Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Tuesday Poem

cigarette smoke in the rain
We were together two months; May,
June ‘73. He was funny, could be 
tender, boyish, but felt the misfit

of islands, culture, climate; and his eyes
after drinking became bloodshot pokers,
his guitar-picking hands, hard fists

to fling a kitten against a wall, bash 
taxi drivers, me. Even now, just the smell 
of cigarette smoke in the rain is enough 

to jolt me back to that bus-ride one wet day 
out to St Clair beach for him to find some familiarity
in the sea’s lap. As always, people looking at us 

as we got on the bus, this Maori boy from Auckland 
with the Southland blonde. He hated it, 
the surf’s cold spittle, its frosty haze. 

And even as he said he loved me, hated
my advantages of freckled skin, of place, 
of peace. He wore a light-blue, woollen hat 

pulled hard down, jeans tucked tight 
into rugby socks and black, laced-up bovver boots. 
We caught the next bus back. Hardly said a word.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Tattooed Mummy's Meme

Wax-eyes feeding on bread and scones with cream and jam that my sister and her partner have left out for them on a glass-topped, patio table - spoilt birdies!

Tattooed Mummy tagged me - this is what she said:

Here’s the thing, you get to be interrogated and then make you own questions and interrogate some other unsuspecting bloggers – what fun!

What is your favourite name for a girl that you haven’t used for any of your own children?
Elizabeth. (I'm also rather fond of Agnes and Dulcie, but that's a recent leaning … Elizabeth has been the longest standing favourite.)

 If you could live in any country 
EXCEPT the one you live in now which would you choose and why?
Japan – cos that's where some of my family live, a bit of my d.n.a is buried under two trees and where I have left part of my heart.

Chocolate or chips – if one was to be banned which would you pick?
You know, given the choice between salt and sugar, salt might just win out. Yep. I think chips. 

If you won a million on the lottery what would be the first thing you would buy?
The hire of a builder to expand our house by adding an upper floor and creating access to the downstairs area, thus making it a place where three families could live comfortably with their own space … Either that or buy a butternut-coloured Morris Minor.

What catches your eye first in a member of the opposite sex? 
A sense of kinship (affinity).

Trapped on a desert island you can only have one book to read, which would you pick? 
'Anne of Green Gables' by L.M. Montgomery.

You get out of a store and realise you have something in your hand you didn’t pay for. You got away with it. Do you return it? Or keep quiet and keep it?
My conscience is so touchy, that upon discovery of said unintentionally stolen goods, it would immediately enter an unbearable state of panic until said object was returned with accompanying profuse apologies. This clearance of guilt would result in a state of unadulterated bliss from having achieved reprieve (all of which strongly, and correctly, indicates that I was brought up R.C.)

What always cheers you up?
A fire and half a glass of whisky. (Failing that, one of Kate's hot chocolates.) 

You have a whole day to yourself, but no money or internet. What would you do and would it be heaven or hell?
Read, walk along the beach at low tide, watch tv, knit, write, watch a dvd, drink coffee, eat Cheezles and read some more; all of which would add up to a kind of seventh heaven.

Where will you go when you die?
Heaven. Undoubtedly.

And these are who I tag 





with the following questions:

What is your favourite colour?

What is your favourite tree?

Who is your favourite famous person?

Who is your favourite singer?

When is your favourite time of the year?

When is your preferred time to go to bed / wake up (are you a lark or an owl?)  

Why are you content / discontent?

Why are you living where you are right now?

Where would you like to be in 7 years time?

Where is your favourite place on earth?

(Thank you Tattooed Mummy for tagging me).

Friday, 25 June 2010


When I went to leave my mother's place on Thursday this week, I couldn't find it in my heart to leave this fellow behind ...

In early 1974 when I was twenty I hand-sewed Gonk for my sister's eleventh birthday. He was made out of crimpline, a popular (stifling) material in the 60's and 70's. A very badly-stitched effort, but with personality. My sister loved him.

(From Wikipedia). 'Perhaps the most famous gonk in the UK (and NZ) was Humpty from the children's TV series Play School. Gonks were also immortalized in the early 1980s in the TV comedy show The Young Ones, where Neil gets worried about his exam performance:

"I sat in the big hall and put my packet of Polos on the desk. And my spare pencil and my support gonk. And my chewing gum and my extra pen. And my extra Polos and my lucky gonk. And my pencil sharpener shaped like a cream cracker. And three more gonks with a packet of Polos each. And lead for my retractable pencil. And my retractable pencil. And spare lead for my retractable pencil. And chewing gum and pencils and pens and more gonks, and the guy said "Stop writing, please."

Gonk moved from Dunedin to Gore, then in 1976 from Gore to Palmerston North. After thirty-four years he is on the move again, unceremoniously squashed into a suitcase to travel with me back to Dunedin.


Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Tuesday Poem

hit the road, Jack’

Our mother’s a witch

with a hooked nose

and she’s going to eat you up,”

my sister tells the postmaster’s son

after he’s overstayed

his welcome.

No second warning’s needed.

Long after he’s turned

McAllister’s corner, we still hear

the clatter of his trike’s metal tray

leaving us the gravel road

with its centre line of mayweed

and silky potholes,

once again, quiet, empty

and so much ours that if we wanted to

we could lie down

in the middle of it

and sometimes did.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

This is a poem from my next collection titled 'born to a red-headed woman'. Each poem has as its title the name of a song that is relevant to the time in which the poem is set - which in the case of this poem, is the early 1960's. The song, 'Hit The Road Jack' was a hit for Ray Charles in 1961 when I was eight years old and in Standard One.

On my recent trip back to Orepuki, I stood at what we knew as McAllister's corner and took a photo that shows the view down towards the ocean and town, thus standing once again on 'our road' almost fifty years on from the time the poem describes.

For more poetry, go to Tuesday Poem .

Saturday, 19 June 2010

When Life Was Black and White

This rather grainy photo shows my mother (so young!) holding me as a baby. On Friday I turn 57 years old and will be spending my birthday with my mother for the first time for a very long time. Because she lives on another island to where I live, we don't get together very often.

I will be spending time with my sister as well ...

A photo of my sister (aged seven years old) taken at the Gore A&P show, 1970. I love the socks and handbag!

Jill was born ten years after I was and has never let me forget the fact that she is that much YOUNGER than I am. Still ... time is relative! We all age at exactly the same rate.

A photo of me at the Gore A&p show, 1970, aged 17 years old. (Check out the grey-and-red checked bellbottoms!) I remember the sneakers were pale-blue. Black duffle coat and (I think) pale-blue skivvy.

I am looking forward to my time away in the North Island and spending time with kith and kin. I leave tomorrow morning, early.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Tuesday Poem


Metal struck,
peals petal-notes,

chimes frost,
hums moss,

keeps time. Reaches
through the fire of praying,

to the ears of birds.
Is a voice, a cry, a call

as simple as rivers
that once ran

over deep, dumb-tongued rocks,
clear to the sea.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Believe it or not, this poem is a protest poem.

Also, it hasn't finished saying all it wants to say ... is probably still a work in progress.

I have an affinity with bells, maybe because when my father's brother had a daughter called Joy, my father insisted on calling his new niece 'Joybells'. Then when I was born some years later, my Uncle Jack delightedly got his revenge by dubbing me 'Kaybells' - a name which stuck (in the family) for quite some years.
Lately I have been taking photos of church bells - so expect to see them featured here on occasion, even if only as a way of putting the photos to some use.

For more Tuesday Poems - go here.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Tuesday Poem

A recent trip to my birth-place in Southland has resulted in thoughts about place. This poem is from my first book, 'Feeding the Dogs,' and was written after another such pilgrimage 'back home' about ten years ago.
Time, distance (same thing actually) homesickness, a sense of place, identity, ancestry - it's all here as I've tried to convey the effects of the passage of time on both the concrete and the physical. As well, I wanted to allude to the more intangible aspects of taking such a journey back in time, while still vitally connected to a present that by its very nature, relentlessly forges ahead into the future, minute by minute, nano second by nano second ....

some time

A funeral's brought us back
to Orepuki, walking past
what used to be the Garage
now just an empty walk-through

that nobody bothers to walk through
any more,
weeds scrabble walls,
paint licked off by rain.

Grease-smudged, overalled, old Mr
and young Mr Mac. filled cars with Boron.
My brothers say: There
was where the old picture theatre
was. Flip-back seats that squeaked,
a funnel of light; Ma and Pa Kettle.

Looking down empty streets
at time-scrubbed buildings,
what was here is still
in the air; memory
forms the shapes.

In the pub it's just the same
as any country pub,
the only character found
in whoever is there to argue the point.

The Turnbulls had a half-timbered van.
Once, on the way back with them
from the Teretaunga Races,
we bumped into another car.

I remember the feeling of all not as it should be

... like this feeling now
holding a dripping, ice-cold,
chiselled mug of beer,
an uncle just buried - the last
to die of a family of twelve.
There's talk of $100 burial plots
(I think I should be in
- that's a bargain.)

Then it's time to head back home - 300 ks.

But this is home. This place,
where every stone counts
and under our feet,
safe ground.

Terry drives us away and over
what used to be the railway station
now spare ground with a ditch right round.
He's trying to find us a way out.

We may be here
some time.

For more Tuesday Poems go here.

Thursday, 3 June 2010


This was always where as children we would shout "Puuuuuukiiii!!!!" as the car swooped down from the top of the hill with its view of Te Waewae Bay and the Princess Mountains. It's the eastern approach into what was then our home-town, Orepuki; fondly known as 'Puki to its inhabitants, past and present.

For the past two or three nights I've struggled to get off to sleep straight away. Images of places I've visited this week keep floating in and out of my mind. It seems I have a lot to process from the last two days when I travelled to the frontier of the South Island's south-west,

to touch base again with my favourite part of the planet; the place I will always call home,

a place famous for its twisted, bent-over trees fashioned that way by freezing, sub-Antarctic winds blasting them with salt.
The Princess Mountains, western backdrop to the South Island's south coast and Te Waewae Bay.

A very old house and once an Orepuki landmark; my great-great-aunty Mary's house. A house known by everyone in my childhood simply as 'Aunty Mary's house'. Apparently she would sit on the verandah that used to run along the front of the house, and converse with anyone passing by.

My family's ancestors in this area, go back to Kati Mamoe (one of whom is great-great Aunty Mary) plus some of my European ancestors lived here five or six generations back. Both my parents were born and bred in Orepuki, once a thriving, pioneer town - a gold-mining settlement - after which it became a robust, rural community. Now it is a 'ghost-town' and home to only a handful of families. It was my hometown for the first ten years of my life only, back in the 1950s and early '60s, but its impact as place - heightened no doubt by all those ancestors from there - has for me proved deep and lifelong.

Every two years (that's about all I can last without reconnecting) I make the pilgrimage south to greet the land once more and look down roads I looked down as a child - feeling like a giant in comparison to when I walked down them then.

So much has changed. Every year more of the roads and former homes and structures have disappeared back into the earth.
The land hasn't always looked as smooth as this. My father helped with the clearing and the transforming of the land from scrub and gully to pasture, but never lived long enough to see it looking quite this fine.

Every year more has been cleared and swept-clean, emerald-green paddocks (breathtakingly beautiful the day I was there on a clear, still day; the last day of autumn) fold and roll towards Foveaux Strait from the bush-covered Longwoods; a range of hills that run from Riverton in the east, to Tuatapere in the west.
Lately, a resurgence in the dairy industry has meant more of a push to bring the land back to the dairying area it once was in the 1950s and 1960s, when 'Puki had a local dairy factory; one that even made cheese. I can remember as a young child tasting a cube of the cheese from there, offered to me from a 'tester' tube. It was the first and last time I've tasted cheese so creamy and delicious.

There is now no trace whatsoever of our house, or of the many streets, shops and houses that used to be here. No more railway station, post office, bank, plunket, library ... the school is now a fisherman's private residence, draped with fishing buoys and nets.

After paying my respects to relatives in the cemetery with its five-star views, I drove up to the foothills of the Longwoods, taking the road through where my grandparents' farm was.
Where the road dips down into a gully and over a small bridge, I heard again the primal, secretive rush of the tea-coloured Taunore Creek (famous for its deposit of gemstones on the beach at its oulet).
I silently thanked my late Uncle Bill (McKenzie) for having the foresight to leave a stand of native bush as a reserve at the top of the farm he'd worked all his life. I can certainly vouch for the crawlies (fresh-water crayfish) that this creek is home to; although I haven't tasted one for over forty years now.

I re-visit this spot many times in my imagination. It is here that as a child I first appreciated how beautiful land meeting ocean could be. I remember summer days here, my Uncle Jack's shearing-shed generator chugging away in the background, a skylark shrilling above and foxgloves in the gully. I remember being here when my father was ploughing; the smell of earth, bush and creek ... life couldn't be any more blissful - and never has been.

As the afternoon unfolded, the feeling I carry of being some sort of a guardian of this part of the country, was being confirmed. That sounds very high and mighty and I don't mean it to be at all. There is no presumption intended, it's more a quiet, strong connection to the place that can't be denied. This is farther affirmed by a sense of the ancestors at my back, supporting and strengthening this connection.
I felt I was a purveyor of blessing and goodwill towards this land that so many have their eyes on for the potential it holds for off-shore oil-fields. It has already survived such ravages as forest-clearing and gold and coal mining; now it has this new threat to face. I can only hope that the reputation this place has for foul weather and icy gales will prove to be some sort of barrier to any rewarding exploitation.

And then I had to leave, darkness would be approaching soon and I had to make the hour-and-a -half trip to Gore where I was staying with my aunt. It was time to say 'bye to the land and to the people who infuse it with their presence. Until next time. Arohanui Orepuki.

Clocking Out

 I have been neglecting this blog for some months. I think perhaps I should face facts and accept that it is indeed time to retire this blog...