him. Finally, Ready2MoveOn had responded to her smile. For the rest of the week he sent messages and she responded. She never initiated, she just waited. Packing, cleaning and preparing responses. By Friday he suggested a meeting. Lunch at a café on Sunday. On Saturday night she declined an invitation from friends to attend a barbecue and stayed home. She didn’t even buy any ice-cream. She began deleting folders on her laptop, cleaning the only thing left in her apartment that hadn’t already been purged. Now even her hard drive was devoid of a past and her browser showed no history. By Sunday she was ready. After ensuring she was looking as elegant, feminine but casual, totally together and not-let-herself-go as possible, she set off to meet Ready2MoveOn. She arrived five minutes early but waited in her car until he sent her a text saying he was in the café waiting. Then, leaving both phone and handbag in the car, she went to meet him. He was sitting in the front of the café at a large table designed for six. He had pushed his chair out and had one leg resting on an empty seat. He was leaning back and talking loudly into his phone. He laughed and said something about his future wife arriving and then he stood to greet her. As he leaned in to kiss her cheek he made no attempt to disguise the fact that he was examining her from tit to toe. ‘Nice, very nice indeed,’ he said as his hand dropped from her shoulder to 119

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caress her hip. A waiter approached and when asked what she wanted she looked straight to Ready2MoveOn, who answered for her. He ordered two cappuccinos, and even though she normally drank her coffee black, she didn’t mind because she had forgotten. They sat and exchanged pleasantries. He didn’t really look like his photos, which she now realised must be a few years old. He was tall, almost bald, lean shoulders and limbs, but his belly unexpectedly soft, escaping over his belt. His teeth were yellow and quite large. There were little bits of dried saliva at each corner of his mouth. His breath was rank, like that of an animal that lives on dead carcasses. Carrion. Indeed, he hunched his tall frame over, slightly vulture-like, as he sat telling her how relieved he was that she was almost as attractive as her photos. She spoke little but laughed prettily, elegantly, in a feminine and girlish way. When he mentioned his bitch of an ex-wife he sprayed spittle and then laughed menacingly. She smiled and laughed and nodded. Listening intently so she would be able to respond appropriately. His eyes were hard, bloodshot and blue and as he fixed them on her it flashed through her mind that they were completely unlike the eyes of a teddy bear. No bear would ever have eyes so cold and hard. He leaned toward her, sharing his menu and asking what she felt like eating, and she tried to imagine his mouth on hers. ‘What do you feel like, Cinders? Hope you’re not one of those women that pretend they don’t eat. I like a woman with an appetite,’ he said lecherously. ‘Ice-cream,’ she replied.



Freeze Frame Turns out they are not at all alike, there is active dislike between his forehead, pressed hard into the metal door jamb and her hair, clouding about her upside-down face. Like trees in the wind, their expressions lately have depended on the weather. Experts at two-toned moments and raised eyebrows on the by-pass, disharmonious silence rumbles in the valleys of their bed, wild wheels scribing circular tracks in their heads. Down dark gravel roads they have careered to end up here, dangling, engine and all, halfway over this precipice. It’s not healthy for living things to live close to such unforgiving edges. When the wind drops, their yellow places start up calling through the stillness for reverse gear or, for pity’s sake, a rope.



Choker Unusual jewels a rope of red scars around her neck.



The Clouded Ruins of a God The door to the florist set off a discordant beep. Leo would have preferred the shop to be empty but there was a couple, a young man and woman, arguing by the buckets of lisianthus. Leo briefly, reflexively, appraised the young man. Clearly a gym habitué—ogees and bosses of cultivated muscle pushing out a T-shirt. Leo felt no pang of lust, just a cold, dry emptiness. He caught the eye of the florist, a middle-aged woman with a forced smile. He knew exactly what he wanted and politely brushed aside the florist’s suggestions with a cultivated eye and firm instructions. Bruised irises, mauve tulips nodding like praying Sufis. No to the insipid baby’s breath and the cloying carnations. Some chaste white roses tipped with a passionate crimson. ‘Some lucky lady will enjoy these,’ said the florist, feigning interest. ‘Special occasion?’ Leo winced at the assumption. ‘No, they’re just for me.’ The woman wrapped the flowers in waxy green paper. As he walked towards the door he distinctly heard the young man mutter under his breath. ‘Faggot.’ The trite little word hadn’t hurt for years; it was the lack of any real venom or agency behind it that stung. It was just something to say. Really? Thank you for reminding me or I might have forgotten and slept with your girlfriend. That’s HRH Princess Faggot to you. Looking straight ahead, Leo moved as quickly as he thought would be relatively inconspicuous out the door. As the door closed he just caught the words of the florist to the young couple: ‘Well, he was a weirdo …’ At home, safe from the outside world, Leo put the flowers into a pretty glass vase he had found at a flea market. He put the jug on, picked up the phone. In the living room the curtains remained shut from the previous night. 123

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He curled up on the big couch like a slice of papaya and dialled the number for messages. There was one message that never got deleted. It had been there for nearly a month now. It would be unlikely to go any time soon. ‘Press one to play message,’ intoned the robotic voice. Leo pressed one as he had three or four times a day for the last month. He wasn’t sure why because he couldn’t really make any words out over the airport noise. It could be anything. ‘Goodbye.’ Or ‘I loved you.’



That Derrida whom I Derided Died We are dispossessed of the longed-for presence in the gesture of language by which we attempt to seize it. Jacques Derrida

Derrida, enemy of plain sense, my enemy too determined not to be grasped since understanding was first step on the road to control—how I disliked you in the years when your flame swept through the Anglophone world and had it speaking in tongues. Algeria you loved but lived in abstract France and the beds of its beautiful women never coming down in favour of this or that because commitment, too, was a weapon in enemy hands. America, whom you taught ‘Outside the text there’s nothing’, loved you, took you to its hot, hard heart. I see you glance back over your shoulder, handsome face, white hair, keen smile of the intellect loyal to nothing but itself. Critical parricide, fastest brain out of the blocks, how much better you knew your Rousseau than he knew himself ! I see you on the Paris doorstep of Sylviane who bore your child and whom, unasked, you are visiting in a dream. You are a ghost now truly, but the ghost of Derrida – a voice in the halls, a word on the page, deconstructing! 125


O Melbourne 1 Visions O Melbourne, stony-hearted stepmother of my youth, your gridplanned streets, your trams squealing on the steel rails from Bourke Street into Spring just in front of Parliament, your domes, spires and office towers hanging in the hallucinatory air against a leaden backdrop of cloud, and with the chill aching in my flesh this late winter afternoon … After seven years away, the blocks of the central city quickly impose themselves upon my mind again: Bourke and Exhibition, Swanston, La Trobe, Russell, Elizabeth and King, shining and rain-wet as it nears twilight. It is a muffled city. Pedestrians are jacketed and coated against the weather. The façades are Victorian red-brick or dun-ochre sandstone, and leafless trees extend upwards into a haze of branches and twigs. Winter sparrows ferret for crumbs on the paving-stones. This is an English city, somehow misplaced here on the rim of the known world. 2 Borderlands He is with me. Sometimes it feels as if we are locked inescapably together like two horsemen crossing the bleak mallee scrublands of the South Australian border on some journey that has no end. Often I hate him. His sneering voice and adolescent sanctimoniousness bring me instants away from violence. Sometimes I will love him fiercely, protecting and valuing him. At other times the limitations of his recent attitude bores me. Desire, however, is fundamental to our relationship. It is the source of all the shifting power-plays, the hopes, the victories and the defeats. But the relationship has grown complex. It is late in the journey. Our emotions are volatile. Now, more often than not, my thoughts are of murder … 3 Room 1822 He is asleep and it is a quiet neat sleep. His hands are behind his head, which is turned away from me. He is stretched full out in the bed. His breathing is just perceptible. Already Room 1822 is approaching the state of all our shared hotel rooms. It is disordered. At this instant, nearly 7 am, there is a single pool of light 126


from a precisely aimed pinpoint spot on the ceiling above me. I am writing. In the dim shadows of the room around the bed there are piles of discarded clothing on the carpet. Every flat surface is covered in books and papers, ashtrays, the contents of our pockets emptied out, duty-free cigarettes, notes and coins in two currencies, and empty coffee cups. It is a familiar place. Outside, darkness is drawn away slowly. Now there is the grey half-light of dawn, the softening of fog. The office blocks of the central business district are rising up into the day’s beginning. He stirs. He opens his eyes and looks at me. His gaze is unfocused. He goes back to sleep. There is the smoothness of his skin. I look at his back where the white crisp sheets have ridden down. There are his shoulderblades. There is the dotting of those pigmentation moles which somehow, by their random imperfections, make him more perfect to my eye. He has one or two of them on his throat and these, at times, make me feel a tenderness towards him. Throats are always vulnerable and in conjunction with those small dark moles his throat seems even more vulnerable … I have moved from the bed to the desk. I can look up and see myself reflected in a large mirror, but when I look there I do not look at myself. The mirror also frames him, asleep in the bed. I study him, in reflection, his head just above the cover, against the white pillow. I try and put all of this into words. There is the soft gleam the mirror gives to everything. There is the faint high blush of his cheek. There is his smooth tan. There is the shadowed dark blond of his hair. I want to hold this fleeting image. ‘Why are you writing?’ he asks, waking, rubbing his eyes. ‘I don’t know,’ I say. ‘I’m addicted to it.’ 4 White Poppies I am using heroin again for the first time in more than seven years. For me, this drug permeates this city where I lived for so long. Its thickness lurks in the sooty brick. I can smell its heaviness in the strange alleyways that provide alternative ways to the more linear routes of the central city. Its stillness is like the motionless waters of the Yarra by Flinders Street Station. I can feel it in the pinball and gaming parlours on Russell Street. I wait for it on the corner of Bourke and King, in that featureless officebuilding foyer with its single ATM. Coming here, I could no more refuse it than I could deny my being in space and time. It sustains me in these days. 127

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I do not know why I prefer this drug that seems to do so little to me from the view of an outside observer. I struggle to define its appeal to myself in this new encounter. There is that feeling of fullness, of fathomless wholes. There is its dreamy distance. There is the strange unity between flesh and thought. For the last seven years I have written so little poetry. Now I find, in this week, that every available sheet of paper, from hotel-provided pads to my own notebooks, is filled with jotted lines … Near-lost, the missing persons of our lives come to us again in dreams

I have taught him to mix up the heroin for me. He wanted to learn this and asked me. I took him through that careful process. ‘Now you wipe the spoon out with one of the alcohol swabs to sterilise it … Now turn the ampoule upside down and draw some of the sterile water out, say to the 30 ml mark, that’s it …’ I told him I preferred 1-ml syringes because they were so delicate and girlie. Now he asks me if I want ‘another girlie needle’ and he’s off to the desk to mix one up. I am having more than I need because of his pleasure in making them. In this week filled with undertones, I enjoy watching him mix it up for me. He doesn’t want any and he can’t watch me inject, but he delights in the precise gestures that are required in the process of construction. 5 Obligation I am to speak at a conference. It is the purpose of my visit here. I have worked on my words. And I would like him to be there as I read them aloud, in that over-filled conference room. I want him sitting at the back of the room. I want him to be there as a comfort, as a good luck charm, as a known face amid the strangers. I want to ask him, afterwards, how it went. I actually want him to be proud of me. He says, as I leave the hotel room, that he’ll be there. He’s still in bed. I give him the times. I tell the security guard on the door that he’ll be coming and arrange his entry because he does not have the name-tag that will get him easy admittance. But in the end he does not come. I am pissed off. Just as I am working for my fare, he too has some obligations. They are not big obligations, but they are obligations nevertheless …



6 Temporal Effects I am waiting to score. I’ve phoned and ordered $100 worth of heroin. It is 4 pm. The gusts of rain along the street are cold. The late day darkens. I move into a state of consciousness that is constructed upon the act of waiting for another. There is nothing I can do about the timing of her arrival or to speed it. I must simply be here and endure through time. My mind becomes a part of this street. There are the office workers at the end of their day. There are the passing green and yellow trams. There are the gusts of rain. There is a single bare tree. There is the chill. I am nothing here. I exist with this street corner. My thoughts are accepting. 7 Foreplay It is the first time we have slept together for six weeks. The last time was when his girlfriend went to her mother’s for a week. That first night she had gone he turned around to me and said, ‘You are coming to stay tonight.’ Now we are alone together for a week. When it comes to that first bedtime he’s already playing the sexual games that are his specialty. He takes off his shirt but bizarrely wears his jeans to bed, ‘You’ll just predate me otherwise,’ he says, when nothing could be further from my thoughts or my interests at that moment. I just want ease after the long day of travel. Sex isn’t on any agenda I have. ‘Stay over your side of the bed,’ he complains, when in fact I have not moved. It reaches a stage where he is trying to touch me and I am the one who is furious and yelling, ‘Fuck off. Stop touching me, I don’t want you to touch me.’ I am tired. I just want to go to sleep. ‘I’m straight,’ he says. ‘I’ve got a girlfriend,’ he adds, unctuously, while wriggling and poking my thigh under the sheet with his finger and then denying it. So that first night he would not let me fall asleep against his back, as we have done for so long. Instead he performed and teased and was vociferous. At first it was simply boring and irritating, but his persistence and the irrational relationship between his actions and his words got to me. Eventually, angry, I rolled over and went to sleep as far away from him as I could, given the limitations of the bed. Then I woke suddenly because he hauled me across the bed and pulled me against himself. I have a vivid recollection of his force and how he pressed my head against his chest. I went back to sleep comfortably there, somehow soothed. In the morning he denied this at first and then said that he was just asleep and so I should discount the action. It is odd. I now feel that his sleepy manifestations are more indicative of who he really is than all his grandstanding conscious performances … 129

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8 Lygon Street We go up Lygon Street, where every Italian restaurant has a spruiker outside it. At first we ignore them, perusing the menus, moving on to some possibly better restaurant. But eventually we surrender to a woman in her early twenties who has a raw Australian accent that appeals to me. We sit together outside, under a heater, so that we can smoke. I order squid. He orders veal. It is comfortable. There are moments when everything else can be forgotten and we can simply enjoy existence together. He is pleased that we have got a half-price wine that he negotiated with our spruiker. He is drinking pinot noirs now. I know his habits. Once it was merlots. We have been together, despite his denials, for two and a half years. Apparently he does not value this time. He will not even admit it in any meaningful way. He has never, according to him, had ‘a relationship’ with me. Everyone else he has had in that shared time is more meaningful, it seems, than I, even those he only slept with once or twice. He has had ‘relationships’ with them. I must listen while they are valued and I am denigrated. Finishing my meal, I light a cigarette. ‘Why do you smoke?’ he asks me, with that sound of pretended exasperation he makes so well. ‘Because you drive me to it,’ I say, as I have so many times before in the face of this particular question, and now at this restaurant table, completing the response, able at this instant to do this, to round the mechanic liturgy, to complete this small thing. 9 Venetian Glass I am now at one with the act of injecting. It took me two goes before I was there again, knowing without even drawing back that the tip of the 27-gauge needle was in a vein, completing the act swiftly and neatly as I always preferred. Now I slip the needle in, somehow perceiving in my flesh its penetration, knowing precisely when to stop, then drawing back to see the flood of blood blossom into the barrel like those swirls of colour in a glass paperweight, and then pushing the plunger down to administer the heroin to myself, that quiet breeze through all my body, that wash of a silent wave … 10 Drowsy Somehow in these first two days we eventually negotiate the act of bedding together again. Against the day’s batterings, against his voice raised more often in disparagement than fondness, I need these nights to sustain me. I sleep snug against his back, my groin pressed against his rear, one hand 130


under me, the other on his hip or against his stomach with his slightly protuberant navel as its knotty mid-guide. We stir frequently, adjusting position warmly, legs tangling. He rolls over in his sleep and pushes his hardon against me. In the morning there is mine against him. ‘You’re trying to stick something into me,’ he murmurs, in complaint. ‘No, I’m not,’ I say, still sleepy, exasperated by his comment on the ordinary process of morning male erection. He wriggles and makes annoyed sounds and then relaxes as we stir into day, facing each other, my hard-on against his, his against mine, crossed, and we move into the morning light where I will have some heroin again, before I am even half awake, as once I did necessarily every morning and now unneeded, but a relief. 11 That Ocean In the restlessness of my over-drugged sleep there are great shoals of dreams, bars of broken and blurry thoughts, fitful lights upon black waters … deep-down, fathomless. 12 Eternities of  Need Seeing J. again was easy. It took a minute, maybe less, before that ease cut in. It was as if the seven years between had not been. We were casual with each other. ‘I love you,’ I said to her simply at the end of that first day after we’d met at twilight in Bourke Street Mall, outside Myer’s. I see her every day now, just her and I, for an hour or so. It is not a casual arrangement. There are undertones. She deals. I buy heroin from her. But above and beyond this imperative, there is a great deal of fondness here. We are on trams together. We stand on street corners. We meet on public benches. We laugh and talk. The light here, in this coldest week of a Melbourne winter, is always monochrome and I am always seeing her towards the end of the day as the twilight begins. She is often late. She is full-figured, coated and scarved against the cold like some steel-plate engraving in Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor. She often comes unexpectedly upon me even though I am alert and looking for her. She just appears there beside me, resolving out of the passers-by. For the time we are together we chatter, one story after another, catching up in discontinuous fragments, warmly in these cold evenings. 13 Grand Hotel How many hotels? For a decade I travelled around Australia for my work. I began enjoying hearing the letters of my surname spelled out 131

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by airline clerks on telephones, Hotel-Echo-Romeo-Kilo-Tango. My life was a sequence of aircraft, white-painted hieroglyphics on airport runways, cabin attendants arming doors and cross-checking, and then the powered take-off. I was dependent on opiates then. On long flights I would often hit up in the small aircraft toilets and return to my seat, 8000 metres above Australia, my weightless steps back along the centre aisle. It was a life of hotels: the one in Alice Springs close to the red escarpments of the MacDonnell Ranges; the one in Darwin with its high air-conditioned central atrium where real parrots flew amid the transplanted palms; the one connected to the casino in Adelaide where I’d sometimes wander across to the gaming rooms at 3 or 4 am to watch the players as the dice rolled across boards or cards flicked onto green baize … Then there was the Perth hotel where I purchased a rent-boy for the only time in my life, and another hotel in Perth where I fucked dreadlocked Paul who came on with me to Adelaide for a week. There was that bland Brisbane hotel with Charles and meeting him again in Sydney a month later … Those transient rooms, the wide beds, the mirrors, the tiled bathrooms, the strange blank sets for my days and thoughts. 14 Fitzroy Gardens Black flocks of birds against grey sky. I look up and watch them sweep and curve towards the trees in Fitzroy Gardens. The moment the sun goes, it gets cold. I zip up my leather jacket. He is walking beside me. Surely, I think to myself, after all this shared time and our joint victories and defeats, after all the days and nights of our relating, after the love and fucking, after the drugs and the music, after all the time together, everything we have survived, things should be easier, with acknowledgement and acceptance somewhere there to sustain us. 15 Cool Hard Cash I do not like counting money. I do not like even thinking about it. But he forces me to this position. I dislike this and it angers me. From Melbourne he is flying on to Sydney to see a friend. I have to give him money to do this. It wouldn’t be so bad but he has elevated this friend into someone desirable and attractive against me. His friend, it appears, is infinitely better than I, more desirable, more fun to be with. For the first time I begin to resent giving him money. He phones his girlfriend just to argue with her on the phone. I am paying for these calls too. He wants to buy vinyl. 132


He looks at clothes. His presumption that I am a resource annoys me. It never used to happen. It does not, it seems, involve any comparable obligation on his part, not even the obligation of politeness or thanks. This probably annoys me more. But in spite of my anger, I make sure he has money for Sydney. To do so I must deny myself. There is a hotel pad on the desk and I do calculations on it, adding things up twice or more because my ability with figures is so bad. 16 Comfortably Numb Thomas De Quincey once described taking consistent overdoses of opium as like being buried deep in Neolithic mud. I am having too much heroin. I know this. It does not stop me waking in the middle of the night, leaving him sound asleep in the bed and going naked to the glasstopped writing table in the corner of the room to mix up another dose for myself. Here, in the middle of winter, in this warm hotel room, with confusions all around me, I am somehow dumbly locked into the times by the force of the drug. My thoughts are solid and blank. I remember the poetry I used to write when I was in this state. My words were flat and dull. I find that I am trapped again in this same condition. 17 Bad Pornography The final sex scenario on that last night puts an end to everything. For some reason he does something he has never done before with me. I know he has done it with others. I can feel it. He is vague sometimes about his previous sexual experiences. There is still a lot he has not said or explained. This last night he behaves like a bad hooker, wanting me to enact things upon him. It doesn’t work for me. Under other circumstances, maybe it could have. He is changing our sex to something unpleasant, part of the game, instead of relief from it. Maybe it is foreplay, I think at first, and those teasing moves will eventually change into something nice and shared. It’s like he wants to lie there tonight, wanting me to give him a blow-job or something, enjoying the attention and the power. It is wrong for the times. The moment needs something other than this. I am also used to his mouth kissing. It comes to an end when, in what is a natural move for me and our long previous relationship, I move to kiss him. He turns away. I can suck his dick, apparently, but not kiss him now. ‘Oh, fuck you,’ I say suddenly, real anger and disgust in my voice, after a week of him. 133

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In the early morning I can barely speak to him. ‘In the night I came over and cuddled you,’ he says, as if it matters. ‘I didn’t notice,’ I say curtly. Today he is leaving. He packs his bag. I watch him. It’s not really working at all. He’s in the bathroom showering and somehow I go back to sleep. When I wake both he and his bags are gone. So is the money that was on his bedside table for him. The room is empty. He didn’t wake me to say goodbye. I think of him going away, wheeling his bag along those long hotel passages, descending in the slow lift to the foyer. 18 The Otways I score again at 4 pm. A junky classic, I think, as I’m thrown together with a total stranger who is also waiting to score. It’s a cold, wet afternoon. We’re sitting in a car with the heater on, illegally parked, both of us smoking. We’re waiting for J. to return. We’ve both done this before. We know how to do it. We can fill in the time with anecdotes. Junkydom is unending stories. She’s telling me about withdrawing from methadone. We’re comparing notes. She’s the same age as me. We have twenty years of individual but somehow shared drug history in common. ‘So we went bush in the Otways,’ she’s saying, ‘but it didn’t get any better.’ 19 Hotel TV Room 1822: It is quiet now that I have it all to myself. I mix up the heroin and inject it with relief. Somehow that flood through my body soothes things, smoothing over the aches, and it fills me. But it is not enough. I mix up another one. Later I go across the road and dine by myself in a small Chinese restaurant, with a Heineken and my book. Then suddenly I decide I am not going out, as was my plan. Instead, back in the hotel room, I flop on the bed, easy now by myself. I watch a couple of documentaries on SBS, scribbling in my notebook when I think about it, grabbing chocolate from the minibar, occasionally reading a few pages of another book I picked up at Auckland Airport. At midnight I go over to that glass-topped table again to have another dose, crushing the compressed heroin rocks with the barrel of the syringe, heating them slightly in the spoon with my cigarette lighter to dissolve them, looking up to see myself in the mirror doing this. I am easy now, drifting a bit, somehow buoyant and slowed. I am contented here. The TV is on. The bed is clean.



Hunting God Freud sees the city like a mind If the city could hold all its history Hold a building unbuilt being built And whole With all its buried temples underneath here’s the church and here’s the steeple, open the doors and— Today the lines on the clock say limits And we look back like back will save us Back when we had Etruscan elements And all time bowed down to us



The News from Poems while we think of  Jesus as an important man he wasn’t entitled to vote for the government of his country nor is it likely he could read or speak the words his adventures are recorded in even the scriptures he disputed with the elders he evidently knew better by heart than eye except of course that on another level he understood all languages all secrets in human minds so where he would have placed his vote if he had one is anyone’s guess though probably not with Caesar who has all the tanks the barrel bombs the helicopter gunships the lethal gas and requires no mandate



The Speed of God What if God had slowed down after making the grass and the stars and the whales and let things settle for a bit so the day could practise leaving into the arms of the night and the tides tinker their rhythms and the stars find their most dramatic positions. Or maybe if he’d made man and said, ‘You learn how to live with yourself and do housework and then I might think about woman.’ Or instead he’d made woman not out of a rib, which was really such a last resort, but rising out of the firmament one woman followed by more women and they took journeys and learnt how to build boats and bridges which surely they would have done without men around pushing and shoving and constantly giving orders. I just think it was a bit fast—six days to make all of it. How could the relationship between things be seen, be felt? And really, the whole of socalled civilisation has been trying to figure it out ever since. And as if God’s rush were in us too, we go about re-modelling faster and faster with our burning and breaking and the loss mounts up against the new—faster and faster and the earth reels with our speed and it looks and feels like a disaster.



LDV Belt You wait till your father gets home! Go to your room, and stay there.   That’s where the LDV Belt lived, in his steel filing cabinet   with Tutankhamun’s buried treasures (National Geographic, 1923)   old cheque-books and one banknote for 100 million Reichsmark,   a programme from the Folies Bergère, silk regalia for a secret lodge   and, neatly coiled, the LDV Belt. Two whacks, or three, five at most,   on calves, not my hands or backside. Although he never scored me a five,   I knew I failed him there too. —Now, for goodness sake, pull your socks up!   The Local Defence Volunteers are long gone, but their initials   sting, still. I haul that heavy drawer open 138


  to finger once more those tight coils, hearing downstairs my father’s voice,   his usual greeting: When do we eat? Then, What did he do? Where is he now?  



My Father, Dead  When Dad died I was away. Though he’d always been there for me. Flying from the other side, through twelve time zones I arrived at the river to sit beside him in a Tuakau morgue.   Pale and painted, his forehead cool to my kiss— just the husk remained. A sloughed cicada shell, varnish bright. He’d already flown.   I tucked a poem into his dressing-gown pocket as the Egyptians wrapped scarabs into the bandaging of their dead. A love token to guide him to the afterlife.



Jumping Frogs Mark Twain’s frog of Calaveras County reminds me of my father’s final days. Frog songs communicate with the afterlife and their croak is a synonym for death. The green tree frog’s extra-terrestrial eyes yellowed like his sclera after chemo. He was confined to his bed during treatments like a bullfrog with a belly full of buckshot. Air bubbles inside his intravenous drip were like swollen glands of an oak toad’s throat. When the rain came I left my father’s bedside to capture buckets full of amphibians. I wished I could catch my father’s cancer then set it free like an army of jumping frogs.



14 Our house was cut in half with a chainsaw and moved onto the paddock by truck. Fourteen ducklings sat on my knee to watch TV, and shat on the carpet. We got a new fireplace, and I wanted to watch the fire all night. But she still wanted to watch TV. I painted sonnets on the wallpaper and a yellow and lilac bee. The next week I ripped it down. Honey on Weetbix for breakfast. Then I painted the walls brown. The slice went through my bedroom and never properly got stitched up.



The Toy-maker’s Daughter I remember a butterfly, asleep on the frame of the cobbler’s door, across the alley. The summer the fortune teller came, warning of broken vows and bones. My father cursed, turned the dogs on him. I fled to the forest by dawn. The trees have song beyond hearing, and it rises in me. Through every storm that followed my skin drummed with their call. My mother’s tears were rain on parched leaves. I hung through winter, flesh falling.

The Landfall Review

I remember the candles she lit in the window, fat as the moon, smelling of pine. How the wick danced with its burden of flame. How her hands shook when he took to me. When I see her now, through bare branches, her grief is an artist’s fancy. The trees have taught me to weather, to bend and sway and drive my roots deep. Tell him I’ve buried his axe in a mountain, his knives one by one in the wind. Tell him the trees remember his face. Tell my mother nothing. 143


Not to be Taken is the working title of a recently completed sculptural installation that I have been developing in my studio for a number of years. It incorporates objects (embroideries, painted enamel mugs and other things) which I started making in the early 2000s. The words on the embroideries were said by Ralph Hotere. The installation itself consists of a series of ‘rooms’, with see-through wire-mesh walls. It began as an exploration of the pathos of illness, and then it became as much about the circumstances and momentum of infirmity; it’s a memorial to the passing away in recent times of certain artists who are lodged in New Zealand’s collective cultural memory. There is a sentence in Charles Brasch’s memoir Indirections that encapsulates what I’m exploring with this work and it’s quoted below with the permission of Alan Roddick, Brasch’s literary executor. The course of an illness, like a long voyage, carries one through constantly changing seas and weathers, now sailing quietly on, now becalmed, now even being blown back, passing through all the climates of the seasons, and touching at lands known and unknown. The complete installation will be exhibited at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery in 2015. Mary McFarlane, August 2014 Photographs: Marelda Gallaher


Self-Portrait: Still Life, A Family Portrait I made a decision. I said to myself: since I have lost the beloved world of appearances, I must create something else. Jorge Luis Borges

Blindness does not prohibit tears It cannot be true. But imagine for a moment it is. Two paintings face each other across a room with light falling through a doorway and benches that allow views of each work though not at the same time. One is called SelfPortrait: Still Life with Lacebark, the other Still Life: Self-Portrait with Lacewing. Both were painted in 1961 or early 1962. How far can we go before you guess the name of the artist, who is a woman? Self-Portrait: Still Life with Lacebark At top left a headland covered in bush is taking the river out to sea. The sea is moonlit and seems to be bringing a bow tie over the bar. A summer moon rides high in the northwest. Black pines edge the river beach, and the river itself is moving east to west with the moon. Before us a hillside slopes down to the river flats. There is a gravel road visible in the moonlight, descending and then turning right. The road runs beside the river but soon it will turn back up the hill and out of the picture. Branches and dark foliage screen the right edge of the view. The foliage rustles in the night air. It frames the right side of the composition; is itself framed in a picture window, open and apparently without glass or curtains. Perhaps it is a window in a half-built house. A sill divides the picture space but not without interruption from the objects arranged in front of it. We are looking at the top of a low chest of drawers, its mirror gone and replaced by the night outside. On the wooden surface, partly above the line of the sill, partly below, is the still life that is a self-portrait. At far left three gardenia flowers fill a crystal vase. A dark green cummerbund, satin or silk, scrolls away from the river bends outside, looping around the vase and its 153

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contents. Onto its lower edge steps a white high-heeled shoe. The toe of the shoe nudges a pair of clip-on earrings sparkling in the folds of the cummerbund. The shoe is partly in the shadow of a polished wooden box that sits right of centre. Near the shoe, earrings and a pair of long white gloves, something edged with lace and finely boned is falling out of a paper bag. This is what she wants us to know. The lacebark outside the window is her dress. The sea is his white dinner jacket. The commotion at the river mouth one consequence of her helpless laughter as the photographer caught them in the late hours of the ball. The travelling scent of the gardenias slips across this and every other border. But it is the sight of the strapless bra, borrowed for the occasion and peeking from the paper bag she later burnt as rubbish, that redraws the game of self-representation. Certainly it points to a good story (‘we nearly died laughing’). But as with other indicators ‘(it’s early through the lacebark, easy through the grass)’, it is also where she disappears most comprehensively. If this is not an elegy, a ruin pulling at the heart, then it is no self-portrait and she is not my mother, making herself a work of art. Summer morning Standing beside the house on the levelled hilltop, they document the view. The images are made in 25 second segments on Kodachrome Standard 8 millimetre film. ‘If life has a base that it stands on,’ she says, ‘it is a bowl that one fills and fills.’ Still Life: Self-Portrait with Lacewing We turn to the second painting, noting with pleasure its identical dimensions and the variations it plays on what we have already seen. The view is sunlit and now focused on the river beach at full tide. A speedboat tows waterskiers who skim across the green surface of the estuary. Swimmers no bigger than dots jump from an old diving board, its wooden legs just clear of the water. On our side of the river the gravel road is again visible. On it a dust cloud follows a truck going down the hill, turning right along the river front then swinging up the hill on the far side. The view is framed by French doors that are open, leading onto a porch shaded by a sail the shape and texture of a 154


butterfly’s wing. As the shade sail lifts slightly, light shadows run over the porch. It seems possible that steps lead into a garden, or at least that a path or paths connect the house with the slope we can see below. Just inside the French doors a round tabletop bellies into the picture. It is spread with work only momentarily interrupted because those around the table will soon be back from their ride in the truck. At bottom left is a bowl filled with water in which flowers have been floated. Nearby are two halffinished sand saucers, studded with the same kinds of flowers (clematis, jasmine, nasturtiums, geraniums) that are floating in the bowl. If there is a garden outside it has been stripped and there are enough flowers here for another two or three saucers. Wobbly letters on a small card read X O X O X O. A Black Beauty pencil, sharpened with a chisel, has rolled some distance from the card and the sand saucers. There is a lot of flour and a board where pink dough has been rolled out. Pink stars are arranged on a baking tray to one side and the leftover dough shows the negative field of stars. Biscuit cutters, the rolling pin and a flour sifter are also present. An apron hangs over the back of a chair, dusty with flour. Another has been dropped on the porch. A full-skirted sundress with a pinned-up hem hangs over the back of a third chair, close to a sewing basket. From the basket spills ribbon, rick rack, lace, embroidery silk, pinking shears, tailor’s chalk, needle packets, buttons, bobbins, zips, cards of hooks and eyes and scraps of material. Scissors, a pin cushion and reels of cotton, green and white, are near the basket. A measuring tape gathers inches, half inches and quarter inches in black and white, outlining this part of the table surface in a series of loops. The dress pattern (Simplicity) pokes out of the basket, stuffed with folded tissue that never fits as neatly back into the packet as when it was bought. The river road All surfaces throw back light, all surfaces show the way through. The truck on the gravel road is ahead of its dust cloud. She is driving, he hangs the camera out the window. They are in the picture. They are out of the picture. She walks up the path in a green sundress with white spots. They drive to the farm on Christmas Day. At New Year they pose on the museum hill. ‘You will find the slipper if you hunt for it,’ she says.


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Drawing the blind Her mother and grandmothers were Bel O’Leary, Marion Hickton and Elizabeth Owen. From them she distilled a knowledge of housewifery and added it to her studio training. She built up the ground. When the boards were cut from wall-sized sheets and sanded back so that their edges were smooth, she heated rabbit-skin glue in a double boiler, allowed it to cool and then coated the boards, front, back and sides, and left them to stand overnight. She added water, gypsum and white pigment to the size and reheated it, sieving out lumps, cooling the mixture and then applying it to the boards in thin layers. The first coat she rubbed in with a rag, covering all sides. When it was touch dry, she brushed on the second coat using vertical strokes. When that was dry she turned the boards and brushed on another coat at right angles to the first, letting it dry and repeating the procedure three times. The final sanding of the boards coincided with her decision to layer the compositional space of her paintings as a series of physical planes, some translucent, others opaque. During the week or so it took to prepare the boards, she consulted her handbook, wrote lists and calculated quantities, then made a trip to town for the powdered colours she would need. She added a dozen eggs to the supply in the five-gallon tin under the tub, coating each one with grease and dropping it carefully into the greenish preservative. She set out a bowl to collect rainwater and checked the cupboards for white vinegar. Then there was nothing for it but to take her chalk pastels and begin transferring the fullsized drawings to the smooth and now supremely absorbent white boards. We stand where she stood with tears in her eyes, making the work of herself and bringing it to the mirror line. She is a composer, an arranger, a sculptor of the bright air and light permeating surfaces visible and invisible. She is an alchemist, an archaeologist, an ophthalmologist looking into the eye of the world. Sometimes it is clair de lune, light on dark water, the flowers and gloves flung down, the dark green cummerbund of the bush along the cliff. The foliage that is her dress, its scooped neckline, the river curving away to the sea. The shoe is there, all scoops and points beside the jewellery box. His white dinner jacket is moonlight on the sea, his black tie is a boat coming late over the bar. He tickles her and she laughs. Sometimes it is full sunlight, the morning of the world, blue umbrella



skies. The camera goes for a ride in the truck. From the doorway it is a cloud of dust on the road. The work table in the foreground is another self-portrait in this passage of summer days and nights. They will bake the pink stars and finish the sand saucers. She will wear the new dress on Christmas Day. She will wear it again on the trip to the museum in Auckland. The museum hill Here they are, on holiday in Auckland, a print from the first roll of colour film to be wound into the Box Brownie. A tableau, mother and children on a green slope, the little girl looking out of frame, her brother close to his mother who is kneeling beside him and smiling to camera. A summer morning outside the museum with its cenotaph and brown holland blinds drawn against the damaging light. Or perhaps a summer afternoon? Because this cannot be what he sees in the viewfinder. She doesn’t wear her watch on her right wrist or rings on her right hand. The image has been printed in reverse. When we unfold the afternoon image from its morning version, the mirror line is a revelation. Here is the architecture of the butterfly’s wing, a diptych that looks to and from its hinge, creating symmetry but never duplication. And this I think is also the architecture of the two paintings she called by turns self-portraits and still lifes, mixing those mutually exclusive terms and sending them again and again across the mirror line, so that we meet doublings, inverses, traces of one in the other. Why then did she insist that they were to be hung on facing walls and not side by side? What is it about the gap, the lapse, the split-second loss of attention as we turn from one to the other? Into this moment of hiatus she brings the inscription of herself as a maker of works and days as permanent as gesso and hardboard, rags and brushes, pigments glowing softly inside their membranes of light. ‘If I am successful,’ she writes, ‘the work will endure and be read as clouds are read over water, nuance and vapour but also certain and belonging to the line of footsteps I hear ahead and behind me.’ Egg tempera She pricked the yolk sac, squeezing the fluid into a small bowl, and stirred in a teaspoon of distilled water. In another bowl she mixed dry pigment with


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water, making it into a smooth paste. Drop by drop she added egg mixture to the pigment, stirring it in, watching the colour warm and the texture change. When it matched the vivid, jewel-like hue in her mind’s eye and had the consistency of thick cream, there was her paint, fresh and ready to go. She never tired of this molecular transformation and the apparently endless gradations of wavelength and permeability it gave her. Mars Black and Venetian Red, she would say. Or, Ultramarine and Terre Verte. The Sienas, Raw and Burnt. The Ochres, Yellow and Red. Two parts Titanium White to one part Zinc White. And there was the float plane, brilliant against sea or sky. Blackberry in flower or morning glory running wild on the hillside. Then, hesitantly, because they were toxic but she needed them, Naples Yellow, Cadmium Red, Cobalt, Cerulean and Manganese Blue, Permanent Green and the Umbers. A kingfisher’s wing, a mangrove seed, boys sliding on the mudflats at low tide. Canna lilies. Apple cucumbers. Chinese lanterns on the path to the swing-bridge. Vermilion she would not chance, nor Viridian or Chromium of Oxide Green. Waxeyes trebled in the lacebark. Magpies came up the walk each morning in their suits of black and white. A pair of grey herons hung out in the top of a pohutukawa beside the river. Two old ladies walked on the road talking in another language. Red Ochre is Sinopia, she would say. Cobalt replaces Azurite, Ultramarine replaces Lapis Lazuli. From reproductions of Piero and Fra Angelico she sensed what her own palette might be asked to do with interior and exterior spaces. Once the drawing is there, graceful, partial, coming and going from the surface on which it is traced, she leaves the board on the easel for a while. She must be sure before going further. When the drawing has settled into itself and suggests for the moment no further movement of mind or hand, she goes to the furthest point and begins bringing the composition slowly to where she is standing. She moves from deep space to foreground, all the time touching only surfaces. She is a translator, bringing everything to the surface. She highlights. She glazes. She floats. Layer by layer, now translucent, now opaque, she builds the jewel in her mind’s eye.



The other view In 1964, the year Peter Tomory resigned from the Auckland Art Gallery and the Beatles visited New Zealand, the two paintings were shown as part of an exhibition at the National Art Gallery in Wellington. The show was curated by Elva Bett, even then a force on the local art scene and an expert at bridging its politics. Somehow, using her connections at the Academy of Fine Arts, which in those days was located alongside the National Gallery on the upper floor of the Dominion Museum, Elva persuaded the governing bodies of all three institutions into commissioning the exhibition. It was to be a survey, at once contemporary and historical, and Elva Bett called it ‘A Room of One’s Own: Women in New Zealand Art’. The room turned out to be quite a big one. Promises of private sponsorship were confirmed, and, with an unheard-of five-figure budget in hand, Elva drew up her dream show. From Blockhouse Bay came Lois White’s frenetic dancers and monumental nude self-portrait. From Epsom came the first of Louise Henderson’s Air and Water memorials. From Wellington there were Helen Crabbe’s figure studies of people on trams and in coffee shops, and Dorothy Kate Richmond’s melting views of harbour and hills. Rita Angus contributed a stunning group of family portraits. Doreen Blumhardt showed pots, Molly Macalister sculpture and Diggeress Te Kanawa’s three feather cloaks took pride of place in the centre gallery. There were photographs by Marti Friedlander and from Ans Westra’s Wash Day at the Pa. From the walls of homes in Dunedin and elsewhere came Anne McCahon’s paintings for children. From Dunedin too came Rona Dyer’s engravings on wood, figuring a female body mythic in its reversed out relation to land, sea and sky. Christchurch delivered work by Doris Lusk, Rata Lovell Smith and Olivia Spencer Bower. Rhona Haszard’s Alexandria, sunlit and fatal, emerged from the stockroom. Evelyn Page’s Summer Morn was on its first and only public outing since being removed from the walls of the Robert McDougall Gallery in 1943. Then there was that other succes du scandale, Frances Hodgkins’ Pleasure Garden, reviled by Christchurch councillors and ratepayers alike on its purchase in 1949. Elva’s selection of works by Hodgkins also included one of Peter Tomory’s last acquisitions for the Auckland Gallery, Self-Portrait: Still Life. It was Elva Bett’s quick eye that connected the grand old lady’s emblematic 159

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tactics (Hodgkins was in her mid-sixties when the work was painted around 1934) with my mother’s experiments into the documentation of her own siting in the beloved world of appearances. ‘Ah, the shoe,’ Elva said to her. ‘Always the shoe!’ And she hung the paintings in a room with light falling through the doorway, ensuring that visitors came upon them just before or after encountering Frances Hodgkins in the main gallery. They weren’t the only works in the room with the lit doorway. On the far wall, in conversation or perhaps debate with my mother’s shifting perspectives on self and Other, two paintings by Jacqueline Fahey, her exact contemporary, put other domestic realities squarely into play. Something else I have no recollection of Elva Bett’s show, though we went to Wellington for the opening. They packed us up in the Peugeot and made the long trip south, three children in the back seat now, for my sister was born nine months after the photo taken on the museum hill. Perhaps we stayed with the Aunts in Lower Hutt. Perhaps she wore her ball dress and long white gloves to the opening, and perhaps my father hired a white dinner jacket for the occasion. I have no memory of coming to Buckle Street, of climbing the entrance steps to the museum and hearing the carillon outside. But we must have been brought here. In my mother’s Pearl diary for 1964, in her neat capitals, is an entry for Friday 14 February. ‘Went with J and kids to see show,’ it reads. ‘Very pleased.’ Sources I made a decision Jorge Luis Borges, ‘Blindness’, Seven Nights, trans. Eliot Weinberger, rev. edn. New York: New Directions, 2009, p. 380. Blindness does not prohibit tears Jacques Derrida, Memoirs of the Blind: The self-portrait and other ruins, trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1993, p. 127. We nearly died laughing Dulcie Leggott, conversations with the author, 18 October 1956 – 24 January 1983. it’s early through the lacebark Alan Brunton, ‘Self-portrait’, Oh, Ravachol. Greenhithe: Red Mole, 1978, n.p. If life has a base Virginia Woolf, ‘Moments of Being’, Unpublished Autobiographical Writings, ed. Jean Schulkind. London: Sussex University Press/Chatto & Windus, 1976, p. 64. You will find the slipper Frances Hodgkins to Eardley Knollys, 31 October 1942, The Letters of Frances Hodgkins, ed. Linda Gill. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1993, p. 530. If I am successful Dulcie Leggott to Joyce and Vern Evans, 20 September 1962. Family letters.



From The Ice Slide April 1954. Three girls aged around nine are walking down the lane. The smallest goes into the doorway of one of the red-brick terraced houses opposite the allotments. The other two promise they’ll wait for her, but as soon as she enters her back yard, they run giggling down the street. Peering from the doorway, the girl watches them disappear around the corner. Yes, she knew they were going to do that. Ever since Miss Thrace made her sit in the back row no one except Francine and Christine and Israel wants to be her friend. She stops the tears prickling behind her eyelids by reminding herself that soon they’ll be moving into a brand-new council house. She and Lawrence will have their own bedrooms. There’ll be an inside toilet, a proper bathroom and hot water. And a garden to play in where she can help Dad plant vegetables and where Mam can have her washing line. She smoothes down her green gingham dress, flicks back her long blonde plaits, turns into the cracked concrete yard, walks slowly past the toilet with its squares of newspaper hanging on a nail on the cobweb-covered wall, past the tin bath hanging on its hook by the back door, and up the wooden stairs to their flat. Voices behind the door. ‘He burst like a plum, Meg.’ Auntie Jean’s voice. ‘Poor little bairn. The driver said he didn’t even see him run out, it was that quick. Awful. Just awful.’ Lily stands still behind the door, trying not to breathe too loudly. They always said such interesting things when she wasn’t in the room. ‘Although it has to be said, Jean, and God forgive me for saying it …’ Mam’s voice lowers, ‘… one less mouth to feed. Audrey gets in the family way at the drop of a hat.’ ‘It’s not his hat Ezekiel keeps dropping, though, is it? Dirty sod. I’d be cutting it off, I would. And to think how long I’ve tried for this one. It’s not fair, is it? God gives to the wrong ones.’ 161

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Mam clicks her tongue. ‘Jean …’ ‘Oh, I know. But that’s Catholics for you. I ask you—twenty bairns!’ ‘There’s talk of some of the older ones going to New Zealand and Australia on a government scheme for poor families,’ Mam says. ‘It’s to help populate those countries with white people from British stock. The bairns get their fares paid out and they work on farms and go to foster families. They’ll have a better life out there than what they’ve got here.’ ‘Oh, but sending your bairns away. And to the other side of the world. I couldn’t do it, Meg.’ ‘No, nor me. But I don’t suppose the Snojes will notice. According to Mrs Burlington, Ezekiel grabbed the wrong bairn off the street the other night and put him in the bath with all the others. It wasn’t until the bairn was clean and dried he saw it wasn’t one of his. Unbelievable!’ ‘At least he washed them! Was he expecting the Queen for tea?’ ‘The social worker had been round. Demanded to see the bairns’ clothes and had a few choice words with him and Audrey, I gather.’ Lily hears them both click their tongues. When it looks as though they’re not going to say anything more she pushes the door open. ‘Hello, Auntie Jean,’ she says, and stares at the tiny white lacy jacket on the needles. ‘What’re you knitting?’ Auntie Jean and Mam exchange glances. ‘Oh, just something for a baby, pet.’ ‘Whose baby?’ ‘Lily,’ Mam interrupts, ‘there’s a bag of old clothes on the table in the kitchen. Take it out into the street and wait until the ragman comes. I heard the horse’s bell so he’s not far away. Make sure he gives you a mixing bowl, not a balloon. When you come back you can have a scone.’ Lily takes the bag and goes back down the stairs. This means they are going to talk about something interesting, she thinks. She hates it when they do this. They tell her off for listening at doors, but it’s the only way she ever finds anything out unless she’s lucky enough to be in the room drawing a picture or writing a story, and then they think she’s too absorbed to hear what they’re saying. No sooner does she step outside the yard door when she hears Nellie’s bell and the familiar call, ‘Raa…aags. Bring out yer raa..aags!’ and there is Mr 162


Graham leading Nellie up the street. She watches a few neighbours come out with bags, toss them into the cart, talk to Mr Graham, receive something in exchange, then go back into their yards. She feels in her pocket for a black bullet she was saving for later. When Mr Graham stops in front of her she asks if she can give the sweet to Nellie. ‘Oh aye, lass. She likes nothin’ better.’ He grins toothlessly and asks, ‘Wouldya be wantin’ a balloon now?’ Lily shakes her head, ‘No thanks, Mr Graham. Mam wants a mixing bowl.’ While he rummages in his cart she lets Nellie lick her hands. She strokes Nellie’s soft brown head and takes the bowl the ragman hands her. ‘Thanks, Mr Graham.’ Mr Graham touches the peak of his grimy cap, ‘Thank you, lass.’ Lily watches Nellie plod to the end of the street and turn the corner, and as always Mr Graham looks back and waves. She thinks he would still wave to her even if he knew she was in the back row. She returns the wave before running up the stairs, hoping to catch the end of Mam and Auntie Jean’s conversation. But no. They stop when they hear her coming. Mam calls out, ‘Put the bowl in the sink, pet. I’ll wash it later. And now you can take a scone. After you’ve washed your hands.’ As soon as she goes back in the living room Auntie Jean says, ‘Oh Meg, she may as well know.’ She holds up the white garment on her needles. ‘It’s for your new little cousin, Lily. The doctor’s going to bring me a baby.’ Lily’s mouth drops open and crumbs fall down the front of her dress. Mam clicks her tongue at Auntie Jean, but then she smiles. ‘So you’ll have to work on getting your stitches right, pet,’ she says. ‘When the doctor brings the baby it’ll be very cold so it’ll need plenty of warm clothes.’ ‘Did you ask the doctor for a boy baby or a girl baby?’ Lily asks. Auntie Jean and Mam glance at each other and Auntie Jean says she’s asked for a girl baby, but it’ll depend on whether the doctor has any girls left. Sometimes he only has boys left because girls are the most popular. ‘Why?’ ‘Well, you know what they say about little boys, Lily. Snots and snails and puppy dogs’ tails. That’s what little boys are made of.’ Lily glances at Lawrence playing with his cars under the table. Busy with his game he doesn’t give any sign of having heard this description of boys. 163

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Lily is intrigued. ‘And what are little girls made of ?’ ‘Oh—sugar and spice and all things nice, that’s what little girls are made of.’ Auntie Jean laughs and Mam clicks her tongue. ‘Take no notice, Lily. Auntie Jean’s just having you on. There’s nothing snotty about our Lawrence, now, is there? Or your cousin Luke.’ Lily thinks it might be true of Israel, however. He always seems to have a cold and never has a hanky so he wipes his nose on his sleeve. She’s had nits twice already since she started sitting beside him in the back row. Her face flushes as she thinks of the morning she walked into the classroom after she’d been off with a cold for a few days. Walking to her desk and opening it. Finding someone else’s books inside. Going up to Miss Thrace’s desk to ask where her books were. Miss Thrace telling her to use her common sense for once and look for them. Finding them at last in a desk in the back row. Feeling the shame, the deep, deep shame of sitting in the back row. The dunces’ row. The row where children who were not expected to pass the eleven-plus sat. She hasn’t dared tell Mam and she doesn’t want to make her suspicious, so she decides not to ask Auntie Jean if she thinks Israel could be made of snots and snails and puppy dogs’ tails. Instead she joins Lawrence under the table and hears Mam whisper, ‘Oh Jean, I wish you wouldn’t put ideas like that into her head. You know how literal she is.’ Auntie Jean says in a cross voice, ‘That’s because you don’t let her get out and rough it with the other girls in the street, Meg. She spends far too much time with her head stuck in books.’ ‘Oh Jean, that’s not fair. She’s got a good brain, and me and Matt want her to go to grammar school and get an education. What’s wrong with that? We never had the chance. We were out to work in factories at fourteen. I want something more for Lily.’ Auntie Jean sniffs. ‘Much good it’ll do her. She’ll just get married and have bairns and then what good will an education be?’ Mam stands up, ‘Well, we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that one, Jean. Now, how about another cup of tea?’ Lily watches Lawrence for a moment while she rolls the new word around her tongue. Lit…er…al. Nice. She repeats it a few times to help her remember it. She’ll ask Dad what it means when he comes home from work.



Israel is already in the school yard behind the gate to the cellar steps. He’s making a slide in the snow, his orange hair the only splash of colour in a white world. Lily stands and watches him for a minute until he sees her and waves her over and tells her to have a go. She slides halfway down the ice then loses her balance and falls on her back. Israel tells her to try again. Three more attempts end up with her lying face down in the snow. It’s all about balance, Israel says, sliding the whole length without falling once. Perfect! He must have been practising for ages, Lily says. He nods and says he was sent to school early because of the funeral. ‘Our Elihu. Car ran over him.’ ‘I know. I heard.’ Lily looks at him closely, but doesn’t see any sign of a tear. ‘Weren’t you allowed to go?’ ‘Nah.’ He’s off down the slide again. Lily watches him, thinking of Elihu. A burst plum. Squashed flat like Mrs Burlington’s cat, its guts and brains smeared over the tarmac. A bright red ribbon of blood trickling down the drain in the gutter. She shivers. Israel notices and asks if she’s cold. She nods, though she isn’t really, and tells him she had to come to school early because Mam is taking Lawrence to the doctor’s. ‘We could go down to the cellar,’ Israel says. ‘Mr Beasley has already stoked up the furnace and now he’s gone off to put a bet on before Miss Thrace gets here. He told me where the key is so I can go in there to keep warm.’ Lily knows it’s against the rules to go into the cellar, but she’s never seen it before, so after only a moment’s hesitation she helps Israel push open the heavy iron gate at the top of the stone steps that lead down to the green cellar door. From the ledge over the door Israel retrieves the key. He turns it in the lock and the door opens into a hot, dimly lit cavernous room. There are broken desks and chairs stacked against the walls and cardboard boxes full of old books. In the centre, in a concrete bunker, there’s a pile of coke that, Israel explains, Mr Beasley shovels into the mouth of the furnace every morning. Lily stands back from the heat emanating from the furnace while Israel explains how it heats the water in the pipes in each classroom. ‘It’s like the oven in Hansel and Gretel,’ she says, wide-eyed. ‘Yeah. Mr Beasley reckons it could burn up a whole person easy. He says even the bones would turn to ash so they’d never be found. D’ya want me to 165

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ask him to show you the inside when he comes back?’ Lily shakes her head. She thinks Mr Beasley is a bit scary, but she doesn’t say this. Mam says you must never say anything behind a person’s back that you wouldn’t say to their face. But she does want to know why, if the furnace is so hot it could burn up a whole person, the pipes in their classroom are often cold. Israel grins. ‘Mr Beasley said Miss Thrace comes down here sometimes to find out why the pipes aren’t warm. He said Miss Thrace keeps trying to get him sacked just because she found him asleep a coupla times when the pipes went cold.’ ‘Why was he sleeping down here?’ ‘He has another job at night empyting the lavvies on the rows that haven’t been converted to flush toilets yet, so sometimes he takes a kip down here on them sacks in the corner. Miss Thrace keeps coming down to catch him out so he hasn’t been able to get any sleep now for two weeks.’ ‘Oh! Poor Mr Beasley!’ ‘He says one of these days when he hears her coming he’ll hide behind the bunker, and when she bends down to open the furnace he’ll sneak up behind her and push her in. He says he reckons the spiteful cow has it comin’ to her.’ Lily’s mouth drops open as she visualises Miss Thrace’s legs sticking out of the furnace like the illustration in Hansel and Gretel. Would Mr Beasley really …? Her heart pounding, she turns to run back up the steps before he returns. Israel doesn’t move. Still looking at the furnace, he says, ‘Our Elihu will be all burned up this afternoon. They’ll shove him in a furnace just like this one. He’ll look like the stuff in that bucket that Mr Beasley stubs his ciggies out in.’ As Lily stares at the bucket of ash next to the furnace, Israel sprints past her, through the door and up the steps. Lily runs after him, then remembers the key and goes back to lock the green door. She replaces the key on the ledge and dashes up the steps. She closes the cellar gate and stands still, watching Israel skate up and down on his ice slide. Up and down without falling even once. Lily’s breathing is full of spikes …



Signet he sends you a text message about a baby seal convalescing at the mussel rock so when you think of him it is salty and nascent and fleshy and sating you wonder if this is deliberate you wonder if he saw you on the news last night; it’s an angle thing, that chin those chins, but he’ll still see, and wait until you’re better acquainted to again measure your worth by kilogram still he’s puffy with chardonnay it is very grown up of you to see it like that the coastline is cut craggy like his heart monitor: irregular he doesn’t smoke but he drinks, he drinks and you never thought you’d say that about him, sepia-tipsy off one beer hair still damp from the shower and combed gently over a recession at night from the crest of your triangular bedroom you can hear the peacocks call like a memory of a baby brother you never had they’re over the mountain you can hear them shimmering at night at night a children’s author who wants to write murder mysteries writes everything your dog corrupts each of your suggested sleeping postures and sometimes it is the peacocks calling and sometimes it is a faint whistling which could be snoring and could be a call you will only go to him when the sun is up he will have his faded green undies on your mother will say things like, he shouldn’t be lying in bed with you any more with his undies on and nothing else you remember when you used to ask him to pull out his chest hairs for you the whole thing makes you kind of uncomfortable 167

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remembering sharp tug wince in his eye and his eyes suddenly glassed in the architectural drawings he arranges on napkins and bookmarks each night he has found a doorway. it looks like a grapefruit segment you want him to walk through it everything is white outside those houses he draws and that is how you image the universe a black sphere with a big white nothing outside which, you suppose, must stretch forever same way he’ll always be your father so I guess you better love him draw a sketch in which you both can live, even when you can’t there’s a low whistle like a horizon calling, calling.



A Closet Elitist Why do we speak and write? Our lives have meaning for us. Language is simply a medium. We are talking past each other: on the margins of the rational, in danger of writing a story. Writing is purely about expression, a secret message to decode ifs & buts, the difference between a door that is open; opening. One valid reading of a poem is how the writer intends it to be read. The line end is meant to signify a pause … How do prose writers control the reader? Life is a chaotic business and I’m bad at introspection. All language is down to how the brain is wired. One of us may be blind, and dream in senses other than visual, but when I dream of a rabbit something in my brain represents ‘rabbit’. And, when I read a poem I can’t help but interpret 169

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the combination of words as images, feelings. [This is a found poem based on a discussion among poets in Tauranga City Library one late summer evening.]



Poem for John Pule: The Last Days of Peter Hooper Stoned on Waiheke on Pule’s grass that was a surprise: ‘Well, yes and no, Jeff, because you know I’d long seen iridescence everywhere: in the rain on people’s souls and the shine on rusty tracks where coal trains thundered. When I lived for a while up the Grey Valley in the night you would hear them above the rush of the river, hauling all those miners’ dreams to warm the city. It wasn’t that I needed to be stoned.’ Feted by the Auckland crowd who thought you must be dead by now: ‘That’s true, it was a complete surprise when I went there and came right out. People who’d read the novels back in school came up and hugged me.


It was like they’d seen a long lost father return from foreign wars. Yes, indeed— I was Ulysses, for a moment, at the last. I have John to thank for so much, you know. Art and artists kept me sane.’ Back in the bush and soon to die there on your own: ‘I admit it must seem a lonely death but I came prepared. I had shared the feasts of love and grief, there was no more left and my bowl was full. I’d been reading Po Chu-I again that day and as I closed the book, still breathing, everything seemed right and good: sunset soon, a rising moon.’



Epitaph The ghost of you shall set like rimes of frost inside my chest and never melt, nor quit me quite, nor give me rest. It’s not easy to recall us at our best.


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Landfall Review Online: Reviewing New Zealand publications since March 2011 Reviews posted from April 2014 (Reviewer’s name in brackets) APRIL 2014 R.A. Lawson: Victorian architect of Dunedin, Norman Ledgerwood (David Eggleton) New Zealand’s Lost Heritage: The stories behind our forgotten landmarks, Richard Wolfe (David Eggleton) Converted Houses: New Zealand architecture recycled, Lucinda Diack (David Eggleton) On a Saturday Night: Community halls of small-town New Zealand, Michele Frey and Sara Newman (David Eggleton) Athfield Architects, Julia Gately (David Eggleton) Wake, Elizabeth Knox (Christine Johnston) The Fall of Light, Sarah Laing (Kiran Dass) Frederick’s Coat, Alan Duff (Simone Oettli) The Elusive Language of Ducks, Judith White (Kirstine Moffat) Migrations, Rod Edmond (Chris Else) A History of Silence, Lloyd Jones (Brian Clearkin) Modern: New Zealand homes from 1938 to 1977, Jeremy Hansen (Michael Findlay) MAY 2014 Incomplete Works, Dylan Horrocks (Andrew Paul Wood) A Rainbow Reader, Tessa Laird (Andrew Paul Wood) Paikea: The Life of I.L.G. Sutherland, Oliver Sutherland (Gerry Te Kapa Coates) White-Collar Radical: Dan Long and the rise of the whitecollar unions, Mark Derby (Edmund Bohan) Other Animals, Therese Lloyd (Mary Macpherson) After, Elizabeth Cunnane (Mary Macpherson) The Yellow Buoy: Poems 2007–2012, C.K. Stead (Nick Ascroft) Enough, Louise Wallace (Lynley Edmeades) Tear Water Tea, Saradha Koirala (Lynley Edmeades) JUNE 2014 Journals, 1938–1945, Charles Brasch (Peter Simpson) Us, Then, Vincent O’Sullivan (Jeffrey Paparoa Holman)


The White Clock, Owen Marshall (Jeffrey Paparoa Holman) Sweeping the Courtyard: The selected poems, Michael Harlow (Elizabeth Smither) Heart Absolutely I Can, Michael Harlow (Elizabeth Smither) Playmarket 40: 40 years of playwriting in New Zealand, Laurie Atkinson with David O’Donnell (Helen Watson White) Twenty New Zealand Playwrights, Michelanne Forster and Vivienne Plumb (Helen Watson White) The Last Days of the National Costume, Anne Kennedy (Azure Rissetto) Cross Fingers, Paddy Richardson (David Herkt) JULY 2014 Unpacking the Kists: The Scots in New Zealand, Brad Patterson, Tom Brooking and Jim McAloon (Lindsay Rabbitt) Where the Rekohu Bone Sings, Tina Makereti (Tasha Haines) Odysseus in Woolloomooloo, Bob Orr (Iain Sharp) Book of Equanimity Verses, Richard von Sturmer (John Horrocks) One Human in Height, Rachel O’Neill (John Horrocks) Between the Kindling and the Blaze, Ben Brown (Vaughan Rapatahana) Rising to the Surface, Latika Vasil (Jenny Powell) Promoting Prosperity: The art of early New Zealand advertising, Peter Alsop and Gary Stewart (David Eggleton) From Earth’s End: The best of New Zealand comics, Adrian Kinnaird (David Eggleton) AUGUST 2014 Images of War: New Zealand and the First World War in photographs, Glyn Harper (Max Oettli) Fitz: The colonial adventures of James Edward FitzGerald, Jenifer Roberts (Edmund Bohan) Andris, Where Are You? From Latvia to New Zealand: The family story of Andris Apse, Ron Crosby (Brian Clearkin) Green with Envy, Layla Rudneva-Mackay (Mary Macpherson) 45 South: A journey across southern New Zealand, Laurence Fearnley and Arno Gasteiger (Kathryn Mitchell) Intercolonial, Stephen Oliver (Robert McLean) Aspects of Reality, John O’Connor (Robert McLean) Beyond the Ohlala Mountains: Poems 1968–2002, Alan Brunton (David Eggleton)



The hardest poem is the one you write about your mother by C.K. Stead

Selected Poems 1963–2013, by Kevin Ireland (Steele Roberts, 2013), 312 pp, $40; Feeding the Birds, by Kevin Ireland (Steele Roberts, 2014), 60 pp, $19.99

Kevin Ireland is my age and a fellow Aucklander. I have known him on and off since we played on opposing sides (Mt Albert Grammar vs Takapuna Grammar) in a soccer match when a leg (neither his nor mine) was broken and the crack echoed horribly around the Auckland Domain. We must have been, for the brief time (1951–52) when he was enrolled there, fellow students at Auckland University College— though I notice neither appears in the other’s memoir of that period. In 1957, after I left New Zealand, and before he changed his surname from Jowsey to Ireland, Kevin used to visit Frank Sargeson, who sometimes wrote me news of him. Kevin and I both acknowledge a debt to Frank: if we are not ‘sons of Sargeson’ then perhaps grandsons. There has always been an affinity, though it has been at times a


cagey one. Very recently we found ourselves in sixth-floor rooms of a cheap Paris hotel, looking out of our adjoining windows under the slope of the Mansard roof, and agreeing that ‘in the event of ’ a fire on the stairs no fireman’s ladder from the street could reach us—the angle would make it impossible. It’s the kind of thing that might figure in one of his poems. The jacket of his Selected Poems shows the many faces of Kevin over the years, and I thought at first one might say that, by contrast with these several faces, the poems show just one, but that’s not quite true. There is a predominant persona; but in fact there are, in the poems, two distinct Kevins. The best known, the most public and prominent, is the bluff hearty affable commonsense fellow with the moustache, with a glass of wine (always red), a broad grin, and a story full of bluster and exaggeration—selfdeprecating if it’s about himself, excoriating if it’s about one of the (largely mythic) Rulers of our Roost. In this role he’s a latter-day Denis Glover, but always stopping, as Denis did not, short of self-immolation; indeed there’s a poem in celebration of Glover that seems unequivocal, but slyly, and accurately, slips in the qualifier ‘a great heart half-used’. But the other Kevin, the one less well known, hardly recognised behind all the noise and panache of his loud counterpart, is the sensitive, watchful, curly-headed, rather beautiful young man centre page on the cover, who reminded


me of something I wrote back in the 1970s—a long poem, ‘Walking Westward’ (a ‘process poem’ I think was the fashionable term), which ranged about autobiographically in time and place and, touching down briefly in London in the late 1950s, remembered Calamari in a Chelsea basement Shadbolt worrying about his lungs Kevin Ireland lost child with a long nose sadly sketching

I didn’t know Kevin well at the time I wrote those lines, which must have been fifteen years after that London encounter, and I knew nothing of his personal and family circumstances. He was living overseas—and I would not see him again for possibly another ten. Yet the lines came as a memory, vivid enough to push themselves into the poem at that point— and what they recorded was not the jolly Kevin his public knows now, but a sensitive sad ‘lost child’, who might have gone underground but has never entirely gone away. He is the aesthete, the monitor, the stylist, even the ‘soul’ of these poems. He is there at almost every stage, largely hidden, but an extension of the range, an element the collection would be poorer without. I wouldn’t like to make too much of this, but I find myself connecting this Kevin with the boy whose mother, we now know, walked out on the parental marriage when he was nine, and whom he did not see again (and then only briefly, at his grandfather’s funeral) until he was almost twenty. He writes about

her in his autobiography, Under the Bridge and over the Moon, rather distantly, honouring her achievements, admiring her as a woman, not as a, or as his, mother. There is a poem about her in the present collection, ‘A Volatile Fluid’. The tone is uncomplaining, factual, and it ends with the drink she pours him on that meeting after ten years, which tasted, he says, ‘of mothballs and gasoline’. In the autobiography he quotes this line and says, ‘though I felt I had to add “Or perhaps I imagined that.”’ He says this is ‘a taste or general impression I sometimes can’t get out of my mouth when I think of her. It’s the flavour of a whole set of memories. Stale but still flammable.’ In the new book the poem appears again, with the qualifier line slightly revised: ‘I couldn’t have invented that’— but I think it still might not catch the feeling he wanted to convey, or not the full blast of it. To be abandoned by a mother who then made a success of her life must be more galling than if you found her later a wreck, a failure, someone you could pity. Yet Kevin himself is too worldly wise to grumble about the hand life dealt him. Another poem in this group begins ‘The hardest poem / is the one you write / about your mother’—which then goes on to illustrate how hard the task is by tying itself in a knot of images ending with the womb as ‘a secret tomb / where serpents are fed / milk and roses’. The radical equivocation is there again, and not really resolved because it can’t be. But it


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is surely the same child’s deep resentment that arrives obliquely in a poem about something quite other—the US bomber pilot who named his superfortress Enola Gay, after his mother, before dropping from it the A-bomb that destroyed Hiroshima—the name ‘a touching / good-boy sign of motherlove’. That, I guess, is the true voice of feeling. His mother makes a much later appearance, old, incontinent and weeping in a hospital bed, conjoined in a villanelle with her son’s dog, Daisy. The mother must unwillingly ‘persevere’, while the son was free to shoot the dog; the poem ends: I shot old Daisy in the head. My dog is dead.

But if there is odi et amo for the mother, the father—neither poet, aesthete nor stylist—is the practical man so frequently met in the fathers of New Zealand poets and writers: well meaning though bewildered by the puzzling, possibly bewitched infant he has begotten. Kevin’s father was serious and disciplined about catching fish, and there’s a poem about how he worked at it, how it was not to be treated as fun or recreation, and how difficulties like bad weather and blistered hands were hardships rewarded by a good catch and the pleasures of cooking and eating it. ‘Our fathers exist,’ he concludes, ‘to uphold the law, not to make sense.’ And perhaps there’s a hint that catching fish and catching poems are not, after all, unrelated. An earlier poem, ‘Skinning the 178

Fish’, is first an almost technical manual for skinning and filleting, and then becomes a source of tropes for ‘getting through’, and so a manual for living. There’s a kind of shrewdness about a typical Ireland poem—‘Cloud’, for example, which begins by describing the many things this particular cloud appeared to be, including It was like nothing much at all one minute, then the next was quite definitely something. One moment it was yellow then in half a tick, I tell you it was black and white, or red. And it was silent, of course, except when its guts rumbled or it cracked its knuckles.

For a moment we might think here’s a pictorial and picturesque sequence being worked up to go nowhere. But that ‘in half a tick’ reminds us this is not the poet so much as a character speaking—and soon it becomes clear he’s telling a girl about the cloud because that’s what she missed when she went ‘off / on the pillion of that fellow / with the 1000 cc bike’. He’s telling her he’s sorry for her. Imagine roaring off on a fast bike when you could have been looking at the cloud! It’s a small representative enactment of the sufferer of an ordinary ego-defeat soothing his pain. Irony is one of his chief modes, or tones of voice, unmistakeable in his Tiberius at the Beehive collection, but a tendency throughout. He describes scenes brilliantly, reflects on them, charms, and then surprises with back-


handed wisdom, or winners down the side-line. Or he’s content simply to entertain. How would you give a poem called ‘The Protocol of Laughter’ a meaning to match the ring of that wonderful title? It’s about one of those dreams where you meet the Queen—but in this one she’s with her sister Princess Margaret on Devonport wharf. Kevin suggests tea at the Esplanade Hotel across the street. HM asks how you can drink tea in a dream—and they laugh so hard the poet falls out of bed. Another called ‘The Extraordinary Power of Love’ succeeds not by irony at all but because it doesn’t welsh on its hyperboles. There’s a certain daring in that, and it works because the language tells you it was honestly felt. Ten years ago when Kevin was the second recipient of the $60,000 Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in poetry there were grumbles that others should have had it ahead of him; that his limitation was a lack of clarity about how ‘seriously’ he wanted to be taken (Murray Edmond); that he turned away from anything too dark and troubling and refused to dig deep (Iain Sharp). These statements of limitation might have been right or wrong; but at this distance, after another decade of Kevin simply being himself, making his mark in his own way, they seem irrelevant—one of the many bad side-effects of literary awards, which skew the market, confuse the critics, create envy, and upset almost everyone except the winner, his or her family, and

their literary claque. With the passage of time, and the command that comes simply by long and consistent practice, a poet like Ireland earns—has earned—the right to be himself. *

Taken together with Kevin Ireland, three of his closest contemporaries, Fleur Adcock, Peter Bland and Mike Doyle, tell a generational story of to and fro movement between ‘here’ and ‘there’, identity and anxiety. Adcock, with New Zealand parents, spent early childhood in England, returned and grew up here, became a poet, married and had two children all in New Zealand, and then, still young (perhaps thirty) scarpered to England where she established herself firmly and remains. Bland grew up in England, came to New Zealand as a young immigrant, established himself here as poet and actor, and since then has gone to and fro between New Zealand and the UK, each time buying a house (‘a nomad in my own back yard’) and announcing that journeying is over and ‘home’ has been found. Doyle, of an Irish family, grew up in London and was, like Bland, a 1950s (probably £10) immigrant. He made his start as a poet in Wellington and, after a stint as lecturer in Auckland, travelled to North America and settled in Canada where he has remained since the late 1960s, Professor of English at UBC Victoria, now retired. Finally, Ireland, growing up in Auckland, left for Europe at the end of


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the 1950s and remained away thirty years, but retained always his literary connection with New Zealand, publishing his books here. It was Robin Dudding in particular who kept his reputation alive during those years—to such an extent I used to joke that the always late but high-quality literary journal Dudding edited, Islands, should be renamed Ireland’s. So when Kevin returned it was to a seat kept warm for him at the literary fireside. I don’t know whether he ever tried to publish in the UK—probably not, or not very hard—and if he did it seems it was without success. Bland found an outlet there with Alan Ross and the London Magazine, and latterly Carcanet, as well as acting work in London theatres. Fleur Adcock of course has flourished in England, elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and winning the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, the latter something also achieved only by Curnow among our poets. Doyle’s work belongs clearly in the literary history of twentieth-century Modernism and experiment, which has its own self-sustaining reach in academic studies. He has a family in Canada and a life he enjoys there; but his poetry, with its interesting history of experiment, and associated published work on William Carlos Williams and poetics, seems to exist apart from all that, somewhere out in space. He has Canadian publishers but has not quite achieved recognition as a Canadian poet; and says or implies somewhere that he feels he escaped from


New Zealand literary nationalism only to fall foul of the Canadian variety. Bland, since the death of his New Zealand-born wife of many years, has finally, after quite absurd and surely needless difficulties with New Zealand immigration authorities, been permitted to come back to be with his children. His poems are as adroit as ever, but he has more the air of an actor without a stage than of a poet without an audience. *

After I had begun writing this piece a new collection of Ireland’s work was launched at the Depot in Devonport, Feeding the Birds. We might have done without its publisher, Roger Steele, telling us that there were lines in this book that ‘Yeats would have given his left hand for’—but I was struck by how at ease Kevin was among this big homely crowd of readers and well-wishers; and it’s true that the lines Roger Steele quoted were a good example of a kind of eloquence that has the particular Ireland stamp upon it: Sometimes when the tide hangs low and flat against the rocks, and the massive fronds of weed waver from the deep towards the mirrored sky the sea becomes like love: soundless, rich, substantial, with questions far beyond all asking, a mystery of tones and shadows welling softly from the waters.

These late decades of his return to New Zealand (not altered by a recent third marriage that has had him commuting


between Auckland and Oxford) have been a Prodigal’s return. Curnow’s literary nationalism, though ‘of its time’, was something of a mistake, especially in his later years when he clung to it like a dog with a favourite stick. Nationalism is tribal—something genetic which, in the world as it is now, we need to unlearn, or at the very least confine to sport and other non-lethal areas. But it is nonetheless true that poetry, and the language of poetry, do always, and innocently, tend to be regional; to signal ‘belonging’, ‘our place’, ‘our words and our subjects’. This is not a rule but a general literary truth, and it’s where Kevin Ireland’s strength lies. Whatever the word ‘Kiwi’ means in the popular mind, it is a meaning that includes him, and is to be celebrated there.

I Have Nuffink Else to Say by Anna Jackson

Pen. Pal., by Sugar Magnolia Wilson (Cats & Spaghetti Press, 2014), fold-out pamphlet, price on application

This is the first publication from an exciting new publishing venture, Wellington-based Cats & Spaghetti Press, and it’s the first publication too for Sugar Magnolia Wilson, a poet to watch out for. It is not so much a collection as a pamphlet, just one breath-taking sequence that captures the weirdness and devastating emotional honesty of teenaged written language in a poetic memoir so skilfully and originally shaped it might be the first modern classic of the genre it invents. Publishers Emma Barnes and Pip Adam have produced a beautiful publication, a fold-out pamphlet that opens like a map from between thick black card. Cats & Spaghetti Press is no ordinary commercial press and you had to be at the launch to be given a copy of Pen. Pal.—this work is not for sale. Yet this is a sequence that ought to have a significant place in New Zealand literature. If you haven’t got a copy, it is worth doing whatever you can to get hold of one. In all the poems she has published in literary journals, Sugar Magnolia Wilson 181

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shows she has a wonderful ear for language as it is spoken, as it is (actually) written, and as it is heard in the mind. The series of poems she has published exploring her relationship with a Korean boyfriend, and, by extension, with his family and with Korea itself, focus on the strangeness of speaking across languages, and the wonderful possibilities for understanding and misunderstanding that result. But not even the strangest translations of Korean into English are as uncanny, unsettling and profoundly strange as the ways teenagers find to put into words their emotions. Pen. Pal., written as a series of letters from out of the suburban bush to a pen pal who never seems to reply, reveals the poetic potential of this strange argot. These letters are hilariously, and devastatingly, frank about the traumas they describe, from runaway guinea pigs, broken good-luck cups, an unkind remark to a girl at school and consequent guilt, irregular bleeding and the intrusion of a doctor’s examination, to the slow unfolding of the story that holds the sequence together, the story of her mother’s illness and death. It is not always easy to find the words for such experiences: having described the Japanese doctor feeling her fanny, she concludes abruptly, ‘I have nuffink else to say.’ She can describe in one breath her mother as a ‘skellington of / nothingness; shardy bones, / spider webs, a small / tortoise with a broken shell’ and in another her own flip


dismissal of her mother’s wisdom: ‘She says I need to / contemplate the importance / of all sentient beings (wha?!).’ She has a point: her mother’s advice seemed to be in response to her breaking the last of the good-luck cups. Is the cup supposed to be sentient? Our pen pal writes with a sharpness and a dismissiveness, of her own emotions as well as those of others, that may come across as a lack of feeling for ‘all sentient things’. Yet in her irreverent way she is, in fact, constantly contemplating the importance of sentient beings, often writing from other sentient beings’ perspectives. When she is looking for new mice, she writes a ‘mouse wanted’ ad from the point of view of her own male mouse: ‘Attention all female mice.’ Star, the cat, says in another letter, ‘I am an old soul, / blissful and / I would like / a little bag of / fantails and some / mayonnaise, please.’ Even the fridge talks, saying ‘open, close, open, close’. Misdirected, channelled sharply away from the source of grief as the poems often are, they make it clear enough, nevertheless, what her father is responding to when he worries about how she is feeling, sitting up in a tree. She herself, as narrator in control of the storytelling, is somehow able at once to deny her own feelings and recognise his understanding of the feelings she is denying. It is an extraordinary complex portrayal of grief, achieved through swift changes of focus, precise and deadpan accounts of revealing exchanges, a

displaced concern for the mortality of just about everyone and everything, and an unfaltering command of language and tone. She knows just when to use full sentences, and when the pen-palese of the sentence fragment. She makes poetry out of that adolescent play with different registers, the acrobatic shifting from mock epic to comic to profound, from the mundane to the poetic, from reportage to conversation to lyric abandon. This is a girl who was ‘carrying a grief tree’ around with her from the opening of the sequence, one of the list of ‘important data’ she feels her pen pal ought to know. Other important data? ‘The geese are naked. / I owe $1.50 to the school canteen.’


Kiwi Aviatrix by Simone Oettli

The Infinite Air, by Fiona Kidman (Vintage, 2013), 352 pp, $ 37.99

Fiona Kidman’s title is from a nineteenthcentury poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins. It is incorporated and acknowledged in the epigraph to the novel: and so the sky keeps, For the infinite air is unkind

which is a quotation from Stanza 13 of The Wreck of the Deutschland. In the poem the ‘infinite air is unkind’ because it produces a snowstorm which ‘the sky keeps’ and which, in 1875, drags the Deutschland to the bottom of the sea, drowning 200 passengers, including five Franciscan nuns. How ‘the infinite air is unkind’ to Jean Batten remains somewhat of a mystery, for, unlike the nuns, she survives her adventurous journeys. The most obvious link is that ‘the infinite air’ is made for flying, and Batten explores that experience fully. She did not encounter any snowstorms that we know of, but she did grapple with monsoons and sandstorms. And she also led quite a solitary nun-like existence, although, according to Kidman, not entirely without sexual affairs. Hopkins’ citation, however,


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makes for an intriguing title on a charming cover. Kidman’s book is a lively, very wellresearched but fictive account of the life of the New Zealand aviatrix Jane Gardner Batten, better known as Jean Batten. It consists of four parts, but only Part Two is directly concerned with her recordbreaking flights during the Great Depression of the 1930s, amounting to 76 pages out of the 346 that make up the novel. The rest is about Batten’s complex romantic relationships with men, and with her dysfunctional family, above all with her domineering mother, Ellen (Nellie) Batten, whose aspirations Batten fulfils. Jean was born in Rotorua, on 15 September 1909. Above her cradle her mother pinned an image of Louis Blériot. He had been the first to cross the English Channel in a monoplane he built himself (the Blériot Type XI), slightly less than seven weeks—though eight months according to Kidman—before Jean’s birth. Nellie told Jean later of her longing to do what Blériot had done. Fascinated by flying, Nellie took the seven-year-old Jean and her two elder brothers, Harold and John, to Kohimarama, to see pilots training in water-planes for the Royal Flying Corps during World War I. The children were invited into the cockpit, and that, says Kidman, was when Jean resolved to become a pilot. Later, with money she won at the races, Nellie takes Jean to Australia for her first real flight with Charles Kingsford Smith. Kidman’s omniscient narrator describes Jean’s delight: 184

Whatever else had occurred in her life until now became insignificant. The sense of speed and of power almost overwhelmed her. Everything that had been dull and ugly ceased to exist. She cried out aloud at this sensation of flight, her face rapt with pleasure.

Not much is known or has been written about Jean Batten. At twenty-four, she achieved ephemeral fame for an epic undertaking, namely a flight in a small aeroplane, with an open cockpit and without brakes or any navigational instruments except a compass, from England to Australia. It was a distance of 10,500 miles over fourteen countries. She disdained to wear even a lifejacket. Batten is featured as a brave but intensely private person, whose brief moment of glory lasted less than four years. I have been able to find only one biography: journalist Ian Mackersey’s Jean Batten: Garbo of the skies, published in London by Warner Books in 1990. He writes: ‘[F]ew people were ever to know that her dazzling public façade concealed a darker personality in which fame and adulation had bred deceit and ruthlessness.’ Kidman, through fictionalising Batten’s life, provides another, kinder version. She implicitly challenges Mackersey’s tendency to accuse Batten of using her physical beauty to exploit men with the sole purpose of becoming rich and famous. The New Zealand History website’s ( article on Batten also berates her for using her considerable charms to raise money in order to buy aeroplanes and finance her flights by exploiting her relationships


with men. Kidman obviously thinks this is too harsh a judgement. She depicts Batten as coming from a broken home, in which her father, a dentist named Fred, betrays his wife by having numerous affairs. For a while Nellie forgives and forgets. She experiences hardship and poverty after Fred enlists to fight in World War I, leaving her to care for their three children. But she is deeply disillusioned when, after the war, a Māori woman turns up with a son whom she claims has been fathered by Fred. Taking Jean with her, she walks out on him. Although Jean is a promising dancer and piano player, she follows her mother’s dream and becomes obsessed with flying. She is determined to succeed. Mackersey comments: [T]he forces that drove her to fulfil what she saw as her destiny were controlled from behind the scenes by the shadowy figure of her mother, with whom she had become emotionally fused in a symbiotic relationship of astonishing psychological intensity.

It is this relationship between mother and daughter that interests Kidman, and she portrays it with more depth, sympathy and understanding than Mackersey does. Telling Fred, who opposes the idea of his daughter learning to fly, that Jean is going to study music at the Royal College of Music, Nellie and her daughter sell Jean’s piano and set sail for England. They enrol her in the London Aeroplane Club at Stag Lane and live a life of extreme poverty, sacrificing everything to the ambition of  Jean becoming a pilot.

They even keep their distance from Jean’s brother John, a successful film actor by now living in London, in case he finds out what Jean is doing and tells her father. Kidman makes it sound as though Batten found it easy to learn to fly, but according to Mackersey, and contemporaries who knew her, she was a very slow learner. She went through two other instructors before she was finally entrusted to the chief flying instructor, Herbert Travers, whom Kidman mentions as the only one who taught her. Apparently Jean had difficulty with learning how to land. By all accounts, she nevertheless became an exceptional pilot. A writer known for championing women, Kidman points out the gender discrimination from which female pilots suffered. This takes a direct form in that Batten is warned never to compete with men. Also when, as a competent acrobatic pilot, she is refused a job with a circus because she is a woman. Gender bias becomes more subtle when Kidman describes Batten’s rival, Amy Johnson, the first woman pilot to fly from England to Darwin as being called ‘Johnny’ by her colleagues and is thus turned into a surrogate male. The effect of her parents’ separation on Jean Batten was considerable and must have influenced her treatment of the men with whom she was involved. The first of these was Fred Truman, a fellow New Zealander who worked as a pilot in the RAF. He is named Frank Norton in the novel, perhaps out of


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consideration for his New Zealand relatives, or for fear of confusion because ‘Fred’ was Jean’s father’s name as well. Frank falls hopelessly in love with Jean and offers her £500 to help pay for her flying lessons in England. Jean innocently accepts; her one goal is to perfect her flying. Kidman hints that Frank is an unsuitable suitor for Jean by making him sound unattractive; he has ill-fitting dentures, bad breath and tries to rape her. Jean makes it perfectly clear from the start that she is not interested in marrying him, but he is very insistent and subjects her to emotional blackmail. Luckily he runs out of money and has to return to New Zealand. Once there, he keeps on harassing her to repay him, threatening to show her up for ‘the little gold digger’ she really is. She eventually makes a partial payment when she earns money after several successful flights and consequent lecture tours. All the men who fall in love with Jean are pilots. Another was Victor Dorée, who retains his real name in the novel and is a more attractive proposition. He comes from a wealthy English family and asks his mother for a loan so that he can buy a plane registered under his and Jean’s joint name. But her attempt to fly it to Australia ends in disaster when she is forced to land near Karachi because of engine failure. The plane is ruined, and Victor ends their partnership. Jean suffers from depression as a result. Fortunately she finds a sponsor in Viscount Wakefield of Castrol Oil and is able to buy an early model of a Gipsy


Moth. Wakefield assures her that she will have oil wherever she flies. She registers the plane at the Brooklands Flying Club to avoid running into Victor, and meets Edward Walter. And so the story of men in her life continues, to culminate in the one she really loves, an Australian commercial pilot called Beverley Shepherd, but that turns into a tragedy. The book is punctuated with news of pilots who disappear. The primary characters of Jean and Nellie are finely drawn. The action of the novel is mainly seen from Jean’s perspective, and Kidman makes her into a single-minded yet complex character. Glamorous and charming, troubled and unsociable at times, a loner deep down, her supreme interest, apart from the foreign countries she visits and their cultures she experiences on the way, is in flying. In her published autobiographies—for instance My Life— she writes beautiful and detailed descriptions of each new place to which her flights take her ( tm/scholarly/tei-BatMyL.html). Nellie is a more straightforward type and her failed marriage could explain her obsession with her daughter. Described as a feminist, she is a strong character, beautiful, haughty and determined to face whatever hardship it takes to make a pilot out of Jean. Their relationship is very close: they seem wholly satisfied with each other’s company and live together until Nellie dies. Kidman rehabilitates Mackersey’s negative image of Jean Batten, bringing


her two main characters to life in a way that he failed to do. She deserves high praise for giving us these fascinating rounded portraits of two inspiring women and their extraordinary achievements.

Strange and Powerful Music by James Norcliffe

The Mijo Tree, by Janet Frame (Penguin, 2013), 104 pp, $25

The Mijo Tree is one of the more interesting items to have emerged from the rummaging in Janet Frame’s back drawer since her death ten years ago. While the publishing date is 2013, the work was composed almost certainly in or before 1957, when Janet Frame was spending time in Ibiza, the Spanish island in the western Mediterranean. There are hints of this landscape in the setting of the story and the name ‘mijo tree’, a tree unknown to botany, has a Spanish flavour. In her very useful afterword on the origin and subsequent history of the manuscript, Pamela Gordon suggests that there could well be a connection with the Spanish contraction mi’jo, a slang term for male friend. Janet Frame sent the typescript to John Money late in 1957. Thus the work predates her second published novel, Faces in the Water, which came out in 1961. The Mijo Tree is short—about 5000 words—and is best described as a fable. The book has been beautifully packaged by Penguin in a retro style. It is a hardback in a narrow pocketbook format with no dust jacket and a mustard-coloured cover with an 187

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engraved title and an engraved woodcutlike illustration of a tortured-looking tree, presumably the eponymous tree, by Deirdre Copeland. The retro theme continues throughout the book: in each page the text is framed by a monochrome illustration of the tree with writhing branches. There are in addition three full-page illustrations. The heavy framing and the dark illustrations, somewhat reminiscent of Arthur Rackham, complement the story’s bleak message. This layout and the language might suggest that The Mijo Tree is essentially a children’s fantasy story, territory Janet Frame had explored before in Mona Minim and the Smell of the Sun (1969). However, the format belies the purpose. The blurb describes the work as a ‘novella’ and later as ‘a beautifully dark fable’. The story itself begins very much in the register of a children’s tale: The eldest mijo seed was so proud. She was the daughter of a beautiful tall tree, and lay on the rocky red soil of the valley with her five brothers and three sisters, who had just been born, and were excited and talkative, as all new seeds are …

This captures the storytelling mode exactly—the all-knowing storyteller, the presumption of an attentive audience. As the story develops, it follows the archetypical prescription of the enterprising hero/heroine determined to leave the comforts of home to seek fame and fortune (not unlike the pattern in the later Mona Minim). In the context of this tale, to leave the comfortable valley where she would grow ‘tall and beautiful’ and seek the top of the hill where she 188

imagines she will tower and overlook the sea. There is too that blithe assumption, common to children’s stories, of willing suspension of disbelief: the seed talks, is ambitious, is opinionated (in fact in one nice moment says ‘contemptuously’ of a yellow bird, ‘I see you have been raised on fairy stories’) and falls in love with a ‘sick young wind’, presumably tubercular. The language is often poetic, and infused with a strangeness that is offbeat and surreal. The onset of the aforementioned wind’s disease is described in this way: ‘When the disease had first come upon him he had been put to bed in a little room in the North Corner House where he lived with his fat aunt, who smelled of olives and yellow feathers …’ These delights and the comic anachronisms—‘limousines’, ‘express winds’—are however overshadowed by the fable’s darker purpose, which is bleak and uncompromising. Despite the whimsy it soon becomes apparent that The Mijo Tree is rather more Aeschylus than Aesop. Death is introduced early: a ‘gloved thief ’ who steals breath, ‘as quiet as light, but he leaves no trace, perhaps a small evidence of burning, no more’. When the seed eventually reaches the higher slopes of the hill she discovers an ominous analogue of what is to come: ‘… a twisted plant that seemed to have no life, and no blood; its crippled leaves and stalks were bleached and dry. The plant was dead.’ The wind dies, delivering the seed to the hilltop where, instead of finding herself in the exalted position of

pre-eminence she is forced to hide between two rocks from ‘an army of dark winds carrying spears and knives and all instruments of torture … marching suddenly from the sea, making strange and powerful music that made the little mijo seed grow faint with fear’. There are to be no happy-ever-afters or comforting bromides here either, nor finger-wagging moralising. Perhaps the only redeeming note is that the mijo seed finds the stoicism to accept the fate her hubris, telegraphed in the fable’s first sentence, has led her to. She grows, albeit in a stunted, contorted way under the blazing heat and manages to produce a single flower, which a morally ambiguous goat delivers back down the mountain to plant in the red soil below. Thereupon, the goat promptly returns to the mountaintop not to kiss the mijo tree, but to tear off its dying leaves one by one and eat them. ‘“Waste not, want not,” he said, as the last of the little mijo tree disappeared between his jaws.’ The question remains, why did Janet Frame not seek publication of  The Mijo Tree at the time of its writing, or indeed at any time before her death? Pamela Gordon suggests that the parable veers rather too close to events that took place on Ibiza before the time of its composition, to a love affair there and its consequences. This may well be true, but while the personal parallel adds a frisson to the reading, The Mijo Tree exists quite independently of this as a dark, bleak little tale and a most worthwhile addition to the Janet Frame canon.


Respect and Respectability by Gerry Te Kapa Coates

Matters of the Heart: A history of interracial marriage in New Zealand, by Angela Wanhalla (Auckland University Press, 2013), 231 pp, $49.99

As a child of a Māori–Pākehā marriage, this topic is to me of great interest. My life has spanned from the 1940s—an era when Māori were migrating to the cities in droves—to the present, when almost every family seems to have Māori connections. One of the policies of assimilation since the 1860s—interracial marriage, where a Māori woman married ‘a man of respectability who had the capacity to educate and “civilise” his wife’—appears to have brought society close to the 1968 prediction of the Secretary of the Department of Maori Affairs: ‘In a short time every European in New Zealand would have Maori relatives.’ Being a South Islander I was brought up feeling somehow different from the predominantly Pākehā majority, without being able to put my finger on exactly why. When I travelled to the North Island for the first time as a teenager I was amazed at how many Māori there were 189

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around. I had cousins up there who were more Māori than I was at the time, and taught me to add ‘eh?’ after every sentence. But I also was aware that my father, who wasn’t Māori, seemed more interested in my Māori ancestry than my mother. She had got her Trinity College letters in music, married a Pākehā to escape the small-town racism, and having done so hadn’t wanted to look back. I was in my twenties when I started to explore my Māori roots. Why had a process that began when a sixteen-yearold scion of a Dutch whaling merchant based in Long Island came to New Zealand and ‘married’ my tūpuna—my great-great-great grandmother Koukou—ended up with me so remote from my whakapapa? This book attempts to explain how and why that happened. European whalers and sealers in the pre-1840s, as Wanhalla notes, entered into relationships for many reasons, including pragmatic ones of safety and to gain an economic footing, but often also as a result of a combination of emotions: love, domestic comfort and as a cure for loneliness. She says these early encounters ‘have been variously characterised as fleeting and casual encounters, temporary or seasonal marriages, a form of sexual hospitality, a feature of an established “sex industry”, or monogamous relationships based on affection following the forms and conventions of Māori marriage traditions.’ Observers noting an absence of wedding rites tended to apply ‘western


understandings of morality and marriage to indigenous cultures’. When the Church Missionary Society arrived at the Bay of Islands they found a fruitful field of work in trying to regulate and manage private lives by encouraging ‘regular’ unions, since ‘affective relationships’ were difficult to prevent. However, they were dependent on Māori patronage for the success and survival of their mission stations, so that their work of converting to Christianity both Māori and ‘white strangers’ who worked in the extractive industries like whaling and gum-digging could continue. Initially the missionaries excluded people deemed as immoral in order to control behaviour and encourage conversion to Christianity. Henry Williams for example regularly refused to marry couples for this reason. But by 1839 even the ‘notoriously hard-nosed and belligerent Samuel Marsden’ had changed his attitude. The grounds for acceptance of interracial unions now depended on the status and reputation of the newcomer. Even missionaries themselves were not immune. Although the preference was for them to be already married when they arrived, the intimate transgressions of male missionaries had the potential to be embarrassing, bringing shame on family and damaging the missionary’s reputation. Worst of all was the harm to the mission itself. The increasingly competitive nature of the missions, with the arrival of the Wesleyan Missionary Society in 1822, meant relaxing stringent policies on


marriage, such as requiring both parties to be baptised before they could be married ‘according to Christian forms’. It needed careful management to exert some measure of control over the ‘mode of living and shameless practices’ of traders and whalers and so check their influence with the local Māori tribes. Soon it became a matter of the availability of ordained missionaries throughout the country at rival mission stations. For example, Johannes Wohlers, missionary to southern Kāi Tahu Māori, covered a huge area, from Canterbury down to Ruapuke and Stewart (Rakiura) islands. He particularly encouraged those men who had developed permanent ties to the Māori community to aspire to the as-yet-tacit doctrine of assimilation in order to ‘civilise’ their wives. Kāi Tahu women in Wohler’s district apparently expressed a strong desire to marry, and so ‘tighten the bond as firmly as possible’. The idea of a ‘white wedding’ was also popularised by coverage of royal weddings in the Māori language newspapers of the 1850s and 1860s. New Zealand was fortunate not to have had its marriage laws contaminated by ideas of miscegenation. In the United States such laws were still in existence at the start of World War II, preventing marriage across the colour line. Wanhalla states that ‘the law has been a key tool in demarcating who has the right to marry, and to whom’. British colonies viewed interracial marriage positively, but from the perspective of

cultural assimilation and land amalgamation rather than that of racial tolerance. New Zealand’s marriage laws, by ‘recognising the marriages of interracial couples and legalising their title to land … ensured that ownership of that land was transferred into the hands of white men, and Māori land was opened up for settlement’, reinforcing another plank in assimilation policy. The freedom of Māori to marry as they wished was slowly eroded over the rest of the nineteenth century, as customary marriages were deemed to be invalid and their children illegitimate. It was recognised only for the purpose of succession to ‘native land’. The numerical and political dominance of the settler colonists by the 1860s had its desired effect. It was a time when government officers—land purchase officers, interpreters, surveyors and magistrates—were encouraged to have links to Māori and improve their connections, including marriage to locals. Finally in 1952 customary marriages were prohibited, leaving one single marriage law, finally achieving the desired ‘amalgamation’ of the races. Respectability was another matter, however. Despite having married a ‘high ranking and well-connected’ Māori woman, a man’s land dealings could also land him in hot water with his kin, either because of his new responsibility to maintain the mana of the family, or with other tribes also claiming the same land. This was particularly the case if his wife’s land rights had not been acknowledged


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by the land court system. As for white women who lived with Māori, they were generally ‘regarded as beyond redemption for disrupting the “racial geography” of settler society’, unlike males who had far more freedom of action. In the first half of the twentieth century, fuelled by the findings and arguments of new experts in anthropology and psychology such as Ivan Sutherland, intermarriage became characterised as a social problem. The wisdom of the day was that cultural rather than racial differences would lead to marriage breakdown, while ‘their children would find themselves unable to fit into either culture’. The differences were exacerbated by the increased interracial contact as a result of Māori urbanisation from World War II. Not only did white society recoil from mixed marriages; so did Māori leaders such as Āpirana Ngata, who favoured cultural revival—and land reform—that included the ‘preservation of unique Maori bloodlines’. Only since the 1970s, with the increase in cross-cultural understanding and tolerance, endorsed by officialdom, have social attitudes to more diverse enduring relationships relaxed. These new relationship patterns ‘bear little resemblance to those of the nineteenth century, or to those of the 1960s’. Today ‘individuals no longer feel they have to hide or deny their ancestry’. Perhaps if I had been born in the 1970s or 1980s I would already have had a head start in my


culture without having to struggle to fit in. But at least my children can stand on my shoulders, being brought up with te reo, and knowing their whakapapa and marae. The book is well illustrated, with five sets of photographs of interracial couples and good clear captions telling us what the author knows about them. Wanhalla’s interest in the history of photography shows here. Unlike the usual doctoral thesis converted into a book, this one is very accessible. There are minor quibbles, but most of them revolve around the sheer volume of material covered. Sometimes names are introduced, only to be followed much later by the needed explanation of who they are. Familiar names crop up in Wanhalla’s account of mixed marriages, names well established in the national record—Tapsell, Grace, Bidois, Habib, Duff, Karaitiana—to name a few. This is a book that all New Zealanders should read, as we come to terms with new ideas of biculturalism, in more ways than just through interracial relationships.


Art for Connecting People by Damian Skinner

Cliff Whiting: He Toi Nuku, He Toi Rangi, by Ian Christensen (He Kupenga Hao i te Reo, 2013), 210 pp, $75

It’s easy to feel a little ambivalent about the monograph. The oldest model for writing art history, its relentless focus on the artist’s life as the framework for their artistic achievements can feel a little creaky and insular. In a time when different theories of art history leave biography feeling thin as the best way to understand complex material objects like artworks, combined with the ubiquity of the genre, the idea of reading another art monograph doesn’t seem the most thrilling experience. Having spent some time thinking about Ian Christensen’s Cliff Whiting: He Toi Nuku, He Toi Rangi, I’ve realised that being sniffy about monographs fits better in places with a richer and much older practice of art history than Aotearoa New Zealand—precisely because the sheer number of monographs on artists of importance allows you to do other kinds of writing and thinking about art. At their best, monographs like this book present

original, primary research and resources that are not available anywhere else, and they also argue for particular ways of thinking about what the art and practice mean. The potential of that is transformative; I kept wondering what I would have done differently had this book been available when I was writing about Māori art in the twentieth century. Whatever the effects might have been, Christensen’s book would certainly have alerted me to the complexities and opportunities of  Whiting’s art, and more widely, to a way of thinking about what Māori art is and how it makes claims on its audience. Some of this richness comes from the subject. Cliff Whiting is a complex and not easily categorised man. He is an artist, a teacher, a cultural expert, a restorer and builder of whare whakairo (meeting houses), a board member and adviser. He is someone who has played a central role in articulating and demonstrating the possibilities of a modern and contemporary Māori art, and the special role that art and creativity can play in a bicultural education system and cultural institutions. Whiting occupies a position at the intersection of a number of different and perhaps contrasting histories and ideas about art and culture and identity. This book, for example, is dedicated to Pine Taiapa, the Ngāti Porou tohunga whakairo (master carver), and to Gordon Tovey, the Pākehā educationalist who did so much to introduce modernism into Māori art in the second half of the twentieth century. In order to


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understand Whiting’s art, it is necessary to understand how these two figures and the histories they represent intersected in the middle of the twentieth century and created a novel space for cultural production, the implications of which we are still trying to unravel today. Whiting started off as a contemporary artist, showing in some of the early and important exhibitions of Māori art in the 1960s, but at a certain point he decided to turn his back on the Pākehā art world and gallery system in favour of the marae and Māori aspirations and audiences. (As he says in the book, ‘Other people have gone into the gallery world and have not necessarily seen the other things in our culture as being vital and important, whereas I do. We’re still recovering from what museums and ethnologists did to Māori art in terms of restricting the breadth and creativity of what was seen as Māori art. We don’t want to allow the gallery exhibition thing to influence and dictate to us, and further move it away from our people.’) Given the choices Whiting has made, it’s clear that art is not, for him, an end in itself but a mechanism for connecting people and creating cultural opportunities. Christensen’s book unfolds as a series of seven chapters, each loosely connected to shifts in Whiting’s life. For example, the first two chapters deal with his early life in Te Kaha on the East Cape and his whakapapa as Te Whānau-a-Apanui, and then with his decision to go to Wellington Teachers’ Training College in 1955 and his encounter with Pākehā


artists and the educational reforms of Gordon Tovey and C.E. Beeby. Chapter three covers the circumstances that led to Whiting’s work as a restorer of customary art (churches, meeting-houses and dining halls), and then to the creation of new customary Māori projects, while subsequent chapters explore the implications of Whiting’s growing interest in community projects for marae, his ongoing interest in tikanga Māori and mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge and cultural practices), and his various roles in organisations like the Historic Places Trust and Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand. The book ends, as it begins, with Whiting’s return to Russell in 2003, and his pursuit of private artistic projects in a domestic environment that is itself transformed by art and representations of tūpuna (ancestors) and histories that are Whiting’s most important subject. While Christensen’s book is full of art, and art is its primary subject, as an art historian I found myself repeatedly frustrated by tantalising glimpses and descriptions of specific works, only to have the narrative veer off in other directions, favouring always the tissue of connections that link objects to people, places and events, rather than sustained analysis of the art itself. I’ve thought a lot about this, and I don’t think this is just a result of Christensen not being an art historian or an expert in art (as opposed to an expert on Whiting and his art). Rather, it represents a considered


response to Whiting’s attitudes as an artist, and to the fundamental values that sustain his artistic practice. Christensen’s book makes it very clear that whakapapa is, for Whiting, the most appropriate way to talk about Māori art, especially if we understand whakapapa as telling stories. Speaking about Pine Taiapa, the Ngāti Porou carver, Whiting says: ‘He was very interested in all that side of it, everything he did had a story to it. And that became one of the clues to this whole issue of Māori art. You have to have stories or some kind of whakapapa relationship to make it work properly and effectively.’ The whole anecdote as Whiting tells it is lovely, with Whiting and his colleagues wondering why Taiapa is always talking about things that don’t seem relevant to the task at hand (making art), and wondering when he will get down to business. Perhaps the same lesson needs to be learned by Pākehā art historians: it’s not that taking account of artworks isn’t important, just that what that process might properly consist of is perhaps different to what we think it should be. In this, and lots of other ways, Cliff Whiting: He Toi Nuku, He Toi Rangi is a challenging and enjoyable book. It is absolutely packed full of images, most of them from Whiting’s own archives, of people and places and events that I have heard and read about but never seen illustrated like this. For that alone, this book is a game-changer, an illustrated record of part of New Zealand art history that remains surprisingly unknown (yes,

partly because we don’t have enough monographs like this one). The book is also written in te reo Māori and te reo Pākehā, two parallel texts that are not translations, but rather linked yet separate narratives. While my language abilities are not sufficient to allow me to understand everything that Christensen writes in the Māori text, they are sufficient to let me see how a subtly different account is being created. I found this aspect of the book exciting, and a little moving. It reinforces the Māori dimension of Whiting’s art and Christensen’s book, indicating the claims that different audiences can make on both the art and the publication, and it brings us a little bit closer to the time when we might get an art history book about Māori art published in te reo Māori. This is a book that not only pays fitting tribute to Whiting’s art, but also represents how Whiting’s efforts have helped bring into being the kind of culture that he and others have been working so hard to create.




represented by Bowen Galleries Wellington ACCOMPANYING PUBLICATION, WHALE YEARS (poems and drawings) FORTHCOMING FROM AUCKLAND UNIVERSITY PRESS MARCH 2015 Bowen_Landfall.indd 1

4/09/14 11:39 AM


Represented by

Milford Galleries Dunedin 18 Dowling Street, Dunedin 9016 | Ph (03) 477 7727 | [email protected]

three new memoirs VUP 2014

From early childhood in postwar Blenheim to the remote regions of Bangladesh, from an English boarding school to 1960s Auckland, from Jordan during the civil war of 1969–70 to family homes full of children, this dazzling book traces the many shifts in Ian Wedde’s life.

Give Us This Day explores the story of one of the 732 Polish child survivors of wartime Soviet deportation offered unlikely refuge in New Zealand. Helena Wiśniewska Brow searches for meaning in the family lives shaped by exile. Winner of the Adam Prize, 2013.

September, hardback, $40

October, hardback, $40

Stephanie de Montalk tells the story of the chronic pain that has invaded her life for more than ten years. A unique blend of memoir, imaginative biography and poetry, How Does It Hurt? is a groundbreaking contribution to the understanding of chronic pain, and a spellbinding literary achievement. November, hardback, $40

First Prize $500 Second Prize $250 5 highly commended

Caselberg Trust International Poetry Prize 2015

(no monetary prize)

Judge: Michael Harlow

Entry fee $15 for up to three poems The first and second placed poems to be published in the May 2015 edition of Landfall Entries close 31 December 2014 For ConditionsPLEASE and Entry Form, FOR go to228 UPDATE


Seresin Landfall Residency 2015 Established in 2009, this is a four-week writing residency to be taken at any time of the year. A cottage at Waterfall Bay in the Marlborough Sounds is made available for the successful applicant to work on a writing project – timing to be agreed between the successful candidate and Seresin Estate. There is no stipend but $500 towards costs will be paid to the successful candidate. Full details of criteria and how to enter are on Landfall homepage.

Entries close 31 January 2015

The Landfall Essay Competition 2015 Established in 1997, designed to encourage writers to ‘think aloud’ about aspects of New Zealand culture in fully developed independent works no longer than 6000 words. The winner receives $3000 and a year’s subscription to Landfall. Full details of criteria and how to enter are on Landfall homepage. Entries close 31 July 2015



The NZ kitchen in the 20th century HELEN LEACH The engrossing history of the domestic kitchen covering 10 decades of tradition and change. ISBN 978-1-877578-37-3 pb, 330pp, full colour, $49.95

WHAT LIES BENEATH A memoir ELSPETH SANDYS A searing, amusing, and never less than gripping tale of a difficult life, beautifully told. ISBN 978-1-877578-89-2, pb, 224pp, 16pp b&w photos, $35

WHITE GHOSTS, YELLOW PERIL China and New Zealand 1790–1950 STEVAN ELDRED-GRIGG WITH ZENG DAZHENG 曾达峥 A colourful exploration of the relationship between China and New Zealand and their peoples during the seven or so generations after they initially came into contact. ISBN 978-1-877578-65-6, pb, 384pp, full colour, $55

ANNIE’S WAR A NZ woman and her family in London 1916–19 The diaries of Annie Montgomerie Ed. SUSANNA MONTGOMERIE NORRIS WITH ANNA ROGERS

A unique and compelling view of a crucial time in world history, richly illustrated with contemporary photographs and other memorabilia, and superbly annotated. ISBN 978-1-877578-75-5, pb, 256pp, 32pp b&w photos, $45

Otago University Press

From good booksellers or


Sandra Arnold has been awarded the Seresin Landfall Residency for 2014 to work on her fourth book, a novel titled The Eshwell Bridge Witch Project.

Liz Breslin writes poems, plays, stories and articles. She has performed and been published in NZ and overseas. She lives in Central Otago.

Nick Ascroft is a poet and writer and former editor of Glottis magazine. He graduated in linguistics from the University of Otago and currently works for Bloomsbury in London.

Diana Bridge is a Wellington writer and poet who has published five collections, the latest of which is aloe & other poems (AUP, 2009). She is currently working on the translation of a selection of classical Chinese poems.

Jenny Argante published in 2013 a collection of poems, Working in the Cracks Between, and After the Act: Short stories, both from Oceanbooks. She is a professional writer and editor and a life member of  Tauranga Writers. She lives in the Bay of Plenty. Morgan Bach completed an MA in creative writing at the IIML at Victoria University of Wellington in 2013, and was the recipient of the Biggs Family Prize in Poetry. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Sport, Landfall, Hue & Cry, JAAM, and in various places online. She lives in Wellington. Sarah Bainbridge lives in Paekakariki. She has an MA in creative writing from the IIML at Victoria University of Wellington, and is an echocardiographer by trade. Tony Beyer is a poet who lives in West Auckland. His most recent book is Great South Road and South Side, from Puriri Press, 2013.

Iain Britton teaches Māori studies at King’s School in Auckland and is a widely published poet. Since 2008 four collections of his poems have appeared: Hauled Head First into a Leviathan (Cinnamon Press), Liquefaction (Interactive Press), Cravings (Oystercatcher Press) and Punctured Experimental (Kilmog Press). Marisa Cappetta won the 2011 Hagley Writers’ Institute Margaret Mahy Prize. She has published in Takahe, Snorkel, Turbine, Blackmail Press and Landfall, and her poems have also appeared on two Phantom Billstickers posters. Barry Cleavin is an artist and printmaker whose work is held in many NZ public art collections. A book exploring a selection of Cleavin’s prints from 1966 to 2012, Lateral Inversions: The prints of Barry Cleavin, by Melinda Johnston, was published by CUP in 2013.


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Denise Copland was formerly a senior lecturer at the School of Art & Design, Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology. She is now a full-time artist and printmaker who lives on Otago Peninsula. She has taken part in numerous International Print Biennales in Europe and Asia, as well as exhibiting widely in Australia and New Zealand. Gerry Te Kapa Coates (Ngāi Tahu) is a Wellington consultant and writer. Jennifer Compton was born in Wellington and now lives in Melbourne. Her poetry collection This City won the Kathleen Grattan Award and was published by OUP in 2011. Her most recent collection, Ungainly, was published by Mulla Mulla Press in early 2014. Jen Crawford is a poet from Aotearoa New Zealand who lives in Singapore, where she coordinates the Creative Writing Programme at Nanyang Technological University. Kate Davis is currently studying at Massey University in Albany. She has just completed a collection of short stories called The Whore Next Door based on her time working in the sex industry. Her story ‘Georgie’, published in Landfall 224, was adapted into a play called Between the Cracks, which won the 2013 Massey University Script Writing Competition. It was staged in Auckland in March 2014. Semira Davis is from Kaitaia. She lives in South Auckland, and is currently studying creative writing at the Manukau Institute of Technology in Otara. Doc Drumheller was born in Charleston, South Carolina, and has lived in New Zealand for more than half his life. He has worked in award-winning groups in theatre and music 204

and has published ten collections of poetry. He is the 2014 Hagley Community College Writer in Residence. Amanda Eason is an Auckland-based poet and creative writing tutor. She returned to New Zealand in 2010 after more than 20 years overseas, mostly in London where she performed her poems regularly at poetry venues on the cabaret circuit and elsewhere. Lynley Edmeades is a PhD candidate at the University of Otago, looking at poetry as a sonic art. Her poems and reviews have been published in New Zealand and overseas. Rhian Gallagher’s most recent collection, Shift (AUP, 2011; Enitharmon Press, 2012), won the NZ Post Book Award for Poetry in 2012. Rata Gordon is a seventh-generation New Zealander who lives in Grey Lynn. Her life involves writing, drawing, dancing and planting trees. Her poems have appeared in print in Landfall and JAAM, and online in Deep South and NZ Poetry Shelf. Russell Haley has had several collections of short fiction and four critically acclaimed novels published. His biography of New Zealand painter Pat Hanly was an awardwinning book in 1989. Bernadette Hall lives at Amberley Beach, North Canterbury. Her most recent collection of poetry is Life & Customs (VUP, 2013). Her poem extract in Landfall 228 is from a forthcoming collaborative book project with Wellington poet/artist Rachel O’Neill. Michael Hall has been published in New Zealand, Australian and Canadian literary journals. He lives in Dunedin.


Scott Hamilton has a PhD in sociology from the University of Auckland. He has published two books of poetry and an annotated selection of the poems of Kendrick Smithyman. After spending 2013 in Tonga, Hamilton is writing a book about that country’s extraordinary avant-garde art scene; some of his chapters have appeared as essays in the online journal EyeContact. 

Michele Leggott received the 2013 Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry and was NZ Poet Laureate 2007– 09. Her eighth poetry collection, Heartland, was a finalist in the 2014 NZ Post Book Awards. Her essay in this issue of Landfall was delivered as a keynote address for the Professing Creativity conference at Massey University in Wellington in February 2014. 

David Herkt lives in Auckland, and has worked extensively in television as a director and writer/researcher. His TV productions have won two Qantas Film and Television Awards, and his literary written work has been published variously, including in Meanjin in Australia and Landfall in New Zealand. 

Andrew Long was formerly a lecturer in media studies at the University of Otago and now works as a consultant based in Dunedin.

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman lives in Christchurch. His most recent books are The Lost Pilot: A memoir (Penguin, 2013) and the poetry collection Shaken Down 6.3 (CUP, 2012.)

Mary McFarlane is a visual artist based in Otago. She works in a variety of media and is known particularly for her mirror works, which hover between painting and sculpture. She is represented by the Diversion Gallery in Picton.

Anna Jackson lectures in English at Victoria University of Wellington and has published five collections of poetry with AUP.  Her sixth collection, I, Clodia, is published in November 2014.

Carolyn McCurdie is a Dunedin writer and poet. One of her poems won first prize in the NZ Poetry Society International Poetry Competition 2013, and a collection has been accepted for publication by Makaro Press. With other members of the Octagon Poets Collective she helps organise live poetry events in Dunedin.

Sheridan Keith has published two collections of short stories and a novel, Zoology, winner of the 1996 Montana NZ Deutz Medal for Fiction. She lives in Auckland.

Alice Miller is the author of the poetry collection The Limits (AUP and Shearsman, 2014) and is the current 2014 Grimshaw Sargeson Fellow in Auckland.

Jessica Le Bas is a widely published poet and children’s author who lives in Nelson. Her first collection, Incognito (AUP, 2007), won the NZSA Jessie Mackay Award for the Best First Book of Poetry at the 2008 Montana NZ Book Awards. She recently lived and worked in Rarotonga for a year.

James Norcliffe is a poet, writer, editor and anthologist who has published a collection of short stories, eight collections of poetry and several award-winning novels for young people. He lives on Banks Peninsula.


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Kevin O’Donnell completed a Master’s degree in creative writing at Victoria University in 2013. He lives in Wellington and is a nurse educator in intensive care.

Her poems were included in AUP New Poets 3 (AUP, 2008) and her first collection, Aue Rona, was published by Steele Roberts in 2012. 

Simone Oettli is a writer, critic and editor living in Geneva, Switzerland. She taught English literature at the universities of Auckland, Lausanne and Geneva, and is presently editing a book on Katherine Mansfield.

Alan Roddick’s poetry has recently appeared in Tintean and Eureka Street (Melbourne), and in the Scottish Review of Books (Edinburgh). His Charles Brasch: Selected poems will be published by OUP early in 2015, and he is working on a new collection of his own.

Claire Orchard lives in Wellington, where she completed an MA in creative writing at the IIML in 2013. She has had work published in Penduline Press, JAAM, 4th Floor, Turbine, Sport and Landfall.

Kerrin P. Sharpe’s first book, three days in a wishing well, was published by VUP (2012). Her work appeared in Oxford Poets 2013: An anthology (Carcanet Press), and another book is forthcoming from VUP (2014).

Maris O’Rourke is a poet and children’s author, and has been published in a range of journals and anthologies. Her first poetry collection, Singing with Both Throats, came out in 2013 from David Ling.

Damian Skinner is curator of applied art and design at the Auckland Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira. He was a co-author of Oceania: A new history (Thames & Hudson, 2012), which won the UK’s Art Book Prize 2014.

Joanna Preston is a Tasmanaut poet, editor and freelance creative writing tutor. She lives in rural Canterbury with an Understanding Husband and a flock of galline despots.

Carin Smeaton is a poet who lives in Newton, Auckland.

Vaughan Rapatahana is a poet, novelist and short story writer. His new poetry collection, Atonement, has just been published by ASM/ Flying Islands (Macau). He has recently returned to Aotearoa New Zealand from living in Hong Kong. Richard Reeve is a poet from Warrington, North Otago. His fifth collection, Generation Kitchen, is forthcoming from OUP (2015). By day, he is a debt collector. Reihana Robinson is a writer and artist and organic farmer living on the Coromandel.


C.K. Stead won the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize earlier in 2014, and his poem in Landfall 228 is from that portfolio. He appeared at the Australia-New Zealand literary festival in London in May, and gave a plenary paper at the Katherine Mansfield international conference in Paris in June. His most recent poetry collection is The Yellow Buoy (AUP, 2013). Elizabeth Smither is a poet, novelist and short story writer, and a former Te Mata Poet Laureate. Her novels include Lola (Penguin, 2010), and her poetry collection The Blue Coat was published by AUP in 2013.


Lorene Taurerewa has widely exhibited internationally and was formerly lecturer for drawing at the School of Design, Victoria University of Wellington. Since 2007 she has lived and worked in New York and NZ, spending approximately six months of the year in each country. Simon Thomas is a writer based in Waikanae. Tom Weston is a Christchurch-based lawyer, writer and poet. He was appointed Chief Justice of the High Court of the Cook Islands in 2010. Andrew Paul Wood’s work has appeared in Landfall, the Press, Takahe, Poetry New Zealand, Art New Zealand, New Zealand Listener and elsewhere. His most recent book was An die Deutschen/To the Germans, a bilingual translation of the Jewish German-New Zealand poet Karl Wolfskehl’s major poem about the rise of the Nazis (Cold Hub Press, 2013). Sue Wootton’s publications include the short story collection The Happiest Music on Earth (Rosa Mira Books, 2013) and four collections of poetry: Hourglass, Magnetic South, By Birdlight (all from Steele Roberts) and the limited edition Out of  Shape (Ampersand Duck, 2013). She lives in Dunedin. Kirsti Whalen is a poet from Auckland by way of Melbourne, Australia. She studies creative writing at Manukau Institute of Technology, and works in disability advocacy and support. She was shortlisted for the 2014 Sarah Broom Poetry Prize.

CONTRIBUTIONS Landfall publishes poems, stories, excerpts from works of fiction and non-fiction in progress, reviews, articles on the arts, and portfolios by artists. Written submissions must be typed, with an accurate word count on the last page. Email to landfall@otago. with ‘Landfall submission’ in the subject line, or post to the address below.

SUBSCRIPTIONS Landfall is published in May and November. The subscription rates for 2015 (two issues) are: New Zealand $50 (including GST); Australia $A52; rest of the world $US53. Sustaining subscriptions help to support New Zealand’s longest running journal of arts and letters, and the writers and artists it showcases. These are in two categories: Friend: between $NZ75 and $NZ125 per year. Patron: $NZ250 and above. Send subscriptions to Otago University Press, PO Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand, or email [email protected]. For enquiries, email or call 64 3 479 8807. Print ISBN: 978-1-877578-47-2 ePDF ISBN: 978-1-927322-43-7   ISSN 00–23–7930 Copyright © Otago University Press 2014 Published by Otago University Press, Level 1, 398 Cumberland Street, Dunedin, New Zealand. Typeset by Otago University Press. Printed in New Zealand by Printlink.


Denise Copland, In Tatters, 2014, 600 x 700 mm. Woodcut.