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.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Sundry Shots on a Saturday

rhododendron in private garden. Good to see the flags hoisted and flying from Fox Hall once again. (There seemed to be no flags flying recently). Today's one is the flag of Haiti.

Dunedin's rhododendrons seem to be especially vibrant this spring - hundreds of them were planted out by the council about 5 ? 7 ? years ago and this year they have matured to the point of adding some serious colour.
Dunedin has gone positively rhodio-gaga!

Saturday school-boy cricket on Bayfield Park

on the inlet a family of ducks - uncles and aunties with them as well - we've noticed ducks travelling in extended family groups these days. I wonder if it is an eveolved deterrent to sudden attacks from black-backed gulls?

one of my fave Dunedin corners: headquarters of Anderson Bay Sea Scouts

a trifle ruffled

a study in black and white

eleven different poses

single pose

jetty detail


when there's no towel handy you just have to hang

tell me about it ...

air-dried and tidy once more

Dunedin wearing grey again

re-roof required

red-eye flight cancelled

lippy freshly applied

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Work of Art

Wakatipu Basin Presbyterian Church Fair

I kept thinking, what a fantastic church- fair backdrop.

We bought ten books for three dollars and three jars of home-made jam.

oh yeah baby; pimp my ride!

From the fair we made our way to Arrowtown where there was a trolley derby in progress.

 Lunch by the river (Arrow) at a French restaurant  ('Bonjour') with French-speaking staff, excellent. friendly service and authentic French fare..

The mountains are never far away.

A long way from London, but looking good.

Part of the charm of Arrowtown lies in the preserved pioneer shop-fronts.


Back home to Queenstown and the garden ...

Mum and Dad's garden is built around rock and is a typical Central Otago garden. (Central Otago's climate is reminiscent of the Mediterranean).

pansies with their marvellous mustachioed expressions

thyme growing on a rock wall

Yesterday, on the way through to Queenstown from Dunedin, the hillsides from Alexandra onwards, were purple with flowering thyme.

Hi Walter!

Walter Peak peeking through. 
Walter is only one of the many mountain guardians overlooking Mum and Dad Cooke's garden.

little stars

kiwi cabbage tree (kouka) at the entrance  to the garden

dragonfly garden ornament

For over twenty-seven years now, Robert's parents have been turning their rocky outcrop into a beautiful garden that is a work of art.

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...