Michelangelo’s poems

What I find serious
is losing ground: it’s the plaintive voice
of the singer on my old stereo;
the book of Michelangelo’s poems
bought at a garage sale for a dollar
which still has its dust jacket
and a name in linked writing
over the frontispiece.

It’s easy enough to find these things
if you enter into the search, not like
when Schliemann set out for Troy
with a copy of the Iliad in his trunk
and only a rough idea where to dig

aaaaaaaaaa―but would anyone care now
if you bragged of finding a necklace
once worn by a girl called Helen?

For so long I thought I was in time,
and now so completely out of it
I’m tempted to find a pirate shirt
and loll about on hard benches
smoking opium from a wooden pipe

which seems a better option
than wearing my pants low
or taking photos of myself smiling
    aaaaaaaaaaaaaaa    ―Michelangelo
never did that; the fashion then
was for sonnets, which he wrote
when he wasn’t working, when he was
a little melancholy, unsure if he was loved
and the world’s creeping indifference
something he was struggling with.


Published in Poetry NZ Yearbook, 2017.  


On reading Billy Collins in a dentist’s waiting room

reading a humble poet tell us
of his eggs-over-easy start to the day
has made me braver, truly

and I’m glad now
the dentist is running late
and I’ve been able to fortify
myself with poetry

remembering again
that thoughts written down
in an elegant vernacular
can make you feel better
about your day
pushing out any anxiety you have
about having a molar filling replaced
or whether your friends
actually care

to write down something
that’s almost honest
is at least as important as what the man
in the pale blue apron does
all day
poking with metal tools
into our cavities

so I’ll make this call:
for collections of humble poetry
in dentist’s waiting rooms everywhere,
pages and pages of expertly cut off
journeying through someone else
into yourself, as necessary
as the dentist who helps
keep healthy teeth
in our heads

poetry too
can fill the holes.


Drilling for oil in a white cube

They―always they, not us―
aaawanted to drill for oil in the gallery.

They said it wouldn’t be a problem
aaato pull up the polished wooden floors;

they could build up through the roof
aaaand over, positioned like a giant mosquito

with a black-steel proboscis pumping
aaafrom the earth into a bulbous belly.

“And the gallery?” I asked.
aaa“What about the Constables, the Monets?”

“Who made this decision? You can’t
aaabankroll a gallery on profits from oil!”

They were right of course;
aaapeople came to look, and it was said

it was the best conceptual work
aaasince Duchamp hung 1200 bags of coal

from the ceiling of the Gallerie des Beaux-arts.
aaaOur jobs were safe, and we didn’t have to apply

for funding―anyway, government money
aaafor the arts had been drying up.

The Constables and Monets darkened
aaato a Malevich black, and it all

shouldn’t matter, but somehow it does
aaa(or something like that kind of frustration).


Published in NZ Listener, 29 March 2015 


In Mourning

The stadium that teams with life on another
has clouded duly over; the willow blades placed
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; and 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.)


all our directions home

the taonga are placed on the sand.
taiaha stand quivering in the wind

speaking to the rōpū of sand-diggers,
fire-lighters, early morning risers.

the people of this place mix easily
with us manuhiri, come to watch.

the greenstone mere smashes
the seashell in half: a clean break

between where we’ve come from
and where we are now, understood.

we talk on the wind—impatience,
the ragged wave, sinks into the sand.

we listen to a story of seabirds,
how in the evening, their bellies full

they’ll spiral upwards on the wind.
when high enough, the leading birds

cry out and begin to fly straight
in the direction of their island home.

the birds on the sea, watching this,
lift off and follow

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa —friends 

you who first rise up on the wind

to see which way for us, we promise 

to follow. call out loud from above 
and we in our numbers will fly!

the tide turns, we gather the taonga,
put them in the boot of the car

and drive to the whare, where we eat
together quietly—before one-by-one

we rise to the heights and speak
of all our directions home.

Published in ‘a fine line’, magazine of the NZ Poetry Society, May 2014.



there’s a few I’ve lost

there’s a few I’ve lost, fallen off in the dark
behind a chest of drawers, under the bed,
gone to the place where socks go

I’ve lost some between meetings
& footpath conversations

some I’ve lost between the ears,
others between the sheets
(though I’m not so worried about those)

some I’ve lost through inattention,
quite a few from laziness

some I’ve sent off to other people,
who’ve probably lost them, or thrown them away

some I’ve lost while talking to a friend
in a bar, between the last wine
& the first whisky

some it’s dishonest to say I lost
when I never had them

some I’ve lost were as precious, I would say,
as a shipload of Athenian black-figure pottery
gone down in a storm north of Samos

others no more valuable than receipts in my pockets
that have gone through the wash

there’s some I regret losing,
some I can’t now remember ever having

but there’s one I’ve lost
which I hope to find

so I can read it again
like I did when I was 13
in front of a classroom of boys
in their grey school uniforms
all sweaty after lunch

the first poem I ever wrote,
the first time I’d been asked.

Published in ‘a fine line’, magazine of the NZ Poetry Society, May 2014


Lunchtime thoughts of a gallery attendant at the end of the world

I’d really like to go out for lunch in Manhattan
and get a liver sausage sandwich.

The roof of the gallery rattles when extreme wind blows.

I’m avoiding today the demand to do things quickly,
to get to the end.

To live inside your mind you must be tough,
like Kerouac.

The chocolate liquorice log didn’t help. Will have to follow it
with a deep-fried lasagne topper.

We don’t like being alone, even when we ask for it.

Who made the decision to build another pyramid
when the harvest is failing?

You can’t smell something that’s dead,
until it’s dead.

I just want to move, after six generations in this tribe
that’s grown too big and a drought coming on.

Lunchtime at the basilica, a lot of people worried about
higher taxes, slave revolts, and the devalued currency.

I’ve lost faith in the new empire of Byzantium.

I wish I didn’t have to sit here amongst the gunpowder.

You don’t see EXIT signs, until you have to EXIT
and can’t get back to where you entered.

She said it was a picture of a rainbow stretched to black.

Blue sky floods into the gallery
through high windows

I can’t keep my head level,
I have to look up.