About bubbles

for Poppy and Lennox

there are super-rainbow bubbles,
bubbles that pop in a second,
bubbles that fly in your face

there are bubbles the dog barks at,
bubbles you have to chase,
bubbles no one sees

there are bubbles that divide
into smaller bubbles,
bubbles that land in the grass
and must be hit with a stick

then there are the bubbles
which last longer than the rest

(by some accident of bubble technology
which you or I can never know)

that float up on the wind,
over the house, or the road,
higher than the Norfolk Pine

these are the bubbles which
never pop, but go on forever…

Northern Advocate Column

Holding the politicians in sceptical regard

TIM200302_Jacinda“Don’t follow leaders, watch your parkin’ meters.” So sang Bob Dylan in 1965 as the counterculture was just getting warmed up in America.

It’s a line from Subterranean Homesick Blues, a Chuck Berry-inspired, Rimbaud-infused, Beatle-driven rock song.

If the song is about anything, it would be the freedom of the mind. Keep your intellectual guard up, don’t be sucked into believing society’s prevailing myths or its leaders.

That one line, with its outrageous rhyming of “leaders” with “parkin’ meters,” has the ring of profundity, but is also gleefully absurd. It often pops into my head. Sometimes when I’ve cause to be sceptical of leaders who want so much to be followed.

Don’t get me wrong, we need people to step up and give direction to political ideas or achieve tasks that a community or society sets for itself. Effective leaders unite people, usually factions or groups of us, never all of us, that’s definitely a myth.

At the same time, being status sensitive creatures, we’re not always keen on people thinking that they up there on stage, in Parliament or on TV, are better than us. And so we can be scathing in our criticism and rebellious in our attitudes if leaders claim a status that’s unwarranted or not useful to us in some way. This is why powerful people all through history have put so much effort into projecting an image that might be favourably perceived by other elites as well as the common masses.

Which leads me to the picture of the New Zealand’s Prime Minister on the cover of TIME magazine. She wears a stark white shirt, a look of grave, thoughtful concern on her face. It’s as manufactured as any statue of a king or queen.

It would be interesting to know what the process for deciding the cover was. Who chose to wear the white top? Ardern herself, or was it the outcome of a negotiation between TIME magazine and Ardern’s PR people? These aren’t innocent decisions. This is Prime Minister as Mother Mary, make no mistake.

If you’re a keen supporter of Ardern, this image creation probably doesn’t even register, it’s just what’s needed to win at the political game. All successful politicians do it.

To her credit, we are asked by Ardern in the TIME magazine article to judge her government by its deeds. And so we must.

We, as lay voters, a long way from the mechanisms of power, should maintain a sceptical attitude, even to the leaders we like and broadly support. Believing too much and we risk being deceived, and ultimately disappointed. Believing not at all, however, presents the other danger of falling into an ineffectual cynicism. Best avoided, trust me.

The political process may be distasteful in many ways. The deception, the manipulation of facts, the manufacturing of an image, can all be a big turn off. Yet turning off or tuning out, as some in the 1960s counterculture advocated, isn’t really an option. You can’t completely shut out the politicians and the effects of their decisions on our lives.

That’s part of the reason I’ve come back to writing a weekly column after a break of 12 months. I want to participate again in the conversations about the future direction of Northland and New Zealand. Perhaps I can bring something to those political debates and have some influence on public opinion and the leaders amongst us. 


Damp laundry

Damp laundry
smells sweet in summer
pulled from the well
of the machine

the expectation
of summer ease, living
slow, the patience
to hang each sock

stopping to take in
the sky, watch the leaves
of the olive tree breathe
and shimmer—

remember in winter
an oppressive odour
and cold fingers
moving quick and blind?


Our holy house

nice to have them, companions
you can stand with them
on Lorne Street talking shit
not worried
that on this narrow footpath
between the road
and glass front of some transient women’s clothing shop
you’ve made a gauntlet
people are hesitant
to walk through          especially
the ones walking alone
who look glum         to us
who are happily thieving time
in broad daylight
who get the idea
to raise arms
angled like a roof, to span
the narrow footpath
for people to walk through
into our holy house

we only tried it once           he stopped
looked confused, turned
and crossed the road

our holy house collapsing with laughter
as such things often do.



Sitting at my desk
thinking about

you busy
getting something

when I caught your eye
and felt guilty
for something

though I couldn’t
say what

I said too quickly,
“I’m lazy”

to which you responded,
quickly also:

“no, more like
easily distracted”

which had me thinking
as I got up
and walked away

that yes, that’s right

“I’m not lazy,
I’m just easily distracted”

which was something
I could live with.


The dream that labour knows (after Robert Frost)

When spirit is reduced to a bar graph, and pictures
of beauty suffice, and efficiencies of automation
are boundlessly claimed, is it mad, then, to saw wood
by hand, beneath the coiling branches of a grapevine
in a summer sweat, while birds of various amplitudes
sing out to each other, my better self, that I’ve found
here, unexpectedly, next to a pile of broken timber
collected yesterday from outside the pallet factory,
where machines muffled by ear muffs still penetrate
the minds of their operators, in control of the levers
long since cut-off from themselves, and not now
an extension of their limbs and hard-won skill,
even for sawing by hand, able to feel the vibrations
of steel teeth grinding against the grain of the matter,
with a balance, a friction, that whispers, not in the grip
of pleasure, but in the hold of happiness, worked on
over an afternoon, and only halfway through the job
of cutting irregular pieces of dry wood for winter’s
distant warming―mad is it, such revelry?


Love song/no limit (after Bob Dylan)

She works in the city, lives in the slums
on the street she plays the drums
she listens hard to Victor Jara
from Caracas to Kolkata.

See her work in the afternoon
in the evening gaze at the moon
she knows there’s no limit
at her feet our children sit.

She wears a rubber band on her wrist
she likes to give it a twist
she’ll take the fire out of the sun
and raise what we must to begin.



the clear morning hangs
over you like infinity:

the taste of coffee
heavy in your mouth


these mornings are for replacing
rotten fence boards

—if you’re slow enough
it can take until lunchtime

taking care even
to hammer out the nails

putting them in your pocket
because the world is changing fast


two hawks circle
like leaves caught in the miracle
of a twisting spiral of air

each swoop
with still wings ends

with a sharp turn
of flashing feathers


there’s no inspiration in fear,
in jealousy,
or in halls of Gods

the inspiration is in the rhythm
of movement and its score

and if not that, nothing at all.


These old theatre seats

these old theatre seats
are rusty at the base,
the blue vinyl
has faded to grey,
they’re not where
they used to be.
looking over
the western hills
to a wet sunset,
a sliver
of clear orange sky
beneath the heaviest
of dark clouds,
the sounds of children
talking nonsense
on the steps
of the almost derelict
house across the street,
I realise there is
nowhere else.
these old theatre seats
are comfortable
and a good place
to look out.


Parade of mourning (Phil Hughes, 1988-2014)

The stadium that teams with life on another day
has clouded duly over; the willow blades erected
like crosses at the boundary rope, a temporary
fixture, acknowledged passingly by those honoured

at the end of play, who get to step over first
from the click-focused world―paid for and paid in―
to the shaded area of spectators only. We invest
in the meaningful drama, despite our distant part.

Looking one way, we’re saved the impossible choices
of full sympathy; yet in the parade of mourning,
natural and mannered glances, tears and condolences
viral in the public domain, we sense something real

and are reasoned to watch, knowing our records too
will tumble, and that diving catch will be forgotten.
Mark the score if you like, but everything’s done
so soon; sparrows fall silent under the hedge. Listen.


Phil Hughes, Australian cricketer, 1988-2014.