Friday, 24 September 2010

the importance of being

Sights like the bandaged tower above and the yellow crane at the ready, are common in the city of Christchurch after the major earthquake that hit them early Saturday morning three weeks ago. Sad to see in this normally tidy inner city, piles of concrete, bricks and masonry, crippled and broken buildings, roads blocked by orange cones and tape and the common sight of people wearing safety vests and wielding clip-boards as they carry out building inspections. In the suburb of Halswell where my sister lives, piles of silt from liquefaction have appeared in all sorts of places, including the cemetery.

The Christchurch Gardens were a blaze of spring colour from flowers seemingly unaffected by any upheaval of the ground they sit in.

Everywhere you go people are talking about the quake, continually de-briefing after the horror of the sudden, severe, early morning roar and shaking, by comparing notes, asking others how they fared and always, the inevitable thankfulness that no lives were lost.

Everyone has a story to tell and as it happens, the collation of some of these stories is the job of a second cousin of ours I recently discovered was living in Christchurch. It was great to meet R. My sister and I sat and had a coffee with him at a small cafe by the Avon with daffodils nodding in the breeze, something daffodils do best. Christchurch is known as the Garden City and is perhaps at its best in spring. Despite the earthquake, the flowers were evidently unfazed.

We were in Christchurch for my mother's 80th birthday and it was the first time the family were all together for a few years now. My sister's arrival from Perth was a surprise for Mum, and despite several boo-boos (one major one on my part) we managed not to let the cat out of the bag, so that Sue's sudden appearance on Friday was truly a surprise for Mum.

After-shocks in the two weeks after the quake were continually rumbling and rolling. Not a nice reminder for people and a cause of stress, as well as loss of sleep. At last count there have been over 700 shakes recorded. While I was there I experienced about half a dozen quite severe ones that made me feel as if I was in a small dinghy being roughly rocked by someone with a cruel sense of humour.

On the Saturday night, to save a strain on my sister's accommodation, we stayed at Robert's sister's place. Despite their house being over one hundred years old, they hadn't suffered much damage. While there, I felt what I thought was probably an after-shock when I heard a mysterious knocking rattle from the window latch. It was either an after-shock or their friendly, resident ghost.

My son tells me that in my family teasing and mocking is probably a form of endearment ...  but at times I felt I was shown a little too much endearment. However, I survived. Robert quipped that we should be called the MocKenzies - perhaps an apt title.

I am now back home with my life back to what I consider as normal, even if some of my siblings would not consider going to a poetry reading as normal. The reading we went to hear was one with Richard Reeve as the invited poet. As I listened to him read his poetry, the beginning of a poem of my own began to form. Strangely enough, it literally evolved from the table-top I was staring into as he read (just don't tell my family that!)

red formica
(for Richard Reeve)

In the table-top's red
formica's cloudy forest,
I see paisley shapes,
random patterns.
I see Marilyn Monroe,
Joan of Arc, bracken, a skull,

a dog, a lizard, a deer. Words
are not found there but a story
neverthelesss about formica,
its levels and layers of paper
or fabric, compressed
then laminated, a replacement

'for mica' and its name
stolen from the Latin
for 'ant'. Formica, the smell of it
after it had just been wiped
by a warm, muslin dishcloth
conjures kitchens and rain.

Formica can be yellow, grey, pale
-green ... but my favourite now
has to be this red
and its frozen, paper faces
with chiseled cheekbones,
tormented smoke, frightened trees,

wasp waists, here in this cafe
listening to Richard's poem
pummel rancid consumerism
and modelled he said on Dante,
his Inferno, his version
of a particular hell.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

P.S. Southland still retains the Ranfurly Shield despite a forceful attack by the Auckland rugby team to wrestle it off them. Go the Stags!

Sunday, 12 September 2010



Like bells
with nothing to strike
or tug but light,
the flower
of the quiet kowhai

and everywhere juice,
the run of sap
in a rained-on lawn,
in fuschia, geranium,
in the iris' blade.

I hang the washing
with hands that mean business
that flick and thump
towels and socks,
lining them up

for how long now,
each time,
the click of pegs
as the ground
begins again to open veins?

Winter's sear fades 
into spring
again in every pore
and all its alterations.
How many times

that sound of a saw,
the dog barking
in the wind?
And the gargle
of tuis  

as they eye the kowhai,
the ancient memory
of its nectar
a sweetness
in the throat.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Wednesday, 8 September 2010


I have been in such a dither and a twither in these last few days I haven't been able to get anywhere near the blog.
The earthquake in Canterbury, our neighbouring province north, certainly hasn't helped.
They say that what is happening around you is reflected in the choices you make and in your ultimate reactions ... and so yes, feeling unsettled.
Of course, not as unsettled as those who've experienced an earthquake of 7.1.
We have family in Christchurch, so we are thinking of them and checking to see if they are okay - all the while getting reports of the after-shocks they are having to field and get through. One family we know have left town as the children were getting too freaked out with the aftershocks and not getting any sleep. There are probably dozens of families who have left to stay somewhere safer until the earth decides to settle.
One of my nieces wrote the planet earth a letter:
Dear Earth,
Settle the fricken down,
Huge mess and clean-up efforts are going on in what is normally an organised, sorted city going about the usual business of supplying the middle of New Zealand's South Island with its infrastructure intact. One blessing out of it all this is that NO-ONE was killed.
The sharp quake struck at 4.00 a.m. My sister said my niece had arrived home from her Friday night out an hour earlier (which would be typical of a lot of the young ones). So even the late-night Friday revellers were mostly all tucked up safe in bed. This is fortunate, because pictures and footage of the major damage the CBD has copped show that if there had been people wandering about they would've been in danger of being killed by falling chimneys, masonry and brick-walls.

Meanwhile, on the day of the quake in Dunedin, 400 miles away, it was a sunny, early-Spring day,  perfect for the scrabbling about in the garden that I felt drawn towards. Maybe it had something to do with tending the earth ... taking stock ... being grounded ... thankful ...
Above is a photo of an old pen we are going to re-model into a hen-house for a couple of chooks. Already I can visualize them in there clucking and chortling in the way of hens. A large part of my childhood memories involve hens and their care. Just the other day I heard someone say that hens were comforting things to have around.

My herb collection, such as it is.

Small kitchen-gardens are something else I want to work on developing and tending. Now that I am not working as much through the week, I use what time I have through the day to write. This means I don't freak in the weekends if I get no time to write, and I feel easier about using weekends to garden and other non-writing activities.

We are heading to Christchurch next week to my sister's place - amazingly unscathed through the quake. She says 'bring your hard hat', referring to the after shocks. It is our mother's 80th birthday and family members are converging from all corners. Life goes on, birthdays roll round, family events happen - even after and around an earthquake. Our Mum has never done things by halves!

There was ten years age difference between Mum and Dad (and both were Sept. babies). On Father's Day this year, Dad would have turned ninety. Because we attended a family celebration on Robert's side of the family down in Gore, where Dad is buried, we took the opportunity to pay a visit to his final resting place these last forty-two years. As we pulled up, a gale-force wind rushed at us - Dad no doubt having a joke at our expense (he was always a bit of a jokester).

With my son whose second name is the same as my father's. He never got to meet his Grandpop, and my husband never got to meet his father-in-law. 

I was particularly pleased to see the yellow polys. I had planted there a year ago had kept flowering. Such stoic, low maintenance flowers, polyanthus. The cheerful little buggers!


Thursday, 2 September 2010


A photo I took a year and a half ago of shop fronts in Roxburgh. I 'm a sucker for iconic, kiwi decor that reminds me of  life in small-town 1950s and '60s .... 
As far as I know, Roxburgh still hasn't got an ATM machine. Progress is slow to catch up in some places - thankfully. The poem below is about bank cards and what my daughter once told me she's tempted to say ...

when being asked for credit card details

She always wants to say; Well, let’s see
now. It’s got this shiny bird, I think
it could be a kea. It’s red,
has a distinct dislike
for velcro wallets and likes nothing
better than to slide into an ATM
first thing in the morning.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Backwater; 'Trapped on a leaf in a vine' (from lyrics to 'Backwater' by Brian Eno).

Life, as it is prone to do, has caught me up in its wave lately. It's taken me some time to make it to shore. Today I spent on the sand, just out of the breakers reach, taking deep breaths, getting my bearings and re-acquainting myself with life moving at what I consider to be a normal and attainable pace.
I haven't exactly landed on a desert island (which would be my preference) but these few days I have given myself to catch up with stuff and to get back to writing, could at least be described as the kind of un-regarded backwater I seek; ideal to hide myself away in, and write.


Spring has arrived and as always, I'm conflicted. Mostly I'm ready for the change to warmer temperatures and longer days, yet a persistent, perverse snippet of me wants to hold on to the way winter allows for hibernation. Sweet hibernation.


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...