blackmail press 17
Mary Cresswell
new zealand
MARY CRESSWELL is from Los Angeles. She came to Wellington in 1970. She is co-author (with Mary-Jane Duffy, Mary Macpherson, and Kerry Hines) of Millionaire’s Shortbread, illustrated by Brendan O’Brien and published by University of Otago Press in 2003. She has published poems in New Zealand, in Australia, Canada, the UK and the United States, and in online journals. She has always worked as a science editor. She also lives next to the sea: this particular closeness and the goofy vocabulary of research science both have had a major influence on her imagination and will doubtless continue to do so.

Incantations are in order
offerings are now being submitted
to the goddess of women
with punctuation problems.

She likes lots of things:
cartoons about Dot
neat quotes
(no colon jokes, please)
and of course she gives thanks
when your period starts
(assuming you weren’t
holding out for a
full stop)

But most of all, she likes
just cruising around
doing her dash
helping her friends sort out
all their jots and


Why do people find it so hard, being in the mood?
Three little words — all it takes for being in the mood.

Off with your hats and perk up your ears! Here come the clowns!
Get on with it you guys, ‘cause we’re here to share your mood.

Your favourite things are best unknown or left unspoken.
Opening the door can be enough to end a mood.

The first time I sang the Queen of the Night in public
I thought I was in control, but then I came unglued.

What are those soldiers doing? Mommy, what are Sabines?
Why are those funny fat ladies fleeing in the nude?

The miller’s beautiful daughter waited in the glen,
Her lover will come back to her when he’s in the mood.


The moon is only a silver sliver.
I crouch by the door. I am chilled to the bone.
The only sound is my chattering teeth.

Obssessed like a rottweiler with a bone
I get on with it, snarl and grit my teeth
and I try to smile, to pretend slavish.

I am fed up with it now, up to my teeth.
I come close to you, slick as quicksilver
The open door chills us both to the bone.

We are slivers of bone in the moon’s teeth.


* Aegean

Up against the wall, master thinker
old lags slouch, manning the woodpile
fanning the flames:
herbal teas with Socrates—eternal verities
oh, lads, we know what we know.

** Marianas

Young hands make old bones
exposed by a toppled cycad
reflecting the rising sun
obsessive rain dripping
Tennotenno, tennotenno, tennotenno.

*** New Mexico

We back up against hot sandstone
hold our breath and watch: a-one, a-two, a whole
exhalation of bats spills out of the cavern
drowning the sunset, pouring over the rocks
swallowed by the rising night.

Note: tenno: Japanese, “The Emperor”


If I wanted, I could tell you things.
That would make the angels dance once more
on heads of pins, with no fixed need for wings.
If I wanted, I could tell you. Things
I know could save all our awakenings
from the black dog that always woke us up before.
If I wanted, I could tell you things
that would make the angels dance once more.