Wednesday, 31 August 2011


painted bus shelter; Dunedin


My great-grandmother 
on the back of a horse,
cut quite a figure. 
When my great-grandfather
first saw her, suddenly
the trees bent sideways,
the dark nights, billows of fern,
rain, all made sense. Her face
followed him, her neck, as soft 
as a cloud. He knew then
why he'd left London,
his home, his parents. He knew
he would have sons, grow a garden 
full of cabbages and silver-beet.
He was the song and dance man
his bones buried in this foreign soil
he made home. Two of his sons too,
buried away from their home country,
killed in a war their father never knew
anything about.
His widow and daughter in the end
left to keep the garden going,
feed the hens.
My great-grandmother
learned to live on, waiting,
never looking back,
you can see it written deep
in the only photograph we have,
the one on the wall,
her eyes knowing, following
your every move.
 Kay McKenzie Cooke

Plum Job

This photo of the plum tree at the bottom of our driveway was taken a couple of years ago when we got a good haul of plums from the branches that lean over into our property from the neighbour's tree. (I have no idea if we have a 'right' to help ourselves to the trespassing fruit, though I'm sure the neighbours don't mind or care).

I'm sure my sister would approve of this example of urban foraging.

Last year the birds got to the plums before I could. I wonder what will happen this year? I am already eyeing up the blossom as it gathers into a white cloud over our boundary.

Plum trees remind me of our early years of marriage, in Manor Park, Lower Hutt, where we lived for four years in a small, wooden house shaped like a shoe-box; houses rented from the Government Dept. Robert worked for, called Ministry of Works (not to be confused with 'Ministry of Silly Walks').

The backyard had an established plum tree with strong branches for stringing a hammock to. Each year we'd gather plums for stewing and jam, but there were always too many plums for just us to consume. The neighbours would arrive with baskets, plastic bags and tins, but even then, heaps of un-gathered red plums were left to ferment on the ground beneath the tree.

These days I'm happy to just make a batch of plum sauce - but it all hinges on the birds not getting to the plums first.

'starting over'

When we moved north
to Wellington, we felt like
we'd absconded, replacing mountains
and blond grass
with nikau palms and fennel
on stop-banks,

our four years there
living next to a railway line,
measured by the clatter
and arrival of trains and babies,
the ting-ting-ting of the barrier arms
coming down,

near where we happily bunkered
right on a fault line
running through
a backyard with a plum tree
we'd anchored a hammock to
for swinging in

with our young sons,
over a lawn
so strewn with the burgundy skins
of last season's
fermenting plums,
the very air smelt like wine.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

(The title to this poem is also the title of a John Lennon song. Using it  in this way, it serves as background music to the era and mood of the poem ... whenever I hear this song, even though I don't particularly like it all that much - it has the capacity to instantly transport me back to the time it was popular on the radio - early 80's. In other words, it provides a portal into the past).

Sunday, 28 August 2011


It seems every year I get taken hostage by the image of kowhai trees around our property, popping with yellow, bell-shaped blossoms, and not released until I have produced a 'kowhai poem'. This spring is no exception.


The tree named for its colour
(kowhai, yellow)
has sprouted soft bells
the tui
and korimako (bellbird) go for.
There for a season only

the flowers
clamour to peal, 
rung by a returning nor'easterly,
only to end up
swinging in useless silence.
Like me wanting life

to be believable
yet knowing that when I've gone
everything will still go on 
forming and falling, that birds
upturned by tides of air
are just fish with wings.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Saturday, 27 August 2011

South Sea Spring

Spring has arrived in the Southern Hemisphere.

Today a friend and I visited the South Seas ...

... art gallery, that is. Out at Brighton, a small coastal suburb just out of Dunedin.

We were there to be part of a promotional advertisement for the gallery, filmed by local television. Janet (owner of the gallery) has a dream / vision for the gallery and garden space to be used for arts events.

Dancing, poetry, painting, pottery, sculpture, music ... food and coffee ...

The nearness of the sea providing the sound of breaking surf.

Mosaics ... broken things used to form something new.

Back home another spring announcement; outside my writing-room window, young kowhai blossom.

... a bellbird, the icing on the cake.

Friday, 26 August 2011

I'd Rather Be Writing

Another working day. Sometimes I wish I had a job that wasn't so noisy. Over twenty tiny vocal chords all being utilised at once, stresses me. Funnily enough.

As early childhood teachers (even if like me, you're 'only' a reliever / supply / substitute one) we are required to be 'on' at all times; alert to the needs and safety of the little ones. No breaks (apart from the designated all-over-too-soon lunch & a couple of 10 minute tea-breaks). This is a job where there is no allowance for day-dreaming (my ideal job would be one that allows for time for meandering thoughts and silence as a component).

On my walk to work I ran into another e.c teacher I know. During our conversation, she said that work (of any description) is getting harder and harder to find.

I continued on my walk to work, thinking that at least I had work and today was Friday.

Halfway there I looked to see if our son's 'Poet Wins' was still there. When he was living in Dunedin, he was in the habit of committing random acts of street art. In this case on hoarding over an empty shop window.

And there it was. My favourite poet. Still there.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

While Walking

cliff-face - Anderson's Bay inlet

I walked home from work the 'new' way again - passing by the inlet. So much more interesting than tar, asphalt and exhaust fumes; the smell of the fish shop on the corner replaced by the smell of still water.

calcified shells on rock - Anderson's Bay inlet

The sight of traffic replaced by the sight of seagulls lazily bobbing on the ebbing tide. Of two boys throwing stones into the water.

leaf on green algae - Anderson's Bay inlet

When a car stopped to let me cross at an intersection, the driver called out, asking me if I was doing any good writing lately. I turned to recognise him as the father of one of our son's friends.
It certainly didn't take me long to catch him up with my lack of writing output lately. We quickly caught each other up with our respective offspring, then we were on our way again. He in his land-cruiser, me in my desert-toned Nevadas.
The brief encounter left me with an extra bounce in my step. The walk home didn't seem such a plod. When I become immersed in a week of work, as I have been in the last week and a half, I find it too easy to forget about writing.
Now I just need to find some time to do some of that writing I was asked about.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Algae and Mud

ice plant; Andersons Bay inlet

Today I walked home from work a different way - it may even have been one minute quicker. It certainly is more pleasant because I pass by part of the inlet and out of the way of snarling, home-bound traffic.

rock wall; Anderson's Bay inlet

Since arriving home I have only been able to chase ideas for writing and / or reading around in a mind lacking the time for reflection. Like one loosed, lost button rolling around on a formica table-top.
A searing headache drove me to bed as soon as I got home.
We decided it'd be fish and chips for tea. Blue cod and a scoop of chips from 'our wee man' on the corner. $13. Pretty decent meal for not much. Someone told me a f'n'c meal costs twice as much in Australia.
A friend rang to say her sister had died. Things change. People leave us. We leave them. Loss. "Life is a roller-coaster," I said.
Tomorrow is another day, work again and another walk home. I think I will go the inlet way again. There is something calming about the smell of algae and mud.
Aggie, the smaller introverted one of our two cats, lies beside me asleep on the bed. Her contented purring an idling tractor. The house is quiet. The earth moves on its axis. I will soon be asleep.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

For the Birds

The waxeyes have discovered our custom-built bird table. We are now waiting for the local tuis and bellbirds to do the same.

Our son in Ecuador ... before that, Colombia ... is on the move again; back to Chile for six months. When he finally gets back to New Zealand, he will be bringing a friend from Germany with him. We can't wait to meet her.

Another son, and daughter in law, are in India. They have cleverly discovered / made their own Artist's Residency there. They are safely ensconced in a place that meets their aesthetic and ethical values and will spend a month painting and photographing and discovering, exploring.

Another son is in Kyoto, Japan, where he lives with his wife and their two children. We are making plans to be with them for Christmas and New Year; first of all in a place yet-to-be-finalised in SE Asia (more on this as plans materialise ...) and then in Japan. We visited Japan two years ago. We adore the place and can't wait to get back there.

Having my daughter and partner; and three grandchildren; here in Dunedin, means we don't feel absolutely bereft of near kin. (The grandchildren get lots of cuddles - when I can catch them!)

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Elephants to Ladybirds

A catch-up of photos from my stay in Wellington.

We went for a walk along Pukerua Bay on the Saturday; the wood drifts evidence of a recent storm.

This rock is called Elephant Rock ... I wonder why?

From elephants to ladybirds ... this one was resting on a dried-out piece of kelp.

Large trees, large seas.

Stormy Petrels that didn't survive the storm. Sadly, there were a lot of them lying dead along the shore.

Soup from a thermos for lunch ... food always tastes better eaten like this.

 Hello South Island!

Pauatahanui Inlet - water fowl retreat and reserve.

A representative of a feral group of fowl.  We stopped to say hello. This rooster seemed pleased to show off his fine plumage.

Then the snow hit. It hasn't snowed in Wellington for forty years, so it caused a lot of excitement.

Part of the reason for heading north (apart from visiting family) was to read poetry as an invited reader for NZPS.

However the polar blast that hit Wellington right on the day of my reading, put the kybosh on a large turnout. It turned out to be a very small gathering around one table at the Thistle Inn. Small gatherings often create their own charm; which proved to be the case.

Before the reading took place, I became stranded  in the city and unable to get back to my sister's place to pick up the material I was going to read from. My sister and b-i-l had dropped me off at NZ's national museum, Te Papa, in order to hear American poet, Joy Harjo (who was excellent; I was very pleased I went, even though it did mean I got myself stranded.)

After the event, I headed for the railway station in order to make my way back by train to my sister's place. As I watched the flakes thicken and felt the temperature plummet, it became apparent that I was going to have to spend the night in town. There was now no way, even if I did make it back up to their home, that my sister and b-i-l were going to be able to bring me back into the city for the reading that night.

Phone calls were made, with the result that poet Tim Jones and his wife Kay, kindly offered to have me stay with them. Kay also arranged to meet me and withdraw my two poetry books from the library with her card, so that I had material to read from.

I bought a toothbrush and some toothpaste and maybe felt a little bit of what it must feel like to be a refugee.

Now I am back in Dunedin where I belong. It is good to go and it is good to get back. I had a great time, but east, west, home is best.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Time Capsules

If you took a core sample of the contents of Mum's house, it would reveal in colourful, striated layers, evidence of many decades. 

my father bought this plate for my mother early on in their marriage (circa 1950)

my mother bought this clock for her parents' 30th? wedding anniversary (1951) She's recently had it repaired and it came back chiming a very quirky and incorrect version of the Westminster chimes  

it's about time Mum got herself a new dictionary! Somehow she still manages to use it for her crosswords ...

this has been the 'sugar' cup forever 

the sugar cup with a pre-war shaker that still measures in 'gills' !

taken over fifty years ago ...

taken 1969


I had a coffee with Palmerston North poet Helen Lehndorf on Tuesday, gaining insight and another take on Palmerston North's culture and character. 
On the walk back to my mother's place, I hatched the beginnings of a poem about Palmerston North

This poem.

 ghost gums dance

Palmerston North's a grid. 
A cinch to navigate 
streets so straight.
I am walking the black racks
of shadows fences lay down.
I am seeing cabbage trees

in front of rough-cast villas,
blue sky choking on fat clouds
lumbering over
Featherston Street.
Palmerston North, so flat 
boy racers could flip

it over like a pancake.
So much space, so much
elbow room. Ghost gums dance
at Cloverlea and I am walking
over the over-bridge
over the railway line

where on Palmerston North nights
bellowing diesel trains 
roar right through 
the very walls of bedrooms, or
so it seems; rolling north,
or south, dead straight.

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...