The Queen

The Lady of Shalott
would have looked like a corpse
even in the distance. There is something
about the way they float.

I know this because I have seen a floating body,
a ladylike death scene enacted in miniature:
an earwig borne on a rivulet of melted butter.

Would Lancelot have smiled
or asked for god’s grace at the profane diorama
of a tiny drowned insect framed
by the molten heart of an artichoke?

Surely the hungry knights of yore
would cross themselves in disgust, thinking,
Dear god. Where… where are her legs?
Did I eat this earwig’s legs?

Did I come across each limb
like an egyptologist plunders canopic jars
on the way to the sarcophagus,
unpeeling layer on layer with mounting greed
Rip, Dip, Nibble, Dump, right to the core,
not caring about respect for the dead,
wanting the golden treasure within?

Within.

Within there is a dead earwig.
Serenely she floats at the heart of the artichoke.
She is a queen entombed
in layer upon layer upon precious vegetable layer.

As steam dissipates from the open tomb,
butter-fat congeals and seals her with its sheen.
Her legs are lost and possibly eaten
but she still has her mandibles.
They are gently parted in a last gasp.

She seems relieved.

Her blank compound eyes stare nowhere
and everywhere.

There is a giant world
outside the sphere of ritual obsession
that we call the Globe Artichoke.
Such a world is no match for an insect.

She looks and looks, everywhere and nowhere.

She looked at the world too long,
broke her insect habits all industry and toil.
Into the mirror at the heart of the artichoke,
into the puddle of water and butter she looked
and then the mirror took her.

She broke the mirror’s surface
with her drowning struggles and now,
now she only floats.

Now the mirror is still and clear again.

There is a strange beauty in the scene,
a curiosity:
the Lady and her lake of butter,
the curiosity that killed the earwig,
the insect explorer that fell victim
to the Mummy’s curse and now is the Mummy.

She is outside time.

I want to replace each half-eaten leaf
until she is thoughtfully covered once more.
I want to undo my dinner’s work
and yet I do not wish to uncook the artichoke.

How else should an earwig die?

Bury her, at least,
like a lady,
like a queen.


Watch a reading of this poem from The Kerouac Effect 2017, with Peter Baillie accompanying. I originally composed it for the Male Tears poetry revue and fundraiser in late 2016.

Darkroom

put all the lights out
I beg of you
my love is made from whole cloth
I don’t dare to cut it

so put all the lights out
reduce us to mouths seeking each other in the dark
I beg of you

because I cannot take in more
than one part of you at a time

because your mouth is like a light
and each of your eyes is a light

because each of your limbs is made of clear jade
and glows like phosphor

because there is a new sun in the sky
and it burns me to look upon it

so help me

put all the lights out
put all the other lights aside
put your incandescence under a sheet

hide in the darkroom with me
until something develops

and let me take you in
one angle at a time
until my eyes grow accustomed to the light


Now in song form on Soundcloud – performed with Vince Cabrera and Fernando dalla Pasqua

Deathraptor II

They changed Henny Penny’s gait
from a fussy Victorian shuffle
to a hip-slung cowboy stride.
They traded her feathered bustle-bum
for a long prosthetic tail
and bred her sensible Baba Yaga feet
into a weighted set of claws
with a wicked spur behind.
No more delicate grasping at the night perch:
the night is now for stalking.
The hands of her creators
took her delicate beak and in its place
shaped a snout suited for death-rolls
and sudden lunges.
Henny Penny has not yet learned
to grow back the teeth of her ancestors
but when she does, oh, when she does,
she knows exactly where to strike.

One of a series of poems, inspired by fake B-movie titles that were in turn generated by an algorithm to promote a Wellington Improvisation Troupe show in 2016. How could I resist publishing a sinister poem about chickens?

Aubade II

Sleepy crucibles pour languid legs
into molten contours where bedsheets
were first scooped out by you.
Languidly we meander toward daylight.
Bodies do not work until they have played,
and so I give dreams over to idle arms.
Love is an amoeba dancing in a Petri dish
and backlit by that one kind of smile,
you know the one, the one that stuns me.
Now come closer, little darling, let
me squint at you before I put on my glasses.

There is a battered community piano
that lives by the waterfront and likes
to let its paintwork breathe in the sea air,
even though that’s bad for its tuning.
I like to think that old instrument delights
in little visitors inexpertly petting it.
If I hear you sing from a cracked throat,
your mouth opening as for the first time
while the morning breaks open,
I will take that as a true ode to joy
and accompany you with clumsy fingers.

 

One of the pieces set to music, with the help of Rose Duxfield, at Beatspeak in July 2016.

Morwell

 

Schliemann’s fumbling kin
forced Delphic rifts right here

dug deep and exhumed the dead
the Pythia of consumption

her brown body under the lamps
carboniferous for miles

jungle upon jungle
rows of tygers covering spoor

beware the claws ten foot high
Puss in Boots leaves his marks

Little Red Raincoat Hood
is bending, squinting

Blake’s infinity picked up
in the tread of her gumboot

the hard packed earth
does not speak but it can draw

she-oak split like a trinity
and octagonal beech

mount and fix, lower the coverslip
but the image slides away

wear the safety hat
the mist gets into your pores

pollen under fingernails
coarse soap blacker than coal

which you now know
in all its ash-soft delicacy

earth burned in offering
lest sacrilege be repaid

the Late Cretaceous
dances down the drain

water flowing out of the world
memories that must be kept wet

to balance small against large
tears against fire

 

 

Remission

In the kingdom of artificial autumn
where the trees make footfall there is a scar,
the work of heat and clearfelling.
Southern promises in green have slowly over summer
turned deciduous from that hasty surgery.
We had the bushfire months ago.
Scraps of cordon tape dance alongside new bracken.
Charcoal helpfully delineates a black-box amphitheatre
that hosts rehearsals
but not yet the full performance of life.
In the wings, a picnic bench was saved by cutting
many branches and in this red nest
two kids too young to be lovers
sit in the quiet way they have seen adults do.
She has an oxygen tube tucked under her septum.
She smiles with her whole body.
They are rulers of the narrow realm,
a place not of death or of growth.
Behind their backs a red strip runs down the hillside.

scar tissue on the hills of Upper Hutt

Maidstone Park fire, seen from the north

Everything is edges

Have you overshot your orbit?

This hand of yours, that holds so many things with delicacy and force,

was once a flailing flipper.

You remember the days when you couldn’t pinch an inch

a single crumb

between your fingers.

Ideas scatter from your plate.

You are running on thick sand.

You are running on sliding gravel.

Reactions spill from you like kapok from a seat cushion.

Don’t try to hold back your mutant blood.

Flashback to warm seas and happenstance,

Brownian motion that guided chance

to land you on this shore.

Slick wet and salty from the shock of it,

you know you will adapt.

Everything is edges.

You hold back a cough against the fulcrum

hoping that the beach will untilt.

In the next breath you will compensate, plant your feet firm on land,

make a path forward.

This breath stays. It is meant for strangeness,

a line of invisible ink in matter’s long inventory.

You feel the suddenness in your chest cavity. Before you straighten

You say a prayer in passing

to the unbalanced instant.


This poem is also used in a piece by The Sound of Traffic, called “Adaptation”
“Adaptation” live recording at San Fran Bathhouse, Wellington

mudskippers

Outing

Here’s a collaborative performance with Darren Inwood, from this year’s Kerouac Effect performance in Wellington. I combined my words with Darren’s electronic wizardry (and a little violin) and this is the result.

words below:

Outing

When the wind erodes my sermons
When the chapped rocks cry for shelter
Bring water sweet and molten
Drumming on plastic
When sky blends with sea in mourning
When my eyes distort from staring
Bring gales to whip up horses
Distant herding billows
When I stand in cooling shallows
When I skim stones in long hollows
Bring flat greywacke for my sockets
Coins for tides turning
When the path has fooled the shepherd
When footfalls tatter hillsides
Bring a green sweet-pea promise
Fresh dresses for the solstice
When the swift scree rough and tumbles
When the tall cliffsides threaten
Bring bushes tough and hardy
To cushion children
When the waiting tins gape empty
When skinks scatter like slick commas
Bring butterflies in warm hands
Swift flecks flitting
When the seashell will not open
When the hand is cold that hungers
Bring soft-bellied schools
Silver and sand-dollars
When the day grows thin and listless
When its orange turns to ashes
Bring driftwood that dances
Circles warm with stories

Limen

Limen

All of my idols worn smooth by the wind

Lack mouths to advise me.

Salt has danced tattoos on my lenses,

On my cheekbones, but it sends

No intelligible codes today.

I am dried out.

I have sat in the mud and shrunk down

Into a crab. I disappeared into my mother

Fingers first, leaving no castings behind me.

Those tunnels hold no secrets now.

Eldritch pipes erode the grey shoreline

At my ear’s entrance. All the whorl’s a stage,

But no libretto will embroider these howls.

The beach has lost the voice

That spoke to me once in my own tones.

A hard passionate pulse

Grows fur at the edges of my eyes.

My fingers are at low tide.

The breath needed for new songs

Mutes my keening limbs,

Pulling inspiration through a cracked straw.

Broken friends, let us croak by the estuary

Of primeval Lethe, gulping down the mud,

Drinking to the last breath.

Together let us paint squeezebox songs

And sing them to old, uncaring gods.

The matriarch

The matriarch

Crows fly out of my mouth,

And starlings, and riots of tuis,

Adding to morning’s clamor.

I am the forest that lives inside the city,

This office tower is my eyrie

And my steel gaze on the steel sea

Is the hawk’s squint piercing

The wrinkled hide of this harbour.

All of the above mine to command

Should I choose it. I am of the flock

And the cloud. The hard sea bore me

In on the gale-struck tide.

Sailors and wise men fear me

When I lower my glasses

Down my beak-hooked nose.

The Town Belt is my dogskin

And your sculptures adorn me,

Metal in my hair and eyes,

Plastic ringed around my neck.

I am your fire at night, I bring shape

In the wallowing dark to you,

Adoptive home, you, womb

Beside the seaside. I reach out

With great grey wings to catch

Your peach-tipped sunrise

And bottle it for the winter.