Saturday, 23 April 2016

seaside verge (St Kilda beach; early autumn) (poem)

St Kilda beach, Dunedin.

seaside verge (St Kilda beach; early autumn)

The whole of it, each stitch as it is made,
yet to be un-picked by the next season,
quick or slow, the summer-fried dry seed heads;
dated bouquets; that sound of a cricket's
hidden generator. The silent-grey
swoop of a gull's wing, swish of grass, a bird's
flick-knife flight, milky spider's nest, a bee
nosing fallen flowers. The slain dried grass,
the muted fury beyond the sand-dunes;
that wild, pale roar of a wind-ploughed ocean.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Dear Reader,

I kept this poem tight. All ten lines have ten syllables.

Written from notes taken while standing on John Wilson Drive, St Kilda, mindful of what was in front of me.

It's good to stop and wait without expectation. To listen and look, not just hear and see.


Thursday, 21 April 2016

from another time (a poem)

Mum's wooden kiwi cotton reel holder

Mum's pin cushion

from another time

(from notes taken 2007 and written in memory of my mother, who died 2014)

Through the nights, the approaching growl
of goods trains that threaten to burst through
the walls of my mother's house, wake me up,
the retreating rumble like comfort, like rain.
In the mornings too, it's not birds, but the sound 
of trains that greet me. Mum feeds me corned beef,

cabbage, mashed spuds, carrots
and thawed mustard sauce left over
from another time. She gets her veges.
from the Cloverlea Sunday market.
She tells me that for Senior Cits.
on Tuesdays there's free movies,

free parking, a free scone and coffee.
Mum is killing everything
that pops up in the garden, with Roundup.
It is part of her plan to put down bark.
Her garden; all those flowers, that blaze
of colour; all too much for her now.

And sewing is also too hard.
I find a cut-out vest that hasn't been finished.
“I'll give it to the Red Cross”, she says.
Her mustard-coloured mailbox is past it.
There are tiles on her roof that need replacing.
“I'll talk to your brother about it,” she says.

She doesn't go for walks any more.
That was when she was in her sixties.
I go for a walk on my own, along the stop-bank.
I see a girl walking a lamb. Dogs bark from behind 
back-garden gates. The bright sun shines straight
into Mum's lounge, its light diffused by net curtains.

A glass coffee-table sits in the middle of the room,
a china-cabinet in one corner, her lazy-boy chair
in another, a dictionary (sixty years old now)
collapsing from over-use, sits beside the lolly tin.
She's sold a lot of her ornaments and crockery
and given to family some of the ones that mean something.

She has her cards and her bowls and good neighbours 
like Mike, who fixes things for her and Joy who cuts her hair. 
One day while I was there, she got out the record player 
and played some old John Hore records, singing along.  
"Sometimes I dance," she said.  She has gin 
on Wednesdays and sherry on Fridays. 

On the way to the airport we discuss why
on earth the Palmerston North airport charges tax.
Mum has no idea of the reason why they do it, but wishes 
they wouldn't. The land here is flat and gleams
like hammered steel. Mt Ngauruhoe stands out
on the horizon. Mum parks on the yellow lines

right outside the front of the airport,
justifying it the way she does
her habit of speeding up at orange lights.
“I'm dropping off”, she says.
“It's not like I'll be there for hours”.
A heart-fluttering moment ensues

when we think I've got my flight time wrong.
Past memories of her daughter's forgetfulness
causing Mum mild panic, until we see that all is well.
“Good luck with your new job”, she says.
We hug. I watch her leave; I watch her white hair,
her familiar Mum-waddle. I watch her

until I can't see her any more.
Then I text my sister, 'I'm feeling tearful
what is that about? ' I picture Mum back home.
The sun will have reached the corner
where her chair is. She will be sitting there,
feet up, maybe doing a crossword, maybe reading

some more of her library book. A murder mystery.
My plane takes off in the opposite direction,
up into clear blue, over the wind-farm.
When I get home I text, 'The eagle has landed'.
Code for 'Arrived safe'. It's one we'll keep 
using until it no longer applies.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Dear Reader,

Pangs of missing my mother as I wrote this from notes taken on a visit to her home in Palmerston North, seven years before she died; when she was obviously, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, already preparing for that event. 

The times I spent with my mother in a place she lived for nearly forty years, are very precious now. Like me, she was also born in Southland and in a sense, Southland never left her; indeed it is where her ashes are buried. 

My mother made her home in the North Island after moving there with her second husband, and if we wanted to visit her in her home, that is where we had to travel to. 

She of course also made pilgrimages south to do the rounds of her large family, but these visits were beginning to take a lot out of her towards the end. 

I am so glad I made a lot of visits to her North Island home. It gave me precious insight into the woman that was my mother as an 'old lady', and how she was dealing with getting older. (Maybe I wanted pointers, as well as picking up attitudes to avoid in my own life). A lot of those memories are bitter-sweet.

Absence and distance. Time and memory. Forces that keep those we love near and far. 

It's life and we learn to live with it and make the most of it, I trust.


Wednesday, 20 April 2016

at the Waikouaiti races (poem)

photo taken at the Waikouaiti races in January this year

at the Waikouaiti races

On the loud speaker;
'Don't blow the bubbles while the horses are running'.

The woman in the deck chair
on the rug beside us calls out to a friend,
"Happy new year! Everything sorted?"

There are paradise ducks, skylarks and seagulls
at the Wakaouaiti races.
And a bubble machine
for the kids.

"Now she's having a baby to another person".
Again, the woman on the picnic rug next to us.
"I haven't  had a drink from a glass for years".

Bubbles and seagulls.
'Don't blow the bubbles while the horses are running'.

The horses in the Birdcage
gleam like acorns.

There is the smell of horse sweat
and horse dung and dandelions and hay.

A woman with bouncy hair
leads a raspberry-blowing,
chestnut horse.

The horses on the track
make the ground shake.
Their gallop to the finish line a testament
to the power of rhythm and speed.

From the loud-speaker,
a message from the sponsors for this race,
Hope Funeral Directors:
'You never know when you're gonna go'.

'Don't blow the bubbles while the horses are running'.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Dear Reader,

The Notes App. on my phone is very useful. The notes for the poem above were made on this App. It's handy when you can't get to pen and paper.

At last it's raining. We need rain. The garden is gasping. 

It's bulb planting time. I need to time it this year so that the tulips are in flower after I get back from Berlin in October.  

The trick is always in the timing.


I've lost my Southland 'r' (poem)

Orepuki, looking towards the Longwoods

I've lost my Southland 'r'

I've lost my Southland 'r'.
I was forced to.
Teacher training back in the early seventies
believed the rolling 'r' to be rather gauche
and demanded that vowels be rounded
and any consonants 
unsaddled by irksome burrs, 
be reigned in.
None of this dwelling upon the end of 'river'
or the middle of 'early'.
You 'what' your clothes?
No, no, no. You don't 
I.Rrrin your clothes, 
you 'ion' your clothes.
I miss my Southland twang.
Whenever I hear someone
with a Southland 'r',
I want to tell them that once upon a time
I used to have one
just like it.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Dear Reader,

It's late.  But a poem came to me as I was listening to readers at tonight's (which has become, since it's now after midnight, last night's) poetry reading at Dog With Two Tails cafe. 

When I noticed that one of the Open Mic'ers had a Southland twang, the plaintive line, 'Ive lost my Southland 'r'' suddenly flashed into the poetry-connective-tissue region of my brain. 

I quickly typed the line into the Notes App on my phone so that I could get back to it and write the poem that surrounded that tiny nub of regret of no longer having a Southland accent.



Monday, 18 April 2016

what's the weather doing out there? (poem)

painted grey box on the end of our old street; Ravelston Street, Tainui, Dunedin

what's the weather doing out there?

Today my ESP is so high-speed
it's practically fibre optic. My doctor and I
are in perfect tune.
Everything she said, I'd already thought.

Avoid sugar and animal fats. Flu jab? Yes, please.
What's the weather doing out there? she asks.
I tell her about how cold the wind is
leaving out the deep bits

like how the dark-grey clouds
shaped like nautilus shells
remind me of the burden of time.
Blood pressure is good, she says.

Bloods result are good too.
Winter, we decide, is making its inexorable approach
(except neither of us uses the word 'inexorable').
The doctor and I are keeping to the rules

of engagement when indulging in small talk
and only using words of less than four syllables
as well as sticking to plain terms of reference;
even when naming prescriptions

or commenting on the betrayal of bodies.
I have noticed that today I am so smiley
with everyone I come across, it's becoming a worry.
Soon I will need to be watched.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Dear Reader,

I was congratulating myself today on remembering on my walk back from an appointment at the doctor's, to whip out my phone where Tainui Road and Ravelston Street (the street where we used to live) meet, and take a photo of the painted, grey box (I've forgotten their proper term) there. It's got to be my favourite of these paintings that are popping up all over town.

The old seventies' bus brings back memories of catching these pastel, diesel denizens with their hanging straps and creaky, leather seats. I associate them with rides from St Clair into town on frosty, winter mornings, to the book shop in Princes Street where I was working at the time; when I was young and slim and that part of the city of Dunedin was lively and vibrant. 

There are moves to make this part of the city lively once more. The large four-or-is-it-five-star? hotel in the old Post Office, for example. My sister and brother in law from Wellington were very impressed with it when they stayed there recently. 

I am all for bringing back the lively. Breathing life into. Resuscitating. The older I get, the more I realise how rare is this art of new life.


Wednesday, 13 April 2016

the key (poem)

old doors in front of the Cobb and Co. stables, Port Chalmers

the key

Port Chalmers as it was in the 1860's
is still easy to find even now. Hinted at
in the rugged, wooden doors in front
of the old Cobb 'n' Co stables,
in the wide slope down to the harbour
and in the style of the buildings still standing.

It all reeks of the past. I can almost smell it:
the salt and fish, the smell of bread baking,
horse droppings and mouldy straw. I imagine
my great-grandparents (six in all at different times)
standing there in this same hostile nor 'easterly
testing all our intentions to linger.

I want to photograph the stone church
with the red door. A local out walking
sees me with my camera, says he has the key,
opens the doors, lets us in.
The pipe organ, he says, will turn
one hundred years old tomorrow.

He's been here in Port for forty-five years,
was the Town Clerk once upon a time.
It's a great old place, he reckons. He'll never move
now. We watch him walk down the hill,
his shoulders bent, his feet slow to lift off
the path, his head bowed towards the harbour.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

 Dear Reader,

Made it. Caught up. About twenty poems to go (yet to count up the exact number).

I cannot believe how fast time is going this year.

Time is a major theme of mine,

The poem above is yet another on the subject.


lament for lost art (poem)

street art in Dunedin. Painted by Devon

lament for lost art

(for M. D.)

We find art wherever we can
on Dunedin's walls; painted fish,
a kakapo getting its own back on the rat,
the yellow horse ridden so fast
by the soldier in tartan shorts,
he's breaking up.

You take a more close-up look than I do
at what is painted large on brick,
point out the brush strokes
post-spray. Mention
how the trick is if it would look
just as good small.

I start remembering back
to all that random art by a familiar hand
on otherwise un-regarded walls.
A red man floating, almost hidden,
in a high corner between the overhead bridge
by a then-drab Vogel Street.

A blue donkey on a wall
of the Dowling Street car park, braying,
'I wish I knew x 2'. A blue light bulb.
A boy holding the hand of a monkey
on the underside of an underpass.
Back when street art was a dark art

created at night, a revelation
for the morning's drive to work
then flattened
by Council's grey square.
The last one I saw was the skinny 'Poet'
in his striped jersey, painted on a South Dunedin

window-hoarding, seen on my way to work,
lifting me up from streaming traffic.
I miss them all - the blue donkey, 
the blue light-bulb, the boy and monkey,
the merry-go-round, red man
floating up and away until he knew he was gone.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Dear Reader,

I am another day down from my poem-a-day effort for this month.

But I have no regrets. I loved spending time with M. yesterday doing the street art trail, among other things; followed by a family get-together dinner. Always good.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Monday, 11 April 2016

me, I'm a blue person (poem)

shades of ocean-blue - at St Kilda, taken from John Wilson Drive

me, I'm a blue person

Hoping for eventual clouds
of hazy purple,

I planted two lavender today.
Small and tough enough to hunker down.

And tonight I left the bedroom windows open
so that I'll be able to smell the rain,

the soaked earth, and imagine
the two lavender plants, drinking.

I also bought a pansy and a polyantha
to provide colour.

Some people say that they're green people,
or red, or like my granddaughter,

a yellow-orange person (amber, I tell her,
but she keeps forgetting).

Me, I'm a blue person. Blue that is almost purple
or blue that is almost green

(I can't decide which). Then there's sky-blue.
Clear, unattainable blue-blue.

The blue of agapanthus.
The blue of Delftware.

Blue, blue, blue, blue.
Sea-blue. Bowerbird-blue.

Peacock-tail blue. I bought
two lavender plants today

and a pansy and a polyantha.
Flowers that will weather the winter

triumphant in the frost, victorious
in snow. "I'm not a yellow person,"

I heard someone say once and I thought,
what a pity. A world without yellow.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Dear Reader,

Another full day. It's  family focussed time at the moment with our son down from Wellington. Good times. Making good memories.

And writing a poem or two in the interstices.


today I am impressed by the beauty of hawks and hills (poem)

today I am impressed by the beauty of hawks and hills

Softened by late afternoon,
the hills finally melt.

A hawk turns, its chest feathers
ruddy with light.

Another hawk eating road kill, waits
before taking off; heavy and slow.

Today I am impressed
by the beauty of hawks and hills

and by how long-suffering the ranks
of poplars,

the design of Southland's shelter belts
and how many shades of green run

right up to the laps of hills
so familiar they could be mothers.

And rivers that meet you halfway,
then turn to find their own way home.

Rivers, hawks, hills and trees.
They need no other names.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Dear Reader,

Yesterday proved too eventful to fit in writing the ninth poem for day eleven. But as is often the case for me, a poem formed in my brain anyway, from impressions as I travelled between there and here.


Saturday, 9 April 2016

nothing new (poem)

white roses ... these roses were from our daughter-in-law E's wedding bouquet ...

nothing new

Travelling a familiar road, where all the bends are known,
no straight, rise, downhill sweep, a surprise; no bridge, no approach
an unexpected turn of events. This highway reminds us there is nothing new under the sun. I remember in the seventies, refugees arriving from Cambodia. I remember buses getting blown-up in Israel and bag searches in London.

So many frightened trees we passed today, providing shelter
for wood-piles; up to their knees in chopped blocks of wood.
I wondered if that was lest trees forget their eventual fate?
All the way to where we were headed, peaceful green and poplars
beginning to turn. Acting like a tourist, I wind down the car window

to take photos to send on to family in Germany to prove
that autumn back here in New Zealand is performing normally.
Already now as invisible as air, this morning's ballet practice, just a memory my granddaughter's steps as perfect as a dancing horse
and in the mirrors on the walls, her reflection overlapping mine.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Dear Reader,

Poem number seven on day nine of this poetry-writing month challenge of writing a poem a day.

The idea for the poem developed slowly as we travelled from Dunedin to Queenstown today and I mentally wove together various snippets of thought and images.

Time is a wide and slippery, slide-y concept, delivering inevitability, change, disappearance, return and repeat.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Friday, 8 April 2016

Lost (poem)

South Road, Caversham


Dreams worry my sleep.
Night is a fractured maze.
I grieve for what has been lost
Until found.

Night is a fractured maze
With images of missing streets
Until found.
Left searching until morning

With images of missing streets
I walk among the strange.
Left searching until morning
I am woken by the songs of birds.

I walk among the strange.
Dreams worry my sleep.
I am woken by the songs of birds.
I grieve for what has been lost.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Dear Reader, 

Yesterday's poem was an attempt to do a series of haiku. The last stanza being the only one that didn't adhere to the 7-5-7 syllabic form I decided to adopt (haiku in English is not always required to stick to that pattern of syllables).

Today's poem is a pantoum - a type of poem that goes by a formal, set pattern of repeated lines. As I followed the scheme, it reminded me of reading a fair isle knitting pattern.

I enjoyed knitting this little piece of fair isle, because I had no idea what it would look like until the end. When I looked at the finished product, I rather liked the way it reminded me of the nightmare-ish dream I had last night. I'd describe the dream as a fretful exercise in unnecessary anxiety. Which is exactly what the poem reflects. 


Thursday, 7 April 2016

autumn sequence (poem)

The wax-eyes are making their presence felt as they draw nearer and nearer to the house, the deeper into autumn this side of our planet travels. 

Poem number 5 for NaPoWriMo ... 

autumn sequence

In the mornings, mist
on the inside windowpanes,
on the car's windscreen.

Look. Feasting blackbirds.
Dark-blood stains on the driveway
from all the squashed plums.

Three o'clock, school's out
and I bring in the washing
before it gets damp.

In this softer sun
I can stay out for longer
and without a hat.

Waxeyes gather
to drink.
A leaf falls.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Dear Reader,

These days when I sit at my desk to write, my knees start to get cold. An autumn complaint. Thankfully, I have a warm shawl my daughter in law, Kate, gave me which I drape over my lap to keep my legs as warm as toast.

Today I will make pumpkin soup. Another sign of autumn. As is sweet corn.

The echium plant I can see outside the window is slowly giving up the ghost. I notice bees are still visiting, however. Sucking out the very last drop. As the days grow cooler the plant will turn dry and grey, but managing to remain a sculptured feature, spiky and interesting against the skyline. A prolific grower, smaller plants are already at its feet ready for their own glory days in two summer's time. Ah. Such is life; the paradoxical, wonderful, terrifying cycle of life.


Wednesday, 6 April 2016

opposite the library (poem)

a section of my own library

opposite the library

I've lived long enough now
for everything to remind me
of something else.

Like that girl walking past in the duffle coat
who brings to mind a friend
when she was that age,

so easily embarrassed she'd hide
in the wardrobe
when under pressure to share.

Which in turn reminds me of when the Y-dub
was opposite the library
before it moved

up the road a bit,
decades ago. Yet today
here I am, opposite

the library again, years later, in a cafe,
watching people outside wearing purple
and a man in black and silver

as if he's been picked up
from off the floor
of a film-cutting studio.

The more swinging gulls I watch
slicing into both sunshine
and shadow,

the more people in plush pink
tops making their way
down the neat, brick steps

of a library yet to get old;
yet to stop reminding
me of friends

past and present; 
the more I am reminded
of how slippery time

and how one day
a child may ask, What's a book?
The longer I sit here, the more people

move, down the steps
as quick as goats,
as tenderly as cats.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Dear Reader,

I was sitting here feeling virtuous, writing my poem for the day after having gone into town and back again by bus and successfully completing my day's mission ...when the phone rang.

It was a friend reminding me of a meeting that we had both forgotten.

I felt as if my seemingly perfect day had suddenly sunk in the middle. Like a sponge cake that looked fine, but when tested, proved to be still raw in the middle.

Ironically the poem I was writing was all about time and memory ... Life imitating art. 


Tuesday, 5 April 2016

pleased (poem)

my mother's yellow bed-jacket, worn on the only times she was ever in hospital (a record she would have been pleased and proud to know she held until her death). She was only ever in hospital for good reasons - to have her babies. Seven in all.


(for my brother Alan, number six)

First there were the days of no memory
to speak of, when the seven of us; Mum, Dad,
my two sisters, two brothers and me;
just were. As it was in the beginning
so it shall be forevermore.

Then the day I saw my mother
standing at the bench peeling spuds
from a green basin with black
marks where the enamel
had been chipped

and wearing her black-and-yellow
checked smock,
I was astonished to know
that, Ah-ha, I suddenly knew. I didn't know how 
I knew, but I did. I knew exactly 

what this meant. Mum was going to have a baby.
And clever me had caught her out.
(It never entered my head
that Mum was the clever one).
I just thought, 'baby', not even

'another baby' (for this was the sixth
of an eventual seven). I thought
I was smart to have found out
Mum's secret and felt pleased. As if
this was going to be just another

batch of fluffy chickens
in a shoe-box,
bought from Todd's Auction Rooms
in Invercargill,
a fluffy heap of chittering,
squirming pale-yellow

on the formica kitchen table
and us five kids crowding round
smelling all that warm
wonder. Yes. That
was just what it was going to be like.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Poem number three April 5th, for NaPoWriMo.

Dear Reader,

Today I have battled through a sinus headache to produce this poem. 

Much like my mother battled through debilitating, chronic morning sickness (that lasted six months or more for each of her seven babies - not counting the one miscarriage). Somehow, compared to writing poetry and having seven babies, I think my mother wins on the suffering stakes.

It's almost two years since Mum died and I miss her more and more. I miss both my parents and will for the rest of my life. It's just the way of it.

Writing poetry helps. Immensely.


a heart-shaped one (poem)

Photo of a stone I found in McKenzie Reserve, Orepuki, Western Southland during our family reunion

a heart-shaped one

Like workers or warriors at rest,
we fold our arms,
as if all tools lie abandoned,
all weapons un-brandished,
for now. It's a family trait,
the way we fold our arms;
just like the way our shoulders shrug
when we laugh.

And who, we wonder, can divine water
like great-grandmother
Agnes could?
Some of us are keen
to give it a go. A shame that no willow
or wire coat hangers
have been provided.
We'll make sure to have some next time

we have a Reunion,
when we will stand here again
in the McKenzie Bush Reserve
and listen to the tuis,
our heads down looking
for stones and  where I pounce
on a heart-shaped one.
"I collect heart-shaped stones",

Cat, my second cousin, says.
I pocket it anyway.
Blood ties only go so far.
We stand, arms folded high 
over chests, forearmed 
against the unpredictable,
as over our shoulders
that shrug

with quiet laughter,
the sea mists
into faraway blue
and between us
and the ocean, lies
the green and deep of land
our grandparents wrought
from forest, by sheer slog.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Dear Reader,

My 4th April (NaPoWrMo) poem didn't quite make it on its due date.

My excuse note: I spent all day writing it in between travelling with Robert to Queenstown - where we helped supervise the installation of a stair lift for my mother in law - and back, all in one day (arriving back in Dunedin in the wee small hour of 1.00 a.m.)

Hence the late (early) posting of composed poem.

I can vouch for its conception on the 4th - just that its reveal didn't quite make it by the deadline.

Off to get some sleep now in order to compose tomorrow's (which in reality is today's) poem.


Sunday, 3 April 2016

dandelion road (poem)

a photo taken near Ohai, Southland, on the way to attend a family reunion

dandelion road

Drive slower
than the speed limit.

Don't worry, the present will keep up.

Drive like a traveller
who drives into any time
left behind

than than the future
can catch up.

Down a road lined with dandelions as far
as the eye can see mountains
and closed
grey with memories.

 Kay McKenzie Cooke

Dear Reader,

It is NaPoWriMo (which is an American initiative that stands for National Poetry Writing Month ... although because I'm not in America, I think in my case it should be called InNaPoWriMo - International Poetry Writing Month).

Because I really do need to run headlong and dive into that poetry-part of my brain, largely overgrown from lack of care and cultivation, I have decided to take up the challenge.

For a month I will post a poem a day. My own poetry.

Please bear with.


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...