Arrival on an Island

Then – an island was a prize, rewarding those who risked

The crashing waves, the reef, the rocks and rips.

Gasping in green water, he jerked his hips,

Caught a wave’s lift, crested a droplet rainbow,

Tumbled in foam. Then he was floating,

Transformed, languorous, in a mirror lagoon.

He waded ashore, startling fish and crabs.

He wobbled on sloping sand, under stretching palms.

He turned, squinted into the setting sun and saw

Pieces of smashed wood, drifting, blown.

He laughed. He was here, and had to stay awhile.

He turned inland to walk into the unknown.


Now – we look down on islands from stiff planes

Laden with soft toy turtles, snorkels, reef shoes.

We arrive at night and could be anywhere.

But after we leave the airport’s concrete and lights,

We look up to unexplored islands, stars so bright,

The same ones that pulled the first canoes

And guided the boatloads that followed.

The frangipani air is soft as talcum.

We hear a guitar and the music washes away

All thoughts of where we came from

Or when that was, if it ever was.


Save Us

‘Save us,’ we shout.
Galileo saved himself from the fire
By recanting his belief that
Earth moves round the Sun.

What will save us from the fire?
What can we do anymore, evermore?

‘Save us,’ we shout.
From fire and drought and doing without.
Pasture dead at the root.
Cars. Chain saws. Rotting fruit.

Dear gods, forgive our hubris
And our doubt.
Hear us. Help us when
’Save us,’ we shout.

Thin Skin

Grandma’s skin shines shallowly,
like Gladwrap, where it clings to her knuckles.
Her hands hang, huge as a Haast eagle’s claws,
But her grip is weak.
Secateurs can fall from her.

The silvering honesty shrub shivers.
She peers. ‘Don’t cry, Grandma.’
Her lower eyelids, bald and leaning outward
Like old gutters, easily spill tears
When she sees beauty in her garden.

Grandson is now gripping the secateurs,
His dimpled hands, puffed like a warm duvet.
What is that rumble? That intruder in her garden?
“Look,’ he shouts. ‘Plane! Plane!
People- on-holiday-plane!’

Planes’ vapour trails etch the thinning sky skin
Which hangs from the bones of abraded Earth.
She tries to look up but her neck is seized.
The trails diffuse to bruise the darkening sky,
Then disperse, and disappear.

She fears the thinning sky skin over her garden.
Nothing to fear,’ she reassures the child
Who is leaping, thrilled, not frightened.
We must look after our skin,’ she mumbles,
‘Soil, skin, sky. You know why? Listen to me.’
But he’s dancing. ‘Soil. Skin. Sky. Diddle diddle die.’


Cape Gooseberry

Grandmother shows the child the pods like lanterns
Hanging from the cape gooseberry bush.
What’s inside this one?’ the child asks.
Wait and see then you will know.’

Weeks later, the lantern’s skin has thinned
To a fragile lattice, a net
Of such delicacy the child feels
The power of its vulnerability.

Inside the net a gold globe glows.
A caged sun.
How did it become like this?
Is this even the right question?
The child knows the plant knows
More than the grandmother will ever know.

Tenderly, she rests the caged sun on his palm.
Its future, she knows, is in his hands .

My Identity

Where did I put it last? Has someone moved it?
Is it squatting in the dark, rigid, immovable as a barnacle?
Did I leave it in the supermarket? library? playground?
God help me: have I put it in the fridge?

When I was folding it away for grandmothering days
Was I distracted by the phone or a sudden scream?
Is it in the toy box with the half-made Lego car?
Has it done a gingerbread man runner? Has it gone very far?

I can’t ask anyone else where I put it.
They’d whisper to each other, ‘early onset.’ I’m afraid.
The heat pump hum above my head
Sounds like a falling guillotine blade.

I rush from room to room, all a swivet,
Panic and secrecy, one in each hand.
I look through neglected book piles, blowing away dust.
There it is! Crushed, bent at the edges but alive – just.

Tomorrow I will wash it with soap and soda,
Hang it in the sun, pegged at the shoulders,
And when it is smelling of youthful tomorrows
And not the sour sweat of yesterday
I will slip it on, comb my hair,
Go out and see if anyone recognises me,
Looking svelte, me and my identity.


Toddler Country

A stout toddler on points duty at an impatient intersection:
Red: Stop. Green: Go go go! Cool. Cooly cool.
Intense, Staffy-like gaze and acceptance of rules.

This is toddler country, where direct speech means just that:
Direct. And where words mean just what they say,
And are tossed around like toys in play.

We can order whatever we want from today’s menu.
Book. Garden. Digger digging. Tiger taming.
It is simply a matter of naming.

Even the colours here have simple names,
Like the beat of a drum.
Red, blue, yellow, green.
Go. Come. Run RUN!
And all is shiny and unbreakable.
Just like the sun.

I would like to live in toddler country
Where words can be thrown like Duplo blocks.
No like. Go ‘way. Come back. Out! – to communicate
Needs, moods, opinions, each syllable with a shout.

Where I now live, old people land,
Words, like washing in the wind or clouds on a summer day,
Deceive, change shape and can even blow away.
Sometimes they can be like the thinnest ice,
Or brittle spun sugar on an anniversary cake
That previously I’ve never had time to bake.

In toddler country no one is a permanent resident
But I wish only for a one-year work permit.
I want to swagger a bit, order elderly retainers about,
And say “No like. Go ‘way. Come back. Out!”
Without reprisals, recrimination and responsibility.
Dinner ready. Get it. Now. Read-eeee!

I could leave behind my should I, shouldn’t I,
My wishy-washy, my shilly-shally, my doubt..
I could break a carefully laid train track
And throw the trains across a room.

Then later, when I feel like it, and for no reason,
I’d put them back together again. Cooly cool.
With no trauma, no drama, no guilt.
Oh to follow this with pure sleep on my quilt.

Alph, the Sacred River

In my garden is a manhole cover over a deep chasm –
Not an ancient well where women with clay pots on their heads
Would come to swing their thin arms down, and fill the pots
And pad, rhythmic, dignified and slow, back to a dusty home.
No. This is the council’s drain inspection trap for our neighbourhood.

I sit beside it and hear the unseen subterranean tumult.
I am so grateful for the cleanliness of neighbours,
Their early mornings’ antimicrobials from toothpastes and shower gels,
Their caffeine. I feel energised just listening to the flow
Of water with amphetamine, Ritalin, statins, maybe Covid 19.

The manhole’s heavy metal top is etched with circular grooves,
An ideal train turntable for Thomas and his drug-free friends.
We line the little trains up, Percy, James, Thomas in the lead,
And push them round and round above the cascade
Of water with amphetamine, Ritalin, statins, maybe Covid 19.

We like the sound of Alph, our sacred river, running
Through the caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea. I am so grateful, too,
Because I have no need to buy from Mitre 10
An electric pump-operated waterfall to run
Down the ancient lava flow that is my parched and prickly garden.


My memory is curated by Apple.
Today my phone selected a photo for me:
Baby grandson snuggled into his father’s fleece jacket,
And me, soft skin, springy hair, long ago.

‘Where were we?’ asked the now teenager with blue hair.
‘Top of Mt Eden,’ said his balding dad.
‘But the background,’ I said. ‘It’s a white sheet.’
Where was the bridge, the Rangitoto slopes, the Sky Tower?

‘Fog,’ said my son. ‘Remember?’
I didn’t, but there we were, atop Auckland’s highest point,
Unable to see the present view, or the future.
‘Just like now,’ the teen said. “We live in uncertain times.”

Auckland Doesn’t Show Her Age

Thee are no stone steps sunk in the middle
worn into basins by years of sandalled feet.
Our steps are flat; Health and Safety require it.

There are crazed, painted lines on some roads
These can look like ancient mosaics or runes
But they are instructions for cars to read.

Even our shape is new. Our iconic volcanic Rangitoto
The pert young breast of our city,
Wasn’t there 600 years ago.

The Art Deco building down the road
Vanished, overnight ,to be replaced
By the Inner City Rail Link, we think.

We don’t look in the rear vision mirror.
While we drive Time’s winged chariot
Up the Southern motorway.

In the congealed jam of the Waterview tunnel
We sip instant breakfast through a straw
and scroll into the future.

The trick is always to go forward here
On this ancient lava motherlode
Which waits, patient, it’s moment to explode.