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.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Is like

is like
waiting to play at a brass band competition in a cluttered school music room amongst
people expressing the jovial bonhomie of those who meet only annually
and who spend their time trying to out-practice the opposition
by riffing on difficult arpeggios or running through the nasty bits with ease or
blowing notes at length to show their breath control;

is like waiting to play at a singing competition
in a back room where sometimes suppers are served
and where the contestants aim to outdo each other in dress sense,
make-up, and the highest of heels, deepest of cleavages –
if such are available - and where the guys turn up
in suits, or tuxes, or something that shows they can
spruce up nicely thank you, (unintentionally impressing the girls);

is like waiting for a delayed plane at a cramped airport
with too few chairs and nowhere to lie down and
drinks that are fizzy or caffeinated, and pies with burning
chopped steak and mushroom, and panini with tired salad fillings
that look good in the glass or plastic cases but taste
like plastic (though never like glass) when purchased;

is like waiting for the telephone call from your wife to say
she’s started her labour pains with the about-to-be-first-born ˗
or your second-born ˗ or your third-born ˗ or subsequent-borns;

is like waiting for news of the interviews you’ve squirmed through over
previous weeks, or haven’t made the grade for, or missed out on

is like waiting at an assigned meeting place for someone who,
unbeknownst to you, thought they were meeting an hour later;

is like waiting to go into an important exam you don’t feel in the
least bit prepared for, where you know you will fail and won’t understand the questions and
all the multi-choice responses will be meaningless, and none of the material will be at all

is like waiting in the hospital waiting room – the chairs are
too plastic, or the backs are too far back for comfort, or as hard as steel, or cold, or
just chairs that no one in their right mind would sit on, and your
child is in the surgery possibly dying, possibly reviving, possibly
about to come through and in a month or two everything will be
forgotten, including the uncomfortable chairs;

is like waiting for the
dentist in one of those chairs that leave you lying on your back with a
headrest that some go-ahead inventor not in his right mind
concocted and which isn’t at all at the angle to stop your head from feeling as though it’s
about to snap at the neck, and it seems as if the dentist has gone for a
tea-break, or a vacation, or a long-overseas trip from which he may or may not
return, and the nurse is fussing about clanking sharp knives and long daggers and
implements of unimaginable torture, and everyone of these she’s
throwing on the round steel table just so you know your teeth are in a
desperate state of decay, and it’s likely each and every one of them will need to be
removed before the afternoon is out, and the weather outside, which you can just
see out of the corner of your eye is glowering, turning from a sunny
morning into the stormiest two o’clock you’ve ever seen, and
suddenly here comes the dentist as if he’s never been away, and
picks up every tool at once in his innumerable hands and throws each and
every one of them into your mouth, screwing some of them tight into your
gums, and poking others into the holes you’d thought he hadn’t noticed, and
grinding others right across the surface of your teeth so that you know when you
next look in the mirror you’ll see irremovable skid marks, or children’s
handprints in cement, and with another tool he’ll dent a tooth that was
perfectly fine when you left home this morning, and with another he’ll be picking at
the spaces between your teeth and finding plaque by the globle-ful and tut-tutting, while the
nurse is swabbing your mouth and rinsing it out with a vacuum-cleaner that leaves you more
soaked than dry, and in the meantime your throat needs to swallow and needs to do it
now! and with all this stuff in your mouth you’re going to croak it, you know it, because
the dentist has never himself experienced the horrors of being on the other end of those

is like waiting unstimulated on a desert island, bookless, or without a bit of music to play, or a thought in your head, or a pen to write with (and nothing to write on anyway), and
only the searing sun and the trees dropping coconuts heavily on your unwary
noggin and sand getting into everything from teeth to cracks between the toes to the
hair amongst your private bits to the hair under your arms to the hairs on your head, and
nothing can get rid of it and all the warm and friendly ideas of a tropical island are
dissipating fast and you wish you were home beside a cosy fire with a book, with some
jazz in the background and the newspaper ready to read when the book proves to be
unreadable, and the telly to turn on if you’re desperate, and your wife in the kitchen singing
some old pop song she learnt as a teenager and which is revived when she’s at her happiest, and she’s making date scones which you’re not very fond of but you’ll eat because when
she makes them they’re always much more mixed-spicier than you imagined, and the
kids will come down the stairs and play Monopoly at your feet, and the fluffy dog you
thought you would never have loved will be standing, front paws on your knees, pleading with big brown eyes to be allowed to jump on your lap and lick your hand and flump his
head across your arm – or maybe go for a long walk up hill and down dale. 

The day I cut my finger off

The day I cut my finger off –
my index finger, now made
smaller than my little finger –

I cooked my childhood favourite,
carrots and parsnips mashed, for tea;
it was the day my wife’s work sent

flowers in memory of her sister
who had died on the other side of the
world.  It was the day my wife was

gib-boarding the upstairs bathrooom,
the day I had a heavy cold and
should have been in bed, the

day the dog ate some of the carrot I
dropped on the floor, but not the
parsnip; the day I catalogued three

shelves of books onto an iPad app;
the day we were to go to a
quiz night at the Kensington, and

answer trivia; the day my two
daughters went to see
New Zealand’s Got Talent along

with thousands of others who wanted to
be seen in the audience and didn’t
realise it would be too dark and

that the audience is only there to
provide a noise.  It was the day the
two Jack Russells next door decided to

fight, with one of them nearly biting off
the tail of the other, the day my
son-in-common-law came to

pick me up from A & E since my
wife had to stay home to mind our
grandson, and he was the only one

free.  It was the day we almost had
soggy pies for tea, because I put them in the
microwave, and defrosted them too

rapidly, but saved them from
destruction by cooking them hot
and strong in the oven.  It was the day I
said to my son-in-common-law that
these things always happen to me,

and he didn’t agree, since he’d
cut off his own thumb at an
earlier point, in a wood splitter. 

It was the day – or maybe it
wasn’t – that all these things and
much more happened to me. 

Memory is deep, and memory
remembers what it wants, and
forgets what it wants, and

suddenly decides to bring a
history to light that years had
forgotten, and there’s a program on

TV, which is called Unforgettable
only it isn’t, since it runs to a
formula every other cop show on

TV runs to: a main character, a
sidekick - male to female in this
case - with a know-it-all boss,

and a couple of lesser cast
members who fill in the gaps, and
in this case a heroine who can’t

forget anything, but if that was
truly the case she would be halfway
round the twist, which she plainly

isn’t. What she remembers are
only those things vital to the
plot, things that most of us would have

forgot, like a face seen in a cafe, or a
photo on a wall, or a shadow on a
gate.  Wait, all these things, the

carrot and the parsnip, the flowers,
the biting of the tail and cutting
of the finger, the cataloguing,

the gib-boarding, trivia quiz,
the NZ’s got talent, the picking up from
A&E have happened; I remember them all,
Yet there’s one thing I have to confess:
I didn’t cut my finger off at all.

Like it or lump it

Like it or lump it is common in English, and
‘lumpers’ unload from United States docks
(such as Gloucester in Mass.), but the
Germans (as often) make best use of Lumpen,
a rag-word (not ragwort) pursued by
a ragtag of rag and bone words like
Lumpensammler, and
Lumpensgesindel, and dear old
Karl Marx’s (maybe insulting)
those at the bottom, the
ones most degraded, the
working class, poverty-
ridden, prone-to-diseases,
consumptive, those dying too young,
those losing their children, so that
one single name might be
used for two infants, (confusing
descendants and family historians),
for whom children composed
all their wealth, and the loss of one,
two, or more was like losing the
bank notes hid in your mattress, or
having a thug mugging you down some tight
alleyway, coshing you, uncashing you,
or a man skyscraper-leaping on
hearing investments have gone down the
     Lump is a mass undiffer-
entiated, the lumper the man who
understands mass, who humps on his
single hump the weight of a camel whose
double humps saddle the mass of a
man.  Lumpensgesindel, the
rag-taggle rabble, whose weight
dear old Karl wrangled into his
brain, commonsensical,
dialectically logical,
straining to see, to bring to
reality the Proletariat Dic-
tatorship, to envisage the
people, the workers, the mass in
charge, to see the demise of the
capitalists, to see inequality
quitted.  Marx was the
Lumpensammler, the rag-and-
bone man whose revolutionary
ideas were red rags to
bulls who horned them up,
tossed them, crossed them and
in general lost them.  Red was the
colour of their true love’s hair, but
this girl was blood through and

Hilary Clinton's equivalent is 'the deplorables.' 

Untitled Sestina

Attempting a complex approach to a sestina, with both the first and last words of each line working through the sestina pattern...there are also two ongoing rhymes...

I light the black wick in the glass;
You carry it calmly to Gray.
He takes the flame outside to pray;
We watch as he kneels on the grass.
‘You people, now hear what I say!’
They listen, and file quietly past. 

They reflect on all that has past -
I saw you reflected in glass,
You came first to hear what we say,
You painted a picture so grey -
We spread out the lunch on the grass -
He, meanwhile, continues to pray.

He spreads out his long arms to pray.
They consider all that’s gone past;
We eat from the spread on the grass,
I pour out the wine in your glass,
You notice the sky’s glooming grey;
You have almost nothing to say:

You never have too much to say,
He asks why it is you don’t pray,
You glance up quite quickly at Gray;
They glanced at we three and then passed.
I drank all the wine in my glass;
We stained both our skirts on the grass.

We shake all the crumbs on the grass,
You cry out, accuse me, you say
‘I saw you reflected in glass!’
He closes eyes, focuses, prays;
They wheel down the drive and go past
You pick out a hair that’s gone gray.

You find that more have gone gray.
We pick up the cloth from the grass;
They tumble on down through the past;
You now have so much more to say,
He sobs and we can’t hear him pray,
I smash on the ground the fine glass.

You brush away Gray and you say
We hate the grass, why does he pray?
They shatter past; I shatter glass.                                            3.8.12



On the bathroom windowsill,
pre-redecoration, we had twin
white containers of conditioner and
shampoo (or as Egyptians
delightfully pronounce it, shamboo); the
clear glass denture cup; the
man’s small travelling
shamboo called, in best masculine
fashion, Dominate; the baby
shampoo and the baby oil – though
we’ve been babyless in this
house for some years - and the
Alpha Keri, intended once for
my dry skin, but proving to be
allergenic round the nose and
sinus areas; (a smear of one percent of
Hydrocortisone in Aqueous Cream
combined with half a percent of Menthol
cleared the skin instead).

Gone.   All gone.

The windowsill, post-redecoration, is
clear: no white containers of
shamboo or conditioner, no glass
denture cup, nothing to Dominate, no
baby oils, shampoos, no Alpha Keri to
increase my eczema, and where
before the bottles and containers
formed themselves into
military arrays (as seen from my
prone position in the bath, with the sun
shining through the bevelled glass), or
formed themselves into oligarchies or
hierarchies, with the larger containers
dominating the smaller, or the smaller in
rebellion against the larger, or into
various dramatic tableaus that came from
some long-forgotten nineteenth-century
play in which the cast were required to
stand still for minutes at a time
allowing the audience to reflect on the
passions of the characters – or
lack of them - or on the
drama inherent in being able to
observe a group of people formed into
patterns amongst which you’d
discern the hierarches based entirely on
whether the actor was upstage or
downstage or seated or standing or
higher than all the others on some steps or
rostrums that in previous incarnations had
been the focus of a different play entirely.
These days they’d call them
Happenings, or installations.

Gone.  All gone.



I lie in the dentist’s chair, mouth numb,
teeth glum at the fact of being there. 

Out on the street, there’s a drum beat:
student protesters - one chewing gum -

shouting some slogan; in the midst of the scrum
the chewing gum student looks dumb;

dumb, keeping mum, he wants to know
why he’s driven along by the throng, and

slumbering inside his head, the slogan song
stunning the air that he breathes, choking his

conscience: there isn’t a crumb in this function for
one such as he; he’d sooner be slumming at home,

strumming his new-strung guitar, leaving the
politicos, activists, radicals thrumming

the sum of their discontents, discharging their
duties as soon-to-be-citizens, getting it out of their

systems before they succumb to the same old
reactionary plums offered new chums by the 

Old Boys clubs.  Whatever may come thinks the
chewing gum boy, being less than the sum of his parts.