Friday, 27 December 2013

Day Trippers

Christmas dinner ...   (Photo by Jenny Jakobeit)

On Christmas Day, the appearance of a giant rainbow (bow of rain) topping off a fantastic day with family.

 Port Chalmers

After three, or was it four? days of persistent, misty rain and drizzle, it was good to see the sun again today. Perfect for a drive out to Port,

 2nd-hand shop... 

Cruise ship towering above the museum ... 

One of the shop-keepers said that unusually, 90 percent of the passengers this time were New Zealanders.

Chick's Hotel; bastion of the alternative in entertainment - headquarters of Dunedin's sub-culture ...

Time for a coffee; not much choice of things to eat (late afternoon realities)

The following three photos were all taken by Jenny Jakobeit ...

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Making a Festive Fist Of It

the moon above a bird 

moon alone

picnic by the lake (Wakatipu)

 100-year-old steamer, Earnslaw, steams on by 

 It was good to have a quick catch-up with our son and his partner in Queenstown. Looking forward to spending Christmas here in Dunedin with them and with another son and his wife, who are (as we speak) making their way down from the North Island.

'Turner-esqe' sunset as seen from the road between Five Rivers and Lumsden

Christmas is just around the corner. Today, back in Dunedin once more, we've hit a cold patch of weather. In some kind of crazy way; despite the fact that Christmas for us falls in the middle of summer; I welcome the cold rain. With our changeable climate down here, cold weather is just as much part of Christmas as sunny weather. 

Today I will not be budging from the home-front. We have got the fire going and I've lit a couple of festive-season candles. You could say, I'm feeling more Advent-ish than Advent-urous.

Friday, 13 December 2013

From Beach to Bard & a Beer in Between


Where I live in Dunedin, New Zealand, the weather is fickle; not at all tropical. Even in summer.

Lupins spread wild on the dunes ...

The waves roll in fast & surfers wear wet-suits because in water this far south, the water is not far off Antarctic temps.


On St Andrew's Day in Dunedin, Edinburgh of the South, the statue of the Scottish bard, Robbie Burns, is officially allowed to wear a scarf (as long as it's tartan).

 St Pauls cathedral - one of the churches that the statue of Robbie Burns has his back to as he faces the pubs  ... 


Bagpipers pipe ...

& drums tattoo ...

& kilts swing under the sway of Christmas wreaths.

There was the tossing of the caber ...

... the firing of the cannon (it may look small, but believe me it has a very loud report) ...

& Scottish Country dancing ...


 This year on St Andrews Day, the Commonwealth Games baton arrived in Dunedin to be feted and admired. (I love that I randomly managed to capture a couple of red-headed youngster in the background - how very apt).


& there was beer ...


 under hanging baskets of flowers ...

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

'Mermaids in denim'

A friend asked me if I'd written a poem to go with the above piece of street art (or in this case, maybe 'street poetry') that we both love.

I admitted that I hadn't and added it to a growing list of poems-to-write.

Tonight I got inspired to actually write it.

mermaids in denim

For a time I favoured purple
velveteen and paisley needlecord
mini-skirts. Short legs
proving problematic
where denim jeans were concerned,
bell-bottoms losing all their flare
when cut off to fit and hemming canvas
like sewing up wool sacks, just a drag
at twenty-something in a fitting-room
in Penroses, the bottoms of the jeans
I want to buy trailing behind
like the tail of a mermaid left high
and dry and me just standing there
filled with despair.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Seeing In The Dark

  Pam's barrel of roses (and I'm pretty sure that her husband Gary would like me to point out the neatly-stacked wood-pile, top right!)

When I saw this photo that Pam had posted on Facebook, along with her description of the barrel the roses were planted in, I knew that once I'd got her permission to post the photo, I had my choice sorted for the next poem to post.

My friend's roses announce summer is here in this part of the world. The barrel that the roses prance out from in a tra-la! of carmine-pink, is also worth noting. The old, wooden barrel comes from Pam's childhood home; a farm in the Maniototo town of Middlemarch. 

The barrel was where her father kept the meat for the dogs and as it was often Pam's job to feed the dogs, she remembers it well. I am sure for her the barrel has become a kind of touchstone; a tangible connection to her childhood.

This puts me in mind of a title of one of Wallace Steven's poems; 'It's Not Ideas About The Thing But The Thing Itself'. After it had been fashioned, brand-new, from some cooper's workshop, who knows how many different things the barrel had been used for? Then for years it became a container for dog-tucker. Now it is a keeper for pink roses, memories and years.

I share one of Pam's memories of feeding the dogs on her parents' farm. I was staying there with her; we were there on our own and in charge of the farm chores for the weekend. Part of our job included feeding the farm dogs (I guess about three or four of them) chained up at their kennels under the trees. I don't remember the barrel, but I do remember chucking the tucker from it towards the hungry, barking dogs. We were doing it in the dark, because by the time Pam remembered we were to feed them that day, it was night-time. 

The poem for me serves not only as a description of the still depth of a night in the country, but as a symbol  of my search at that time of my life (early twenties) for authenticity and relevance in an often baffling world. Experiencing going out into that cold night with all its sensations, wasn't mind-altering so much as mind-sustaining. 

There we were then with our feet in gumboots and firmly planted on planet earth. There we were spinning somewhere in a vast universe, feeling small, but vital and alive. There we were, concentrating on our own breathing under the stars, feeling our way and trying to see in the dark.

feeding the dogs

the torch's twitch
picking out dead thistles,
wooden railings.
Where the ground shines,
bare, snarled
by the roots 
of trees, the dogs bark,
rattle chains that drag
over old bones.
Throw them the meat,
pale traces of fat clinging
to the wool of your gloves.

Hear the crunch of bones,
the night closing in,
the cry of two birds
flying out over rocks.
See ticking stars
in a blind sky.
Softer than light,
darkness leans in
- so close, so cold
its breath is all
you can breathe.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Thursday, 28 November 2013

The Micro and The Macro

raindrops on blades of flax

Sometimes it's good to feast your eyes on the small things. Drops of rain on a blade of grass or a honey bee burying its snout inside a flower ... tiny worlds within worlds within worlds.

Ten years ago I was employed as a nanny. The boys I looked after had vivid imaginations and the freedom of large backyard spaces of trees (which they called 'Treeland') to employ their imaginations and create their worlds within worlds. Their home overlooked the city and harbour with a view that stretched as far as the ocean's pale line on the horizon.

The poem below was directly inspired by this view and by the tiny worlds that the boys created down among the dusty gravel and green grass. It seemed to be all about the micro pitted against the macro and the peculiar peacefulness of plastic soldiers.

giant grass

In dirt as warm as down
two boys build a fort from broken bamboo.

Plastic soldiers, navy-frigate blue
and moulded into frozen attitudes of war,

squint to aim nedle-guns at giant grass
and the outer-space of blue

eucalyptus. Sometimes in their sights,
the cursive curl and loop

of blackbirds
across the afternoon's hard light.

They plot onslaughts,
declare the wisdom of camoflague

and plunder the ground for rough twigs
of dead pine and leaves of dock.

And the closeness of dancing birds
calms and fixes my heart

as if foreveer on the lazy harbour,
the milky ocean,

as these soldiers safely wage
their strange and immobile war.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

'some small solace'

On Sunday Robert and I made like Goldilock and went on the hunt for bears. (Ummm ... sorry ... very bad pun ...). We were looking for the graves of Robert's forebears.

And we found the graves. All three plots - his maternal grandparents (who emigrated over here from Scotland) and  his paternal grandmother's and great-grandparents' graves. 

Looking for names on headstones can be like looking for needles in a haystack; or for grains of grey among  grey. Luckily, Robert had a general idea of where the graves were, so it didn't take us too long.

I don't find cemeteries to be morbid places. Especially not when they are spread with carpets of cheerful marigolds.

 To visit the grave of someone affords focus - a designated place to stand awhile and remember someone's importance; to remember their life. 


Ever since death touched my family when I was a teenager, I've known personally how it can blow cold into your life with its power to, it seems almost indiscrminately, snatch a loved person from your side, leaving you bereft.

 The poem that I have selected for this post, is about grief. Part of what the poem does, is to use the ordinary and the often un-noticed smallness of everyday things, as a way to highlight the crushing inevitability of both time and death. 'Time does not discriminate, but in the end will always turn wood to stone'.

shadowed veins

I watch as the mountains
become bearded with shadows

and a wind on all fours
       scatters the lake before it.

After death there is some small solace,
a measure 

of comfort found in a pinch of memory.
Like the memory I hold of you,

your amused eyes
under a brow I thought was permanent.

In the grain of this wooden table,
a tree's shadowed veins

reminds me that time does  not

but in the end will always turn
wood to stone. 

Through rain the falling scales
of a grey warbler's song

forms its familiar, mournful weave
of monotony and grief. Yet listen again

and it is the song of a bird
no bigger than an egg cup.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Saturday, 23 November 2013

How Time Flies

kereru - wood pigeon; called Buthcher Bird by early settlers (European) because of its white apron. It's a bird native to NZ / Aotearoa

 I was wondering what poem to post next, looking for either inspiration or ideas, when what-do-you-know, a kereru 'plomped' down right outside our window. Okay. I had it. I took a photo, confident in the knowledge that the next poem would be from my first poetry book, 'Feeding the Dogs' - one that mentions this bird and its habit of silently watching, pondering ... judging intent. 

extended family farewell

Out of the rain
there's a scent
of leaf mould
as we wait 
for the sound of DOC's

to check we've left
as it was.
The older kids
inside play one
last game

of cards. The cars,
and ute, are loaded
up with quilts
and games;
keys wait

in ignitions. Standing
around like this
with our soap-figure
shapes, we are
our mother
and father

and uncles,
aunties, all over
again - the way
we argue
just like they did
- who was where

when. There's
an eerie woosh
and a wood pigeon
down into a kowhai.
It sits there

and with red-rimmed
eyes, judges
our intentions;
its small head a cork
perched on a jug.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

This poem is about an extended family holiday the McKenzie-branch of the family had one Christmas, co-inciding with our mother's 70th birthday. She is now 83. We are all older. Even some of the 'kids' are in their thirties now. It describes a time before our families left the nest, before more than half of the14 great-grandchildren Mum now has, were born. Perhaps in light of this, that pigeon was warning us about the swift flight of time.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Happy Endings

st clair

old shark bell, st clair

re-furbished restaurant on the corner (I notice they have gone back to the original? name 'The Hydro')

st clair; east along the beach towards the old wooden groyne

ti kouka - cabbage tree - in flower'; st kilda roundabout - it is thought that profusely flowering kouka heralds a hot summer. Here's hoping.

 hidden commemoration stone; st kilda roundabout

After being in print for eleven years and six years respectively, my two poetry books 'Feeding the Dogs' and 'Made for Weather', have now been remaindered.

In honour of them, I have decided to post a sample of the poems they contain; one poem a post; for as long as it takes (I guess, until I am satisfied that the poems' ashes have been adequately scattered out there in the universe, on the satellite highway, settling in the milky-way-like constellations of words already there in the inter-web).

The twenty-first century beach-side cafe scene one sees in St Clair now, with the busy cafes and al fresco dining; is a far cry from the sleepy seaside town atmosphere the place had when I first saw it in the 1970's.

The first poem I am posting is about St Clair beach - a very different St Clair to the cafe-culture St Clair portrayed in the photos above..
I'd go so far as to say that for all of its lack of sophistication back then in 1973, St Clair beach was more poetic and meaningful than it appears today.
Pleasing though, to see the wooden groyne still there. Still measuring ... what? I'm more qualified than ever now to say that it would have to be, time.

groyne, St Clair beach

Originally designed
to prevent erosion, but now
just good for photographs
or somewhere to walk to.

A hazard to surfies and no doubt
on some councillor's agenda
for a clean sweep. In '73
Pam and I came down here

in an orange VW
that always stalled at the lights
and walked along the sand
towards their stoop; the lean

of them into the grey.
Kind of like yardsticks
measuring ... What? Depth of field?
The inevitable brush with life?

Moving against me
the flutter of the baby. It was in July,
about three in the afternoon, a frost
already in the air, the sea
cold and mad.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

P.S. The baby mentioned in the poem was my daughter - adopted out to a loving family who filled her life with rich and happy childhood memories; which was my prayer at the time of adopting her out. Seventeen years ago, we 'found each other again' (another prayer of mine) and something I never fail to wonder at and give thanks for.

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...