Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The Three Sisters

bird's eye view

In this room, a family
and all that that means, generations
and layers. Outside, a mountain range,
a lake, the stir of air. A habit now
to check out the Three Sisters peak
as seen from the lounge,
sometimes clear, sometimes
scarved in mist; stuck there,
side-by-side, part of the Remarkables
mountain range. Rocks.
I think of my three sisters, and yours.

Inside the house
your mother remembers
a day in 1962 when for pudding
there was rhubarb, junket and cream.
It was the day your father painted
that bird's eye view of the lake
from your grandparent's farm
at Kingston. The painting
you said you'd like to have, to keep it
in the family now that Alan Cooke's
have been seen on Trademe.

The painting that shows the layers
of colours in the wash of the lake
against shingle. Circles of green.
“It worries me when patterns
and rhythms are disrupted,”
your sister said.
She's thinking of earthquakes.
Or the grid.
Today the Three Sisters
stand clear against the sky.
I think of my three sisters, and yours.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Monday, 25 April 2011

It Is Now

On our way to spend Easter break in Queenstown with Robert's family, we stopped at Middlemarch where Robert played a round at the very tidy, nine-hole golf course, and I explored this town that I have had a bit to do with over the years.

While Robert played golf, I treated myself to a cup of coffee and a rhubarb-and-apple tartlet at a place called The Kissing Gate. This cafe behind its front hedge and gate, looks just like my great Aunty Ethel's house – a turn-of-the-century wooden bungalow; circa 1900.

1971 was my first year at Teacher's College in Dunedin. I was a seventeen-year old fresher up from Gore, Southland, feeling nervous, awkward and shy. I was staying at the YWCA Hostel. My friend Aileen, another Gore girl, was there too so we gave each other much-needed moral support. In the first few days at the hostel, we met up with another girl from 'the sticks'; Pam. Pam from Middlemarch. We became good friends with her, and we're all still friends today, forty years later.

Over the three years I spent at Teachers College, Pam often invited us to spend part of the holidays with her parents on their farm in Middlemarch. We'd travel there on the red rail-car that ran from Dunedin through to Clyde. These days the railway line only runs as far as Middlemarch (one of the few minor railway lines in New Zealand still operating). It is now used for twice-daily runs by the Taieri Gorge sightseeing train. Where the rest of the line ran, is now a very popular scenic bike trail.

From there, I explored the cemetery. Guesswork leads me to presume that the solid, protestant (Presbyterian?) section, its back to the shelter-belt and eastern hills, was intentionally separated from the smaller Catholic section, with its view of the Rock and Pillar range, at the west end. I'm also guessing that the third section, at the south end, is where those of an Anglican persuasion are buried.

It's good to start with the cemetery when exploring a place. During my explorations, I sensed a robust spirit and pride in the founders of Middlemarch. A sense that they were a no-nonsense, good-living, hard-working people of the plains. They weathered the harsh winters and searing summers with a love of the land they served and cared for. It's hard to say how one can pick this up just from reading the names and dates on headstones, except that you are also sensing something that isn't written in the concrete; something intangible, but just as solid.

I thought then that I'd like to try and find where my friend Pam's family farm and house used to be. It'd been nearly thirty years since I'd been there. Could I still find my way? I decided to trust my instinctive memory. I knew it was north-east of the town, and that you turned off near the school. Something definitely felt right about crossing the bridge over the Taieri River. Then when I saw Mason Road, I remembered Miriam Mason, Pam's friend and neighbour, and the horse rides we had at their place. As I drove along a road I was sure was the right one, my instincts again proved correct, for there was the house, unmistakably nestled among autumn-tinted trees and grey rocks. It was so good to see it again, even if it wasn't painted in the right colours and no longer seemed to reflect Pam's mother's love of gardening, or her father's hard work.

A bonus was finding an apple tree growing wild on 'everyman's land' on the grass verge at the side of the road. Bowed down with its load of apples; red, rosy and without blemish; it was begging to be harvested. I picked a dozen of them, feeling sure it had sprung up there from an apple core that Pam, or one of her two sisters, had thrown there on their way to, or from, the school-bus stop. When I told Robert it was possibly a tree that had grown from an apple core Pam had thrown there (but that I didn't really know for sure) he said, “Well, it is now.”

My poem 'feeding the dogs ' (the title poem for my first book) was a direct result of one of those times spent with Pam in Middlemarch. Winter in Middlemarch meant hard frosts and frosted-over ponds we'd skate on in gumboots. In the summers, the sun shines in a hot and cloudless sky. All year round the paddocks are brown and bare, the sheep dusty and grey. The most remarkable feature is the landscape – more like a 'moonscape' according to one of Ruth Dallas' poems – interestingly strewn with dry outcrops of rock.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

A Chip of Turquoise

the freedom of a bird to fly away

This day has been
between the birds:
a fantail snipping insects

in the autumn light, a blackbird
giving some rooftop-cheek,
a sparrow boldy hopping

under chairs and tables,
a seagull perched
on the playground's climbing frame.

As I walked to work,
I saw over the pine trees
at the golf course, a squadron

of magpies; heard the death-defying
of a three-magpie fight.

As I passed the race-course,
I saw a cluster of mushrooms.
No, it was children in white crash helmets,

riding ponies. Today it may all be
about the freedom
of a bird to fly away

and the constraint of reins.
Today a fire engine visited work.
The children worked the hose.

"I made it rain", one child said.
Today an artist visited
and he sketched turtles

and transformers
for the children.
"Draw a poo", Zain said to him

Such a four-year old thing to say. 
Today it was finger-paint 
and streaming pictures

of dripping dye.
When I got home
I headed for the shower

first thing and while drying my feet,
noted the last
of this summer's toenail polish,

right on the tip
of my big toes; a chip
of turquoise.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Space is Full of Nothing

When We Get Home, You Say, I Will Google Elecro-Magnets 

On the car ride back from Maitland,
Southland, from the windmill turn-off
until we hit Portsmouth Drive, Dunedin,
a two-hour trip, you wonder out loud
how small the amount
we can actually see of the full spectrum.

And again you express amazement
that space is full of nothing.
Try to figure out
the difference between AC and DC.
Question how long the sun
will last and how many satellites

are there now, up in the stratosphere?
All this theorising. This yen to understand.
I blame the full moon
as the lit-up 8.30 flight from Wellington
under heavy cloud, bumbles in
like a lost fire-fly above Momona Airport.

We drive on into the night.
The planet we are pinned to
turns to morning on the other side,
in Colombia where our son is,
still sleeping. I send a tweet
to another son in Japan, on a train

coming back from Osaka.
I tell him we are on the other side
of Milton. Full throttle, we travel, 
into dark rain, pell mell, believing
we know where we've been
and where we are headed.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Friday, 15 April 2011

Purple Rose

in the rain

Walking home in the rain
I thought of the purple roses
I saw this summer.
I thought of the purple roses

full in the sun,
how cold they looked.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Dragging Wing

at the tideline

Despite my absence still the sea moves
to gravity's beat; gathers in light,
and sound, fills then empties;
an ancient rhythm and waiting
there again at the tideline,
the seagull with the dragging wing.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Half Moon


On the sea's breath, the smell
of salt and iron. 
My head fills with the noise
the sea carries in its weighty throat.

On sand marked 
by the press and drag
of low tide, I see gravity's 
abstracts in the strokes

and traces. Above, 
a dim half-moon rises
in the slow emptiness 
of space.

Kay McKenzie Cooke


it is

The ocean gives voice.
Incessantly. Today it appears
full of caprice, milky
with bubbles. It lays a mat
of cool, velvet sand under my feet,
places on a low tide's shelf,
ground pieces of ruddy brick,
book-shaped bits of tile.
an entire tree, beached
and monstrous. Take it
as a warning or a gift. Eventually
the sea will take it back.
The sea does what it does,
is what it is.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Earthly Good

Detail form a larger painting by Mike Cooke.

where you will find me

A worm the colour of puce bends
around corners, find its escape
like an octopus, but far
more slowly. I halt the encroach of weeds
crunching and crushing roots
with a chartreuse-coloured,
metal trowel, then stop to ease my back
and take in the lie of this small valley,
its mild rise towards the unattainable,
high blue of the sky standing over us,
in the present, in the flesh.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Thursday, 7 April 2011


The above image is from detail from a larger work called 'Poet', a painting by Mike Cooke. I have also used part of this painting as a  header for this blog.

fits and starts

The day has started with a fit of weather from the south,
fat rain that the windscreen wipers shovel out of frame,
drops that would be snow if we lived on a mountain. The day is full
of stuck things - Chris's van in the neighbour's shrubbery, the internet
on a page that Safari cannot open. Then a grand un-sticking, to fall
into a patch of sun so thin it cannot hold. I've been told before
I'm grounded. This is good. Unlikely then to get blown away.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

rampant red lion

breath before the plunge

A yellow scarf,
a hat, to beat
a grey day
about its dull ears

and this drizzle
that has latched
on to the afternoon
not to be fobbed off.

I adjust my intentions
to a 15-minute walk,
and the hot chocolate I crave
procured much nearer

at The Terminus
where trams used to catch
their breath before the plunge
again back down Silverton Street

past Fox Hall,
a crayon-on-cardboard notice
in the window to inform
that today the flag

hoisted on the flag-pole
is the flag of Normandy, France,
in the right conditions
a rampant red lion

on sunflower-yellow
but in today's soft,
cold rain, any rampaging

sadly lagging. Then something
that in all fourteen years
I've lived in the neighbourhood
I've failed to notice,

a mailbox in the shape 
of a cargo ship
outside the marine surveyor's
office, the 'No Junk Mail'

on the side of it
begging the obvious
puns about junks, but 
which I don't pursue.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Monday, 4 April 2011

old iron

of itself

Buttoned-up with rivets,
an abandoned sluice pipe
we noted with something more
than fleeting regard,
acknowledging its shift, when?
From something ugly to somehow fitting
here among the remains of an old claim.
The birds sang, the grass leaned,
the sand sighed. The whole planet

shifted, as it does every morning, tilting
its face to the moon, or away,
but imperceptibly. We moved on
forgetting how it all breathes, until now
when I look again at the photo I took
of this old iron and see traces of sky
reflected in rust, the life
of light in its laggard melting
back into this earth we spin on.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Sunday, 3 April 2011

early days

Who knows how true a memory really is, or whether it is just a filament drawn from some web woven from threads of dreams?

Did my brother really nearly drown
trying to rescue his knitted teddy-bear; brown,
with anxious button eyes?

And was it in the duck pond, smeared with green weed
that he fell, face down? Did we run
for our mother, that day, or was it on another

day, that time I tried to fly, or the day we thought
the neighbours were spies
on black bicycles? Or who knows what day

out of the many days we wandered along the top
of our world, by a gully full of frogs, the blackened
craze of burnt gorse, that patch of un-melted frost?

So early and so green those early days, so wound up
with truth and dreams, so new, so old
and fixed, fastened forever to that place where time begins.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Friday, 1 April 2011

when you least expect it

reading signs

Yesterday I tested the day 
for signs of change, sensed it 
in the formations
of blue and grey, sand 
and waves of cloud.
Yesterday the sea reared 
up, like horses of light. The ocean, 
when and where 
you least expect it. All the signs 
are there. Dogs attack penguins.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

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...