Wednesday, August 25, 2021

40th Anniversary Poem


Three-quarters of the bed belongs to you, and

three-quarters of the bed belongs to me, so

there must naturally be some overlap, some

point in which we occupy the same space.


This place can either be a place of contention, or

a breathing space together, a face-to-face space.

It can be a place for melting together, or invasion,

a place for a game of space invaders, or a place where


each in each is buried alive but breathes, not

suffocating, but finding a new way to breathe

in each other. Or it can be a place of trespass, as in

you’re sleeping in my space, you’re squashing my


life out of me, you’re removing my room, you’re

crowding me out. Three-quarters of the bed belongs to

each? Not true. All of the bed belongs to each, and

each beaches in each other, and reaches harbour.


In Memoriam: Helen Vicary Mann


My self-proclaimed ‘most favourite customer,’

constant supporter of OC Books.


As one who knew you best through your passion for books,

I find the list of your other passions intriguing:

wine, chocolate, Pilates, makeovers, opera, French perfume.


And how did I never hear about Malawi,

the Mothers Union, amoebic dysentery,

the construction of pit privies,

the expertise on flute and piano?


I heard all about Celtic Christianity –

you may have been first to bring it

to my attention. And Lampeter, a place in

Wales that might have been on the moon.


Then there was Pelagius, whom you

considered much underrated in the

sainthood department; we may have debated it.

You had no time for his bête noire, Augustine.

When a young student used the word Pelagian

in one of his doctoral essays, you bristled:

he’d leaned towards the concept that

Pelagius was a heretic – the very idea!


And, of course, having been the first woman priest

to be ordained, by the first woman bishop

not only in New Zealand, but also in the world,

you bristled at the notion of women as

lesser creatures, a thought that flitted – then fled - across the minds

of those male priests who regarded women priests –

let alone women bishops – as somehow opposed to nature,

opposed to God Himself. Sorry, Herself.


Is there some irony in the fact that your middle name was

Vicary, you vicar at Holy Cross, at Palmerston, at Hampden?

Was it your small stature that made you more aware of those

creatures who attended your Cathedral-based Pet Services,

barking heart-stopping barks, or flittering in cages,

on hands, searching perhaps for St Francis?

The line in your obituary, she always had an eye for the

underdog, says maybe more than the writer intended.


The last time we saw you, blown by a breeze in

King Edward St, wanting to chat (as always),

the yellow tinge in your skin, your

Trinitarian cancer alive and well

dragging you step after step towards death,

we ached at the change.  



may the saints and angels enliven your steps in the life beyond;

may the dogs who preceded you revel anew in your presence;

may you find Pelagius and Augustine at peace;

may you accompany on your flute wild Celtic songs sung by

wild Celtic saints, the fingers that once gained you a place in a

Norwegian orchestra flexing anew as they race beyond mere

human agility.




I was manager of the Christian bookshop, OC Books; Helene (pronounced Helen) was one of its most supportive customers. 

Lampeter is a town in Wales. 

Blackbird - I think


For years I was convinced it was a blackbird.
Now someone assures me it's a thrush.
Oh, what the heck, blackbird or thrush,
this bird sings like no other, no thrush or
blackbird known on earth, his song is
unique, spontaneous, jazz, a riff - or
several dozen of them - or a
street magician’s magic, a
pack of cards pitched through the
air, purloined again.

Of course, now that I start to write
about him, he stops. Only half a dozen
sparrows continue their diminutive
plainsong sans harmony, sans melody,
barely rhythmic. They wait for the master
musician-thrush-or-blackbird that God
invested with this extraordinary
ability to never muck the music up.

For a few seconds he starts up again,
but aware I’m writing about him, he
feels exposed, naked on his branched perch,
and stops. Goes home for tea perhaps.


Flitting past, a rustic sparrow
picks at a crumb or worm and
paraphrases Billy Collins at me:
Mostly poetry fills you with the
urge to write poetry. ‘Put Billy aside,’
he chirps, ‘and let the bird sing, unaccompanied by
your pitiful attempts to describe the song of a
avian whose name you can’t even decide on.’

Knowing what we're getting


Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Well, I ask myself, why not?
The difficulty will be making sure that the
summer’s day is not atypical and therefore an
inordinately awkward day with which to compare

Thou hast to be compared to something that is
not so overheated we would all prefer to
stay inside, drinking endless cups of tea,
ignoring the weather, avoiding nasty sunburns and

Nor would I be keen to compare thee to
a day starting light and shiny then steadily
clouding over, hinting at rain in the late
afternoon. Such a day has a sense of not
boding well for the evening, leaving a
feeling of if only. 

If only I compared thee to the perfect summer’s day,
thou would be satisfied and not at all out of sorts
because of the possibilities of being compared to a
day that turns up on the weather reports as having
been less than satisfactory.

Regrettably, summer days are like any other days –
at least in our part of the world; moody, sulky,
telling lies about themselves, leaning to pretence,
opening dull and heating up, or hiding blue skies
well and truly behind a cover of cloud. 

If I compared thee to a winter’s day, then we
might all know what we were getting:
often more than a little cool, occasionally frosty,
once in a while snow-covered, iced-over,
likely to send you toppling if you step
incorrectly, bleak for a week, a
time to stay indoors and sit by the fire...

Shall I compare thee to a winter’s day?
Wrapped up warm, gloves, hats, scarves,
layer on layer over thermal underwear,
bed-snuggled beneath a bevy of
blankets, hot-toddied, feet
hot-water bottled, wheat-bagged,
wrapped round each other, legs, arms, independent parts...

Give me thee in winter more than summer.



I’ve seen a moth near-drowning
slide across a hot bath, flicker
up and off the surface, onto walls
and ceiling quicker
than my eyes can follow,
seen it smash into the light-bulb,
flash into a mirror, speed from
wall to wall in frenzy, like a
dervish all a-shimmer, settle down
into a corner, flutter briefly,
catch its breath and in a moment
dive its suicidal path towards the
bath and start all over.



Without me, Boss would be at a loss.
I dob in robbers bobbing their heads over the fence.
I stop plotters lobbing bombs on the grass.
Fob me not off, ignore my woof not!
I bark and blot out the wobbling hand,
The desire to mollycoddle – I’m a dog,
For God’s sake! I have no problems
With collywobbles but give me strong,
Solid assurance I’ve done a good job.
Double ‘good dog, good dog’ for my
Trouble. I have no foibles needing
Avoiding, nor rubble in the bowels
Of my cranium needing psychology:
I’m biologically


Togging up to go

dead horse flogging,
the laps doggedly
the mind fogging -
or thinking about

Aquajogging is at the
opposite extreme to

Gossiping women
hogging the centre lane.

For couples,
is a sloshing
form of snogging.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Inanimate, inarticulate


The fridge door always shuts
before I replace the milk on its shelf.
The door of the microwave
subtly closes as I put in the pie
that needs reheating.
Ditto the oven door; it hates
staying open; prefers slamming shut
when I have a tray of biscuits
ready to go inside, and they
delight in sliding floorwards. 

The toast in the toaster pops up
while I’m cleaning my teeth,
and goes cold;
the jug boils and cools again
while I’m doing something
urgent in another room. 

A slurp of coffee always skulks
unnoticed while I write, read,
eat my lunch, then when
unthinking-lifted slops
on bench, table, computer. 

The radio ignores my
first attempt to switch it on then
breaks my eardrums when, on the
second push of its button, it
decides to blast its fullest
all percussion brass and
shrieking piccolo chord out into
an unsuspecting sitting room.

Of course
the bath will never overflow from
pouring taps forgot;
the gas will always go 
on the first push of the switch -
it would never think of
blowing the house up;
the heater left on
at bedtime will not, of course,
make us wake at 2 am and think
the house is now about to burst into flames. 

Inanimate, inarticulate, the
things that live around us
can’t be suspected of
desiring anything but our best. 

Our attitude is the problem:
walk faster between the bench and the fridge,
slip the plate or tray into the microwave
or the oven, at speed;
don’t clean your teeth,
don’t go to another room;
fake a creepy Uriah Heep
humility, avoid a hint of
insincerity or
sycophantic slighting or
hypocritical wickedness.   

Trust the voiceless,
those without breath,
those without consciousness,
those without any capacity to
intend bedevilment.

At Fortrose

In the morning a resident came onto the domain
with his Shetland pony and its fortnight-old foal –
all frisk, investigation,
chewing my knuckles. 

In the evening we did the cliché
beach stroll, clambered over rocks,
watched the lazy river and the
lackadaisical sea slide
dance-wise in and through each other. 

The sun, slowing down for the day,
slid satisfyingly into the sea,
siphoning long soft rays through 
clouds. Cliché, cliché. But clichés,
even clichés, disrupt the heart.

From 1993

Fortrose is a locality on the southernmost coast of the South Island of New Zealand. It's within the area known as the Catlins. 

Photo courtesy of Trip Advisor

Why do they make us cry?

Fine. Why do they make us cry?

Why is someone dying like a
paper tissue blowing, or a sigh,
or a garden with trees from a
neighbour’s garden overflowing,
or the trees themselves in a
childhood garden, or the sky
which can’t be understood from
where I stand, or an adult hand,
or the shortness of my breath,
or the shortness of my breadth
of understanding compared to
those who’ve woven round this
planet longer.. 

No, no children’s
gardens; no, no chunky
puppies, no thorn-sting roses,
no, not the voice of someone
I’ve never met calling out to me,
calling, asking,
What the heck are you saying? 

As well he might. 

None of these. 

Why do I lie and lie? One
spoken, the other prone on a bed
woken from some dream full of
dread where my lies will finally be
seen as the token of who I really am.
None of these. By the by I don’t know
why I repeat None of these. I’m not
implying some deep truth-telling,
secret-selling – my secrets are all
dry, or drying, hung high on wire,
pegged there for all to see. See? My
secrets are not secret: they share
common humanity with Thee and me. 

Fine. Why do they make us cry?

Today the sky, the garden…a painting.

Sun drifts me to the garden.
Pale gray clouds drift swift as
geriatric snails. We amaze.
This same procession meanders
through some thousand of my life’s days;
though today’s the first day of creation.

A black fat bird spreads his pencil line legs
bloke-like on a twig-sized branch,
pecks at things unseen. Flicks his tail: a
long-haired girl flicking her hair.
It’s surely all performing.
Where’s the bread spread on the grass?
he asks. 

I respond, head inside for bread.
When I return, he returns too:
Been next door.
Tightropes on the fence,
picks in the bark on the
raised garden at
unwarned bugs and things minute.
Bread ignored. 

Imprisoned between the
neighbour’s shed and
the other neighbour’s tree,
the slate blue sea, distant,
but not so distant,
stretched like a satin swatch,
becalmed, midway to the sky,
threatens clouds with
increased denseness.

May 2020

Sunday, July 26, 2020

A dog of two halves

I love the way a dog dumps its rear end down,
so that the rear is sitting, but not the front,
as if the rear was parking the car while the front went shopping,
as if the rear belonged to some other dog,
a pantomime dog of two halves,
as if this other dog was just filling in for the afternoon
and it had now reached the end of the time it was paid for,
and at any moment the sighted front could walk off
and leave the rear squatting blindly.

Thursday, November 14, 2019


Some people say fairly unique
or quite unique or even very unique,
but unique must not be made meek
with modifiers, it must be hard as teak;
no self-respecting Greek
would dare to a Roman speak
with unicus weakened by a reek-
ing Latin qualifier; mise en pratique
or not, he'd like as punch him in the beak
for speaking Latin like a freak;
yet up-the-creek English speakers wreak
havoc on unique and make it leak
by sneaking in weasel words that shriek
of their willingness to make oblique
unique’s upright mystique,
forcing unique to eke
out its days on a desert plain and not on a mountain peak.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

To my wife, Celia

To my wife, Celia


Haven’t you got a dressing gown big enough
to wipe your wet hands on that you need to
wipe them on my trousers? My old trousers.

Your head is warm on my knees. Not many
poems have the word Celia in them, so
Google tells me, though there are a number of

poets called Celia: Celia Dropkin, Celia Thaxter,
Celia de Fréine, to name only a few – maybe there
are only a few. It’s always a surprise to find

someone called Celia. It’s like greeting a sister
who just happens to be called by the same name.
I haven’t read any of the poets above, though

perhaps it’s time to start. Once you’ve
finished wiping your hand on my
old, worn, trousers. The ones I still like to wear.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Any Day Now

Any day now I could leave this world, and the
six mixed jugs on top of the cupboard –
four grey, or greyish, two brown, or somewhat brown;

the moneybox on the fridge in the form of a
Buckingham Palace guard, his insides
filled with ten cent pieces for baking blind;

the Kandinsky print we picked up for next to nothing
in a now-ceased-from-business Palmerston junk shop;
the cat clock, with twelve cats of

different breeds whose mewing we had to
muzzle before it drove us cat batty, miaow manic;
the cat in the sun-faded picture beneath who bears an

impressive resemblance to one of several felines with 
whom we've shared our lives, the one dubbed
Skeeter, inexplicably, by our youngest child.

Any day now this could be the last morning of
hay fever, difficulty of focus, the

older dog snoring well within earshot,
sudden awareness of the clock ticking.

Any day now this could be my last
yellow and blue-gray sunrise, that,

alternating with its fellows, Striking Red,
Mostly Cloudy, Hidden by Drizzle,

has arisen gratis to amaze again
my thought-I-was-accustomed eyes.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Dinosaurs...are bores

Dinosaurs....are bores

Written in 1993 as a piece for Column 8, the weekly column I wrote for the Star Midweeker, a freebie paper that has been published in Dunedin for many years now. This version (which I think varies slightly from the original) was sent to the School Journal, who felt it was ‘too old’ for their readers...   Reading it now, it has some awkward moments, but perhaps could be salvageable.

I’ve had enough of dinosaurs,
Especially Hadrosaurs.
Dinos must rank, I think, as the
All-time greatest bores.

Who cares about some fifty tonnes of
Hefty Brontosaurus
Shoving all his weight around and asking:
‘Don’t you adore us?’

Who wants to meet and greet some
Rampant Iguanodon,
Marketing his lizard look
Until I feel quite put upon.

Who gives a hoot about a coot called
Rex Tyrannosaurus,
And whether on his nastier days he’d
Gouge and rip and gore us?

Euparkeria, Hypsilophodon, your
Names trip off my tongue –
Triceratops, Coelophysis, your
Praises they ain’t sung.

Compsognathus, Dimorphodon, you
Thought you ruled the land;
You missing links, you’re all extinct –  I
Wish you all were banned.

You poor deficient dinosaurs, you
Denizens long gone.
Scarce good it did you, lumpy brutes, being
Weighed up by the tonne.

Go back where you belonged, you lot, in your
Dim Cretaceous time,
And let me try and end this rot with a
Non-Jurassic rhyme.