Friday, 28 October 2011

Stone Story No. 1

Stone Story No. 1

Japanese stone

What past hand has sketched the future
dark-red, drawings of a sky of trees?
Stars, the moon, petals, branches
in the snow. Rivers or veins.

Jet trails across a sky darkening to puce
as travellers head for the other side.
Our son, too, drawn
to another country, another culture,

settling down there. Planting
the garnet-coloured placentas 
of his babies, his father-in-law
carrying them on a train 

along faithful lines. Their deep-blood 
buried inside that family's 
ancient ground, under their own trees; 
a magnolia, an olive.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Inlet Lets Me In

The other day I went for a walk to one of my favourite places to walk around our neighbourhood ... the Andersons Bay inlet.

I appreciated the bright mossy greens against the dark grey basalt walls and steps.

The limestone of old shells embedded ino the rocks also caught my eye.

The ice plant was looking particularly 'pretty in pink' showing off its new spring flowers.

This old seed-head has weathered the winter to shine like a dead star among the new green.

The old wall that holds the Bayfield Park up and away from the inlet's encroach, has a certain ramshackle, rough beauty.

As I wandered along the edges of the inlet a low tide, taking the photos and sitting a while on the old steps and huge slabs of concrete, seemingly flung there by some bored ogre, I could hear the distress of the local residents - this pair of paradise ducks (the female is the one with the white neck).
She would call to him, two high honks of warning (that I was approaching) and they would swim farther away, keeping a certain distance between them and myself. He would answer with one, low, disinterested 'whatever' honk, and continue to feed, hardly ever lifting his head at all. He seemed bored and under-whelmed by all her female fuss. He obviously felt there were more more urgent matters to attend to; an empty gizzard to fill for example.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Stories Written In Stone

This long weekend (New Zealand's Labour Weekend) just past, I've been looking more closely at the gemstone steps we have in our backyard. I've been looking at each stone, finding pictures in the shadows, colours and patterns. 
There is a bit of a story that goes with these steps ...

I spent my early years in Orepuki, a seaside town on the bottom of the South Island of New Zealand, which (among other things) is known for its gemstone beach. My father was born in Orepuki and over his many years there - long before Gemstone Beach was famous or even called by that name - he, like all Orepuki kids, collected the coloured pebbles.
I have childhood memories too of picking up the colourful stones (as did my brothers and sisters). We'd take them home and keep them in jam-jars of water, thus ensuring their colours would glisten bright. (That is until algae grew around them, draping the stones with rank, green tendrils.

Nearly 60 years ago now, Dad plonked all of his stone collection into the wet cement of the concrete paths and steps he built around our house. After we shifted away from Orepuki the house gradually fell into a pile of rotten wood and the paths became overgrown.

The steps however, were always visible and in perfect order.
I vowed that one day I was going to rescue them from among the thistles and ragwort, and bring them back with me to my home in Dunedin.
About 1991, I wrote for permission from the owner of the land that the steps were on, and during a Christmas reunion at Orepuki with extended family, seconded my husband, brothers and cousins to help man-handle them on to the back of a truck.
From there they travelled to my brother's place in Balfour and then eventually from there to Dunedin - an effort which involved my husband's help again, my brother's front-end loader and the brute force of a friend from Yorkshire to help us carry them up our steps and into our backyard.
I was known as the 'mad sister' for all this effort. They weren't the easiest things to move, that's for sure.
However, it was so worth it. I love this tangible reminder I have of of my childhood home. I always feel close to my father (dead 43 years this Thursday) whenever I take time to sit on them and rub my palms over the smooth, rounded stones.
To me they are gems not so much semi-precious, as fully-precious. Each one tells a story and recently I've been paying attention.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

A Poem

3rd term, 1970

How I stalled,
hiding inside my head,
liking it there, cushioned.
Being in the world
as it was unfolding,
with the sun shining neat

on to footpaths, the rain's
dribble on to hedges
and patient mail-boxes,
the smell of cooped-up budgies,
the deep, warm bath
nine o'clock at night,

the creak of the passage;
all things that cluster
to form a town; was bearable
if the edges were woolly
with fabrications. Rhododendrons
and marigolds.

The high school's
highly-polished corridors,
shadowed bike-sheds,
lagged pipes in the pre-fabs.
The sound of clocks, of wooden walls
relaxing behind wallpaper.

The smell of a cold fireplace.
Oh and let's not forget
the heartbreak,
the heartbreak
of newly-mown grass,
of any and every awful beauty.

Yes, and that ache
of double-hung windows,
of looking out at a world where hills
meet sky; the outside world,
its whole big, blue bluster,
its yodel and strut.

Kay McKenzie Cooke


My friend Wandering Woman and I have started a new (travel? impressions of surroundings?) blogging venture - as Di says,  'let's see where it takes us'. Indeed. Go here to see our beginnings.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Blue Skies To Grey

taken on Sunday on Highcliff Road above the harbour 

I've had the flu for two days. Being sick stops time. But when you come through to the other side, everything feels new. New beginnings. I feel like I've shed a skin, giving me the opportunity to shrug on a new one. Sing a new song.

the view from our deck on a good day, showing Mt Cargill in the distance without its wig of mist

While I've been sick I mulled over the book I'm writing. I mentally honed ideas and bulked out a couple of the characters. I plotted segues and connections and tied some loose threads together.
Now I just have to write what I was thinking about; shovel the words.

flags flying from Fox Hall

I have spent today in bed listening to the rain on our corrugated-iron roof. It has rained all day. Once I heard a bird break out in song, its audacity to do so surprising even itself, but then it stopped and again all that could be heard was the ceaseless tap-dance of the rain.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Singing Kettle

kitchen kettle

Now you are old,
sing to the sun, sing
the heat of kitchens, poured
water on tea-leaves
in a tea-pot poured out again
in small ceremonies
of thankfulness or worry,
or a way out of either. Singing

kettle at the back
sing, sing, sing and now
that you are old sing again
to the sun, to the earth
you have been filled in with,
to succulents that grow
in you, to the steam
of a remembered kitchen

with a low pinex ceiling
prodded in disdain. Sing
old kettle of the sun that spins
on through the grey and silver
here in this backyard
that could be the last kitchen,
or the first. Old kettle
let the heat of the sun rock you.

 Kay McKenzie Cooke

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Quiet Kindnesses

All our sons are now overseas. This feels strange and unsettling.

Before their departure, our middle son, Mike, and his wife Kate, lived with us for over a year. A landlord who had suddenly turned vicious meant they'd had to find somewhere else to live. They were saving up for their overseas trip, so needed somewhere to live that had reasonable rent. Reasonable rent are two words that do not often go together. We made the offer they couldn't refuse. Live with us - for a reasonable rent - so that you can start saving.

It turned out to be a special time having them living with us. When they left in June this year, I missed them. I had enjoyed their company, support, cooking, their interesting, quirky, creative and non-materialistic take on life. I missed the quiet kindnesses, the peace, the wisdom, humour and thoughtfulness.

After the dust settles from the busy few weeks ahead, up until November, Robert and I will have our noses pointed towards Christmas and New Year. This year Christmas will be a very different for us - we are going to South-East Asia to spend it with our son Steve, his lovely wife and two adorable kids. Then we will spend New Year with them in their home in Kyoto, Japan.

After so long writing only in any interstices discovered between interruptions, one day soon I will have all the time and calmness I desire at my disposal. I will be able to truck on with the novel so far I have only pecked at. It will be terrifying.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Lines and Tides

I took these photos today as I walked at low tide.

Looking towards St Clair ...

and towards St Kilda ... It was easy to see what the last high tide has dislodged.

Interesting striations in the sandbanks, where the wind and waves have kicked in.

Seaweed draped over old pieces of iron that have dislodged from dunes packed with building rubble and landfill; formerly serving as an adequate bulwark, now coming apart as the sea surges farther inland.

 Steps leading to nowhere ...

Rusted iron, sinks into the sand. Once it was a useful container for heated metal or water, then it was discarded to serve as part of the rubble used to bulk out the land-fill and reclaimed land. Today it lies useless, corrupted by air and salt-water.

(Maybe by taking its photo, I have redressed the balance a little and given it back some usefulness).

Stirling efforts are being put in by these two yellow diggers to try and restore some of the bank. The grey concrete pole is part of the lights for the Southern Rugby Club's playing fields. The lights have been severely undermined and are close to tumbling.

Not so long ago they were part of the rugby grounds themselves, not teetering on the edge of the cliff-edge. They are tangible evidence of how far the sea has encroached.

Munted tennis ball. This gutted tennis ball lying exhausted on the beach made me laugh. (My son Steve will know why). It's a long way from Japan to here!

I just had to bring it home - you never know Steve, it may just find its way into that parcel we're getting ready to send to Japan!

This oyster catcher has no worries as it forages and paddles at the tide-line. It is just doing what it was designed to do.

Saturday, 1 October 2011


Spent most of the day in the garden weeding.

Quote from Wikipedia on the subject of weeds: 'Perhaps the greatest defense of weeds is contained in the last stanza of Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem Inversnaid:
"What would the world be, once bereft,
of wet and wildness? Let them be left.
O let them be left; wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet."

In my neck of the wilderness, the weeds are not left to be.

Because of their prolific nature, in some people's books, Forget-me nots are weeds. I let them go for it. I enjoy their brand of delicate cheerfulness.

From Wikipedia again.: 'In his 1947 long poem 'Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction,' Wallace Stevens mentions the forget-me-not, using its scientific Greek-derived name:
...It observes the effortless weather turning blue
And sees the myosotis on its bush." '
''In 15th-century Germany, it was supposed that the wearers of the flower would not be forgotten by their lovers'. (Wikipedia).

As Christopher Lloyd wrote in The Well-Tempered Garden
"Many gardeners will agree that hand-weeding is not the terrible drudgery that it is often made out to be. Some people find in it a kind of soothing monotony. It leaves their minds free to develop the plot for their next novel or to perfect the brilliant repartee with which they should have encountered a relative's latest example of unreasonableness."
This was not my experience as I clambered about our steep bank. Thinking and reflecting was a luxury in which I couldn't indulge, there was far too much hard labour involved in today's weeding - toil that was accompanied, I noticed, by rather a lot of old person sound effects. 

I did feel a grudging admiration for the capacity weeds have to spread. Unlike a lot of flowers and precious plants, they need no coaxing to grow. 

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...