Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Stone Poem, Number. 4

Eighteen months ago, I wrote three poems inspired by my father's gemstone collection. Below is number 4.

This stone collection continues to be perfectly preserved, because it is embedded into concrete steps that my father made.

Some years ago, with the help of family, we were able to transport the steps from the ruins of my early-childhood home in Orepuki, Southland, to our garden here in Dunedin, Otago; a provincial shift for the steps and a distance of about 240 kilometres (150 miles).

living stone 

Wrapped around this stone,
petrified bandages of flax-green,
frozen fronds of claret-coloured flame,
as if the stone has fixed images
of a time when it was molten
and could make its own way,
a formless mass, un-weathered
until over time it has cooled

into rock then wheel-barrowed
by rivers that flow
from the (aptly-named)
Livingstone Mountains,
rolled, sucked until glassy,
and spat from the mouth
of Taunau Creek
on to the beach at Orepuki.

There my father found it, added it
to his gemstone collection and waited
until one Saturday, appointed by perfect
weather conditions; drizzly grey;
he placed it as carefully
as his calloused farmer hands could,
into the slop of wet concrete
shovelled from the belly of a mixer.

Years ago we shifted the double-steps
my father had fixed the stone to,
into our garden (one step breaking off
in the process). Today I seek it out,
regard again its scarab shape, rub
with my fingertips the wafting flax,
streaming lava imprinted on this stone
that lies on a broken step that leads to nowhere.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Just Waiting

Someone in our fair city had the genius idea of a bird roost (man-made) in the Anderson's Bay inlet.

The birds have taken to it fine. Today they were using up the parking space as they waited for the tide to go out, preening and drying their feathers or just plain old resting ...

By my reckoning, the tide had just peaked and was about to begin its slide back out, leaving delicious, oozy mud for these guys to sort through, sift and scoop to their hearts' content.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Some Limelight

Just after I posted this, I visited PitWR site to discover that the winners of the annual poetry competition have been announced there. All the more reason to go visit. (More links  below).

Things are happening over at the Poems in the Waiting Rooms  site  - go take a look! To make it even easier, here is the link to take you directly to Bellamy's At Five, which is Ruth Arnison's new project for PitWR (NZ). This collaboration between art & poetery is planned for September 2013, but until then, there are regular updates at the link with posts about the artists & poets involved. The latest poet to be added to the mix is myself - here is where you can read my tuppence worth. 

I liken people like Ruth to power generators; a 'genny' as I've heard them called over on the West Coast. Ruth is a Dunedin genny, chugging away in her corner of the culture scene and producing enough electricity to light an entire continent.

Below is a description lifted from the PitWR site:
PitWR (NZ) is a Dunedin based arts in health charity which prints and distributes free poetry cards (currently 5700) every season to medical waiting rooms, rest homes, hospices and prisons throughout the South Island and parts of the lower North Island. Our long-term goal is to offer the cards throughout New Zealand. 

Ruth also finds the time to write very fine poetry, with many of her poems published in a variety of literary magazines. 
I tell you all this because I know she won't tell anyone herself. If she sees anything even remotely resembling the limelight shining in her direction, Ruth runs a mile. 
Thank you Ruth, you do a fantastic job. 

Monday, 18 March 2013

'hiss of rain'

'Patience achieves everything ...' St Teresa of Avila.

Writers are compelled to be patient people. The very act of writing requires a certain amount of that rare quality.
Then there's the waiting to be published; more often than not, a long, slow wait.
Books are extremely patient objects.
They are like bells waiting to be struck.
When they are eventually struck, the reverberations can carry on through centuries. Long after writers have died, their books keep on chiming.

My poem, 'Katherine Mansfield's House' was written in 2000 (maybe 2001-02) after a visit to Wellington's Thorndon villa where the New Zealand-born writer, Katherine Mansfield, lived as a child.
The house is now a place you can visit for a shot of the past. You can smell time in that place. It is a tangible presence. The house itself and its contents (indeed, even the caretaker the day I was there) are the epitome of patience.

That day I visited KM's House, was a rainy Wellington day in the month May. A day like today's weather in Wellington, from reports I am getting. It is raining there after many weeks of no rain. A drought had just been declared along with a water ban (does that mean they can't have showers up there?)

It's been raining here in Dunedin too after many weeks without. I am celebrating quietly (my normal modus operandi). Lower-case 'yays'. Dark tree-trunks. Silvered blades of flax. Startled chirrups from birds.

So. Twelve years (or so) after writing that Katherine Mansfield poem, I sent it off to the Katherine Mansfield Journal who were asking for submissions of poetry about Katherine Mansfield, and it was accepted for publication.

Katherine Mansfield's House

I imagine Katherine Mansfield nowhere
to be seen.
Her childhood home full now
of stilted reverence,

dark skirting boards,
stairs. Of course the wash-house
has a dried-out, blue-bag
on the window-ledge.
It has hush, stuff,
            the strain of time.
Outside, the garden
leaps and bounds bright

inside its borders
despite the hiss of rain.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Sunday, 17 March 2013

'How Scandinavian of Me' - Bjork

... somewhere in Norway, 1978. 

We are going to visit Europe again, in June this year. We won't be doing it like this though! The future has brought many changes since this photo was taken.

For a start, this time we will be travelling with two of our sons and daughters-in-law.

I'm sure we will be looking at everything with completely different eyes. We hope to retrace some of our young steps, but I figure we won't remember what we even remember! (Although when I asked Robert if he remembered Herbie's number-plate after 35 years, he said he remembered it started with the letters LJD ... I was  impressed).

how like home
(Scandinavia after 35 years)

We knew we'd moved into Sweden
from Norway
(or was it the other way round?)
when the centre-line changed
from yellow to white
and every vehicle had its lights on,
required to by law even in daylight.
I've forgotten much but do remember
long grass surrounding Grieg's hut
(since moved to a museum)
and swimming in a freezing river,
thinking how like home
and the long twilights, a woman gardening
at eleven o'clock at night.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Friday, 15 March 2013



When I hear the clock chime one, I know.
I will not get to sleep tonight. I get up,
eat a cold boiled egg, make a cup of tea.
I swat at odd scraps that buzz 
round my brain: memories
of school gardens grown from seeds
handed out in brown paper envelopes
marked 'Larkspur' and 'African Marigold'; 
recollections of the interior (light-blue) 
of a train. I turn on the computer, locate 
confirmation of my return air ticket reservation 
to Wellington. Print it out. One less thing 
to worry about. The oven clock ticks.
Too loud. Too frantic. I look up a website.
Sophisticated, elegant. I check mine. 
Provincial, clunky.
I step outside, see dandelion street lights.
How deep the night feels compared
to the scattiness of daylight. How mad 
the silence of every neighbour asleep.
A taxi saunters by. The stars appear 
aimless. The ocean sounds lost. 
Everything smells of grass. For all I know, 
I could be inside a tent, the flap undone. 

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

We Will Be Back

Grandchildren pulling faces

Taken at Early Settler's Museum, Dunedin. The place has had major renovations and has been re-opened after a year or so. It's name has been slightly changed; it is now called Toitu Otago Settlers Museum.
We took our first look on Sunday - just a quick reconnoitre with the kids - we plan to go back for a longer, slower look another time.

Josephine the engine - a Dunedin icon Through the window you can see another Dunedin icon, the railway station. 

Gorgeous Miss & Gorge Train (Taieri Gorge Expedition train) in the background. 

Ah, the old fondue pot ...

'Dunedin Sound' posters ... 

The Tiger Tea bus - famous in the 80's -90's 

Lots of other things to catch the eye and memory, to enlighten the imagination, elucidate the past .. I could go on. We are lucky to have this place (with free entry) here in Dunedin.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Tern, Tern, Tern ...

White-fronted Terns 

I first saw these birds today skimming over the surface of the harbour and inlet. These beautifully (ahem) 'tern-ed' out birds are one of my favourite birds to watch.

Terns at rest. 

There is no way I have the photographic expertise to capture these skilful fliers while flying and diving into the water in the search for fish, so I was grateful to come across these ones taking a rest on a pier at the Vauxhall Yachting Club.

They are elegant fliers; very watchable. I love the way the light shimmies through their wings as they skim, dip and stall in their search for food.
I have seen them dive into the water for a fish and back up again with breath-taking speed.
However, they weren't doing that today. They seemed to be more in the mood for sedated flights, then back to the pier for a bit of grooming and just general staring out at the horizon.
I have also heard them peeping in excitement with the amount of feed around, but not a peep today. A bit like me, they were more in the mood for a bit of silent reflection.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Note to Self

Photo (taken in Bordeaux, France, 1978)

In this photo, water-lilies,
over and over again,
holding summer on a plate
before being declared null and void,
drying into winter's thin, brown death.
Taken when I was young,
it is me watching out for a future
that was never as far away as I thought

always arriving as it did this morning
when like a faith healer
my granddaughter reached out
to spent flowers, softly
fingering the petals and I reassured her
that they will come back to life again
in the spring and she told me I was beautiful
and I told her she was too.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Friday, 8 March 2013

Deer Park Deer: Gore

Deer Park deer; Gore

On coffee table legs
the silent young deer stands, sleek
and keen for nothing in its groomed world.
It is thinking, nothing surprises me.
Even the sudden flap of a picnic rug
would not cause it to shy away.
Without eagerness it waits to see
if I will offer it food. It is a teenager
bored by old music, blank to any history.
Its eyes are dark pools of disdain.
It has no notion of forests
as deep as an inter-galactic map, as wild
as whole oceans. It is not afraid. 
It is not astonished.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Census and Form

Apart from sunflower, all the following photos were taken on a walk along the Dunedin's eastern harbour-side on New Zealand's census night.

as I leave, sunflower at the back door says "Spot ya later".

With the seeds from this happy star, I hope next year to grow my own solar system. A constellation. A celestial sphere. It will take earth and it will take sun.

The first thing I spy is a spoonbill scoping for a feed.

(As I concentrated on taking this photo, a male Northern English accent gave me the fright of my life. "Is that a spoonbill?" it inquired from just behind me. I hadn't heard his approach. I assured him it was and after apologising for giving me such a start, he happily buzzed off. All I can say is it was lucky for him that when I get a fright I tend to gasp rather than scream.)

A slew of cloud.

Caught in the act of dissipation.

I'd like to live in a boat-shed without furniture and only bare wooden planks for a floor. I'd sleep on a futon and be lulled to sleep by the harbour's slip-slop.

Going by this gull's expression, sometimes seagulls get bored too. Just like we do.

Well, the bus-shelter painter the council (or whoever) have hired to replace the late John Noakes, is cheerful enough, yet for me, somehow, just not the same.

sun slips down behind Dunedin. Taken from east-side of the harbour

Silent good-bye.

This is where I always turn around and head back home.

Sometimes. You know. The peace, the safety, the freedom. I struggle with the occasional sneaky presence of guilt, because there are so many on this imponderable planet who don't have these things.

This seagull is a nervous stock broker eyeing the rise of the NZ dollar. Or a farmer who sees no signs of rain. It's written in its eye, the position of its beak and in the doubtful placement of its dark-grey feet.

Whereas this grey heron is intent upon examining the perpetual problem of rust

... and pondering on the solution - baking soda or white vinegar? Your call.

looking across the harbour  to Dunedin's CBD and Stuart Street

Street-lights and traffic lights; mixed-fruit in a fruit cake.

Close to home now, the camera is beginning to insist I turn on the flash.
I take the last photo of the day. By the time I get home, it is a quarter to nine, pretty much dark and time to fill in the census form. Online.

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...