Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Memory to Love

It must be the same for everyone;

we hold special memories

of when the world felt balanced.

Here's one of mine: walking into

Winchester Cathedral, late afternoon

with the light slanting horizontally

along the arches and the organ

pealing. I rang with joy.

But what about people?” you say.

If you want people,

I'll give you my three year old

inciting his cousins to kick a ball

up and down the long aisle.

This memory is part of who I am;

I want it to outlast my burial,

to be released it into the world

so that long, long after my body

is mulched into the ground

my memory will still be drifting

over oceans, hovering

across hills and mountains.

Friday, November 18, 2011

No Thoroughfare

My inner maze has blocked both ways;

I am cabin-fevered with sameness.

Myth would have it the goddess

is sitting cross-legged at my threshold.

If I am to dislodge her,

I need to loosen, undo, untie

fling open winter-shut doors and windows,

let in fresh air and sunlight.

But my courage and the goddess

have developed an inverse

symbiosis. I can have one

or the other, but not both at once.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Whims of Chance

Life is made up of conditional clauses:

if . . . , then . . . ,

especially the subjunctive,

if I had . . . , or worse,

if only I had . . . .

I've been examining

the road map of my life,

seeing how little input I've had.

A slight, unplanned change of direction

and everything is different:

places, friends, activities.

Its like being a character

in a novel by someone else.

There will be an ending,

but I have no way of knowing

what form the ending will take.

I am insignificant,

blown by the whims of chance.

Yet, on one occasion

I was farewelling Paul

and he shared his gratitude:

Out of all the possibilities

of space and time, we're here,

together, on this Melbourne station.”

The world expanded under my feet.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Art of Weaving

Death steals a person away,

but leaves feelings intact.

Now, grief, like my rogue wisteria,

takes over my life.

I need to create a daily ritual,

write my grief with bird song,

with dappled light and shadow.

I need to weave it with honour

into the fabric of my days,

Sunday, October 23, 2011

I Need More Time

Time is so variable:

take this exact moment,

it's gone almost before I've noticed it;

in the blink of an eye,

tomorrow has become yesterday.

Time as a succession of pixels.

The wise tell us to concentrate

on the moment but that's like trying

to keep hold of one drop

in a rapidly moving stream.

Anyway we need time:

sentences are temporal.

Without time, we can neither think, talk,

understand, read nor write.

To communicate we need

words or images in a sequence.

So I have grave doubts

about eternity.

It lacks pixellation,

it lacks communication.

I don't think I am ready for it;

I need more time.

Saturday, October 15, 2011



I am an image junkie,

always on the prowl

for metaphors


If I'm to write poetry,

I need the nourishment of time.

But my illness is bulimic,

devours time and spews it out

undigested. Where's sustenance

in gobbets of time

mixed with stomach acid?


I always thought my final

resting place would be the quiet earth.

So great literature tells us;

never mind moths and harebells,

I wanted a small piece of ground

where I could slumber peacefully.

But that is not to be. My grave

is situated plumb above

an active fault line.

My skeleton, together

with my neighbour's bones,

will rattle and clonk

percussively until the end of time.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Homage - for John.

This is threshold music.

After his wife's death,

Bach wove chorale melodies

into his solo violin works,

mostly Cantata number 4,

Christ Lag in Todesbanden,

Christ lay in death dark prison,

with its ringing Allelujah

at the end of every section.

But with voices and violin

matched together,

the Allelujahs take on

a more sombre form:

not the hubris of certainty,

but a human hesitation

and self doubt, good listening

when a loved one has died.

Bach's wife and my friend and brother

deserve the wistfulness of hope,


Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Tribute

Nouns are deserting her.

Last week we had a long

conversation about “clutter”,

a catch-all phrase;

we agreed clutter needed

to be reduced, set in order.

I didn't know whether to call in

a gardener, housekeeper, doctor or priest.

There are other nouns;

but mostly it's a code I cannot break.

Would you expect the bonanza

of the royal wedding to become

the folks up north”?

I try to think myself into her mind

but without success.

Does she recognise me?

Does she see clearly a world

she can no longer describe?

She is left, a solitary survivor,

struggling to hold on to

the remnants of a language

only she can remember.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011



Imagine a celebration party,

a ceremony of blessing

for my walnut tree, planted

a tree-ling of four, now turned sixty.

I would have a circle of women

in dark hoods, dancing in the moonlight

to a ripple and swoosh of my wind harp

invoking the strength of the tree,

invoking its magic.

Once, just before midnight,

snow began to fall;

as the flakes drifted down

they woke the harp

which sang into the silence.


A bone carver chooses to live

on an estuary, awash

with moon-tugged tides,

a meeting place for earth, air and water.

I have no estuary.

But the morning after the snow,

my tree was shrouded in white;

garden and sky mirrored one another

so exactly, there was no horizon line.

I could have walked across my lawn,

climbed the rungs of my tree

up into the heavens,

leaving my harp to sing

a solitary requiem.

I have no estuary;

only a thrush's song

filled with moonlight.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A kindy question

A four year old question:

How do you become a poet?”

A poet must stalk like a cat,

dive deep like a fish, soar upwards

like a bird. She must love words,

their movement and sound,

making them dance and sing, tip-toe

and whisper, galumph and shout.

Like the wind, she must ripple across

her garden, dappling

light and shade, turning leaves

inside-out to shine against the sky.

All this, with only words.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Earthquake Spring

4th September

North of the equator, April

might be “the cruellest month”.

Down here, in the south,

August is cruel.

Spring, with its promise of hope

new growth, and plans for the future,

blossom, daffodils and birdsong

sits uneasily amidst shattered houses

with gaps where there used to be

a teeming metropolis.

Roses may flourish despite

liquefaction, but where are

the lost lives, missing pets,

uprooted and tortured trees?

Mine is a grieving city,

and grief heightens contrasts.

What is black looks more black,

what is white looks more white.

No wonder we are pulled apart

by this poignancy of seeing.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


When I decided to transform my 'musical landscape', I had not expected there would be two amazing spin-offs.

At the house concert, Anthony himself played the piano, Cathy the violin and Elizabeth was the soprano.A couple of months after the concert, Elizabeth visited me. In the course of her visit she asked whether she could bring one of her pupils to rehearse for a big singing exam. It was a lovely occasion; the singing was beautiful and included songs in Italian, German, French and English. The singer brought, as well as her accompanist, her husband bearing a gift of flowers, her sister-in-law and niece. When he was introduced, her husband asked how I was, a question I try to avoid. I said I was fine, and because I had just been listening to the weather forecast on the radio I mentioned the fearsome snow warning. Immediately he pounced on the word 'snow', informed me that he belonged to a Jeep club and gave me his phone numbers in case any of my carers were prevented from reaching me because of snow. That was Saturday afternoon and by Monday morning the sky had dumped 6-8 inches on us and we were very grateful to take him up on his offer. Without his help, my morning carer would not have been able to reach me Monday or Tuesday.

The second spin-off is more long-winded: the Otago M.S. Society has a Wobbly Art exhibition every year to which I have submitted entries. They are auctioned so I've been able to share a little bit of money with the carer who has helped me. The first two years, I submitted photographs with snippets of poetry, such as ' I measure time by raindrops”, which required one carer to direct the hose on to the birdbath and another to photograph the phenomenon.

This year, I submitted just three earthquake poems. One aspect of the exhibition is that a practising artist donates some works and also chooses any outstanding entry for an encouragement award.

This year there were four awards, and one of them was me. I received a certificate and a $50 cheque. But as I had already requested that any money obtained from auctioning my work should go to the Christchurch earthquake fund, I didn't want to pocket the $50. As a result, I emailed Cathy, and asked for suggestions as to how to encourage music in Christchurch.

She came up with a lovely suggestion of taking a version of Goldilocks to a couple of kindies in the eastern suburbs, those most affected by the earthquakes. She played the violin, her daughter Carolyn on the clarinet and a young man, Thomas, on the trumpet. Instead of 'who's been sleeping in my bed?' it became ' who's been playing my clarinet?'. From the accompanying photo you will see that the children were rapt, and I am now nourishing a dream.

The song cycle always was for me in the nature of a talisman into the future as I will have no grandchildren. The dream is that 10-15 years down the track a young musician will be interviewed, asked how he/she became devoted to an instrument, and the answer will be 'from a kindy visit when I was four'.

Thursday, August 18, 2011



I never thought i'd come to see death

as a cock-teaser, tantalising me

with “maybe tomorrow”,

maybe next month”,

maybe just before christmas”.

It's a full-time commitment:

cycles of anticipation

followed by complete collapse.

Six years ago, my doctor

pronounced the dread sentence;

If...” he said, “then...” he said.

Since then, I inhabit

a subjunctive world.


I share a toddlers view of death;

how many sleeps in “forever”?

Thursday, August 11, 2011


With my poetry self silenced

my dreams have turned peremptory.

My outer garden might be peaceful,

enclosed by trees and bird song

but my garden exists in an earthquake

ravaged city, frozen into silence

by last week's winter storm;

I am losing time-honoured carers

and many friends are reaching critical

transitions. I am bandying about

words like carotid artery,

pneumonia and dementia.

My dreams have returned me

to a house of grief, more spacious

and airy but requiring further attention;

I stumble when I walk, if 'walk'

is the right word, I lack

necessary information.

If the inner world mirrors the outer,

I am unfinished and ungainly.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Hoist with my own Petard.

When this blog was set up for me 2 years ago, I never thought it would be a means of increasing my self-knowledge, nor did I ever think I was going to have to apologise on it. But I was wrong.

In my last blog I put myself on high ground, as regards intuition, and in the process, I, implicitly or explicity, grumbled at my friend's lack of intuition.I was very wrong, and I am sorry.

I should have remembered Kant's “catergorical imperative”, where you don't claim for yourself anything you wouldn't grant to someone else. It's more complicated than that. There are times, when because of lack of experience, you don't know what their claims actually are.

My mother several times said to me that, as a young woman, she didn't want to be known as “the lame one”, she had two younger sisters close to her in age and her osteo-arthritis had already manifested itself. I don't remember that I ever effectively responded and it's only now, when I'm disabled to the point of deformity, that I can understand her struggle to retain a sense of value when she was beginning to limp with every step. I can see I should have agreed that not wanting to be known as “the lame one” was very understandable. I needed to have acknowledged her pain; it's not enough that I still rememeber the conversations 13 years after her death.

In another situation my judgement was also seriously flawed.

I had an aquaintence who, I knew, was against euthanasia. To rattle her, I told her about a moto-neuron case where the sufferer had indicated she wanted her feeding tubes shut off, so that effectively, she starved to death. My listener flinched with what I took to be distaste (but then, I wanted it to be distaste so I could feel superior). But later, I discovered that what she was actually feeling was compassion. Dorothy Sayers was right when she said, “Our capacity to stand in our own light amounts to genius”.

After turning all this intuition back on my myself, I can see that I should have offered some explanatory commentary to the photos of my garden, somehting like: “Haven't I got beautiful prison walls?”. It was the same with the song-cycle; if it was, for me, a talisman into the future, I should have said so, not expected friends to pick that fact out of the air.

As you can see, I don't come out of this very well.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Valedictory Grumbles

I have decided that I don't want eulogies at my funeral, I want valedictions. 'Eulogy' means to speak well of; valediction means to say farewell, which leaves more room for honesty. You can say: ' I didn't like this, this, or that; but I did like these other things'.

So, if I were writing valedictions for my friends, I would have a few grumbles. But explanations first.

I am, in Jungian terms, a high intuitive. And I have honed my skills for 55 years by studying literature: noticing subtleties, nuances, what is said where, how it is said, how often and where it is left out all together. This makes me wrongly expect the same level of intuition in my friends.

As well, I have a different sense of time from the rest of you. I have no immediate family and the M.S. has stolen my ability to involve myself in hobbies, entertainments and travel. This gives me an entirely different perspective on my life and other peoples'.

Thus, I send photos of my garden and receive the response “what lovely photos”. But I have left this garden 'disastrously' only twice since December 1999, so the response I was looking for was: “what beautiful prison walls”.

Similarly, I commissioned Anthony Ritchie to set some poems to music. This was my talisman, my grandbaby, something to throw into the future where I might be remembered a little. Some people who have received the CD have not commented at all, some have said “how lovely” and only a few have responded with real depth and appreciation.

They would be my grumbles, but as well as the grumbles I want to acknowledge with gratitude and love my friends who have stayed with me through decades of time and across oceans.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A London School

For my last 3 years in London, I taught 3 days a week at a so-called 'comprehensive school' Sarah Siddons in Margaret Drabble's 'Ever-weeping Paddington'. Lacking its grammar school component it was more in the nature of a secondary modern, with a 17% West Indian roll, and the rest of mostly poor Irish background.

Now it happened that, over a period of months, someone took to letting the fire alarm off on a regular basis, noticeably, on fine afternoons. The school was 6 storeys high and it took considerable time to marshall all of the girls down on to the tennis courts, organise them into their correct classes and marshall them back upstairs – if it had been a genuine fire and panic, those on the top storeys would have crushed many of those below them – but in this case we sauntered down. Northern Ireland was much in the news at this time. A phonecall to the police warning a bomb in the school, led to the police themselves letting off the fire alarm. The head mistress was going distracted and decided she needed to lecture the school but the assembly hall was big enough to hold only half of the school at one time. In true middle-class fashion she appealed to their better natures, telling them the story of the boy who cried “wolf”. As she was releasing the first half of the school, someone let off the fire alarm.

It reached the point where we had to write down the names of any pupils outside of the classroom without permission. One afternoon I had a class of the equivalent of Year 9's and 2 of the noisiest, most confident white girls were bothered their names had been taken, probably because they sneaked into the loo for a quick fag. I reassured them they would be innocent until proven guilty.

Whereupon, one of the West Indian girls at the front of the class leapt to her feet and started banging at her left arm vigourously.

It's all very well for them,” she shouted, “ I would like to paint you all black. If you take the skin off, it's the same underneath, the same bones, the same muscles.”

We sat in silence and luckily no body sniggered, and the class went on.
She waited at the end of the class and said to me falteringly,

“I made a fool of myself."

"No, you didn't", I said.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Musical Journey For Anthony

Everywhere I looked,

I saw limits and restrictions;

there seemed to be no options.

On the off chance, I tried

transforming my musical landscape:

Aeolian harps, at the wind's behest,

rippled across my garden;

a song cycle enclosed my words

in different textures

and a vibrancy of colour.

I found I had passed a milestone

on the labryrinthine journey.

I was restored to myself,

with an entirely new perspective,

a changed chiaroscuro.

The world had opened out once more.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Christchurch is being tantalised

by an ongoing strip-tease show.

Most performances are heralded

by a drum roll, so any sound

that resembles a drum roll

has us on the edge of our seats

in electric anticipation.

Organisation is chaotic;

we're never told in advance how long,

what time of day or which days of the week.

A weekend vigil was not rewarded

until 10 on the Sunday evening

with a display of cleavage.

There's talk of a return season,

but we don't even know how long

the current season will endure.

No wonder, we're all unsettled.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Last Farewell


If this day were to be
 my last,

I would die

the long shadows of autumn

as light filters through the apricot tree;

celebrating the chattering flight of a fantail;

rejoicing in the architectural splendour

of a Bach partita, arch after musical arch

soaring upwards.


The tomorrow when I will be dead,

there still will be a lilting blackbird's song,

the iridescence of a spider's web

but I will not feel the lack.

It's now, when the day's last sunlight

flames horse chestnuts against the darkening hill;

there's the yawning ache at a remembered loss.

Tomorrow will be different.


The trajectory of my death

has changed over time.

Ten years ago, the idea of death

was spiritual, focusing me

on the beauty of the moment;

tree lined shadows,

conversation with a fantail,

Bach's grand pinnacle of sound.

Five years later, even though

I had one tentative foot

across the threshold,

I was still introvertedly

gazing back at the moment I had left;

a spider's web, blackbird's song.

But now, five years further on

with death shadowing my every footstep,

I have been forced

to face that I was afraid.

In my fear I relegated

my friends to the outer suburbs

when they really belonged

on the main thoroughfare.

If tonight were to be my very last,

I would be desolate

at leaving behind

a lifetime of friends.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Line by line

When you read this poem,

don't forget, I didn't write it.

I have to think my poems,

working them line by line

whenever there is free time.

Mostly, I start with one line

and the poem takes on a different shape

over a succession of days.

Sometimes, I am so desperate

to edit, that I change a word

in a conversational lull

or between mouthfuls of soup.

But it can happen,

that the poem itself takes control,

putting up roadworks, diversions

to prevent me reaching my goal.

Its like being in Wellington

expecting to set out for

Invercargill, only to find oneself

snowed in on the Desert Road.

And even when finished

it still has to be transferred

from one medium to another:

a thought poem is not the same

as a written poem.

It's as if I've had to

introduce a translator and you know

how difficult that is.

If for you, hills are green

and rolling, you are not

going to anticipate that, for me,

they are tawny, volcanic outcrops

otherwise known as Banks Peninsular.

I'm not even sure whether

I can claim the poem as my own,

but who else does it belong to?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Requiem for Christchurch

Earthquakes destroy the past.

I never thought I would live
long enough to witness
the end of my city
but Tuesday lunch time, a cold grey day,
the earth, like a hunting cat, pounced.
We tossed and tumbled,
with our houses see-sawing under us.

Initally, our city was built
on a swamp; when the earth
split open, water and silt
bubbled out through the cracks,
pot-holing pavements and roads.

The cathedral, where we prayed
to God, that same cathedral
collapsed one wall and its spire
on to unwitting passers-by.

Yet it is quite surreal;
my garden is still a wonderland,
even though half a block away,
everything is in disarray.

I mourn for the lost, the maimed, the dead.
I mourn for our grieving city.

Friday, February 11, 2011


My outer life is taking on
the quality of a dream:

I live in a tree-walled garden
filled with bird song,
a black and white rabbit
zipadees around and around;
a rose, hemmed in by a mock orange
and a Japanese honeysuckle,
spindles itself higher and higher
until it ventures
one vibrant orange flower.

If death is akin to sleep,
please can I keep on dreaming.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thoughts from an Inner Garden

It felt rather brazen but I did it anyway. After all, I had nothing to lose.

The story starts long ago. Paul has been dead 25 years, and the hole in the centre of me has not diminished. In fact, in recent years, it has got bigger. All my friends are acquiring grandchildren to dote on. I wouldn't want them not to share their pride in their grandchildren as it would make my life even more marginalised. But I cannot help feeling wistful. I have no talisman to throw into the future. I identify with Yeats' "I have no child, only a book". I have several books, but poetry is anti-social; I try to tell, even if in black humour mode, the truth of my situation. It's not a truth for everyone.

So I had a dream, a dream I nourished for a year or more that I would like to hear some of my poems set to music. In the end, I got brave enough to write an explain the dilemma to the eminent NZ composer, Anthony Ritchie. He was willing to undertake the task, selected 7 poems and we have agreed work will be piano, violin but are still deciding on the register of the voice.

The work will be launched for the first time in my living room before it goes public (wow!).

He was up in Christchurch a fortnight ago and played and sang sketches of all 7 songs, which will have the name, 'Thoughts from an inner garden'. Of course, the piano part included the violin part, but even so, to me it sounded lovely and all together is very exciting.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Aeolian Harps

I now have two Aeolian harps;
Their presence in my garden
is like the echo of distant church bells.
I have had to change my way of listening
and focus my mind away
from outside noise and inner turbulence.
But the wind is neither consistent
nor a conscientious player.
When it blows fiercely,
my harps are enrolled on the spot
for my garden’s orchestra.
But other days, gust follows gust
and there is silence; only, once in a while,
amidst a rustle of leaves and swishing
of branches, I catch one solitary note.
But again there are days when the wind
seems to hover above the tree
calling forth a silver ripple of sound.
But this is high summer
with the trees in full foliage;
I do not know what the winter will bring.
It’s all in the gift of the wind.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Compare and Contrast

Three centuries apart,
two paintings of a woman
totally preoccupied.
The first is pregnant,
standing absorbed in a letter,
she is lit from an invisible
window to her right; the room is
sparsely furnished, a table,
two high-backed chairs, a scrolled parchment;
she is composed; we do not know
whether the letter contains
joy or sorrow, astonishment
or consolation.
We have been invited
into the middle of her story;
there has been a beginning, a marriage;
there will be, we hope, a healthy birth.

The second painting has
no source of light and no story;
to emphasise pattern and colour,
the painter has eliminated
spaces around objects;
we could not walk around the room.
The anonymous woman,
sitting at a table,
is a silhouette defining a shape
which is repeated on the tablecloth
and again on the wallpaper.
But there still has to be space
between me and the painting;
I could not appreciate
its swirling arabesques
and vibrancy of colour
with my nose pressed against it.
If perception requires
between figure and ground,
in the first painting
the woman is the figure
and the ground is the room
which surrounds her;
in the second, the painting itself
is the figure and the ground
is how I have displayed it,
in this case, on an old wooden door.

Two different styles of painting,
two different ways of seeing.

But this morning I gazed at the park;
the trees on my boundary
have become so lush they merged
with the park trees. It was only
when a car drove past that I could see
the distance between them.
There, was a Matisse.
On the other hand, if you had looked
into my solitary room
where I sat absorbed in thought,
you would have had a Vermeer.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


Elsewhere, that’s the place for disasters;
elsewhere, preferably
north of the equator,
even Australia
is too close for comfort.
Although we knew we lived in a country
susceptible to earthquakes,
they were long ago
and wouldn’t affect our generation.
But 4000 after-shocks later
we are singing a different tune.

It appears our city
is built on a fault line;
a line sounds mathematical
with a beginning and an end.
It would be truer to say
our city is built on
a lattice-work of faults,
with earthquakes popping up
here, there and everywhere.

For the most unfortunate
it is a question of survival
with homes and businesses written off;
the rest of us are distracted
from the eternal questions
by chimneys, insurance
and cracks in the ceiling.

But the eternal questions remain:
each and everyone of us
shares our world
with billions of others,
a world that existed
aeons of time before people,
in a universe so large
it stretches almost to infinity.
And now even the stable earth,
the earth where I thought
to lay my final bones
is writhing and coiling
like a wounded snake.

But incessantly the questions
hammer at us to be answered.
“Who are we?” “What do we count for?”

The universe remains silent.