blackmail press 35
Owen Bullock
New Zealand

Taipari O Maraea - Penny Howard
In 2012, Owen Bullock published his second collection of haiku breakfast with epiphanies (Oceanbooks). He also edited Poetry NZ #45 and Building a time machine, the New Zealand Poetry Society’s annual anthology, and was one of the editors of Take Five: Best Contemporary Tanka, Vol IV. He has previously published a collection of poetry, sometimes the sky isn’t big enough (Steele Roberts, 2010), another book of haiku, wild camomile (Post Pressed, Australia, 2009), and the novella A Cornish Story (Palores, UK, 2010).

“shadows / that follow you / wringing their hands” Alistair Paterson
(all quotes from Incantations for Warriors)


father, forefathers
observers, critics
you can’t run away
at 3 am
or any other time
you have no legs

you think about it
but the mind becomes
a parking lot
fills up
is a city congested

lives of the people
delineated by
bus lanes, strangers
who follow you
pick up the stubs
of what’s left

that’s how it seems
to your lack of confidence
but not how it is

you ignore the rain
spoiled plans light a secret desire
that will be realised
in blotched darkness

opposites lead you
to what might be discovered
that has no name

2. “to be recognised”

that’s the man you met
you poured him a drink
deflected his rant
took payment, arranged travel
bought his books
recommended him to posterity
swiped his card

found him a job
at the bank
or cleaning houses

3. “they belong to the walls & the ceilings”

we belong
but need servicing
a training programme re-vamp

the expectations of success
to reach the window ledge
climb out, peer and with
arms outstretched
float down in a dream
is as real
as you want this to be

is as it is 
and won’t change until
you’re ready
to re-enter the room
and divulge secrets
in anticipation

4. “they listen, they wait”

they wait forever
for the one who won’t appear
who’s not what they expect
and can’t recognise –
an expectation
is a Messiah

circles tumble off each other
toothless cogs
that shunt you back to the street
where all is change
uncertainty, demarcation

around the corner
a colony broods
it’s a disaster
perfect already

5. “economics determine the outcome”

you wrote the word ‘money’
but it doesn’t seem real
you want to cross it out
acknowledge your mistake
but let it stand in ink
to soak up your displeasure

you can’t eat money when
the food’s gone
or bicker with economies
abstracts don’t exist

there are people
people like yourself

the light goes round the leaf
too many people and the leaf
becomes shady, dies
has to be turned on at night
veins empty

6. “nor quite what it seems”

what you say
you say about yourself
perception’s a cage
words can’t break
unless hands squeeze through
and pull at the throat

you say what you didn’t dare
about hate, a thing
you wanted to hide

it could just as easily
have been love

7. “he holds a circle of stones”

familiar faces fade in and
out of view, haunt
like cockroaches on a wall at night
you can’t be bothered to kill

you hang on to paintings
a chair that plushes
at your command
with the air of childhood

exhausted, calm
no longer argumentative
you scatter the circles
with a boat, then look for
another mountain to disassemble

8. “an impossible beast”

our daemon, a life
we have no idea of

we say what fate is
would like to know

it’s impossible
to understand
another human being
but can we, could we
know ourselves . . .

nothing tonight
as you rise from bed alone
seek solace

9. “in a silence / they can’t escape”

a noise
torturing you

you are something else
you must be . . .

10. “protective of their privilege and power”

privilege is everywhere
the power they call
is external, it’s not about
controlling one’s own behaviour
but do you

do the things you keep
render a sense of self?
can you abandon the books?

11. “in helpless confusion travel alone”

a reactionary blessing
time will pass

you can’t hold in your hand
the white heat of rejection

12. “you ignore the makers of history”

you don’t care about
what they call history
it doesn’t contain the details
you’re interested in

let history wind down
to a smaller number of words

13. “there is an end to exploration?”

when you hope it’s already ended
you know it’s not

each moment’s enquiry
will go on and on
over mountain saddles
along lake edges

plurality wearies
but only until
the next decent sleep

14. “to identify the ally”

knowledge is the thing experienced
the ally is yourself

15. “silence & the world’s last day”

it cannot end

16. “supplanted by images & symbols”



1. “to stand where the top of the world curves” (Elizabeth Alexander)

if you ask me what I like
I’ll say everything

the optimist wears a yellow hat
seldom takes it off
except to go swimming
at the poles
you need your hat again
straight away

but I don’t like everything
modern architecture
automated phone services, qualifications –
anything you can make a story out of


trees posit, random pages take you
where you want to go

consequences face you
like a line of ancestors

is the dream a projection
a hope or an idea
you can put into a novel
and worry about


you feel you have a right
to fly to Wellington to celebrate

but you stay and know
expectations undone

‘illusions’ coming apart
like half-rotted wood

that will go back into soil –
you’ll escape the same way

but not before mytochondria
dispell every trace

4. “Try to make others / feel clever” Mary Jo Bang

a good bloke that
doesn’t talk much
(because you listened for hours

but not in content
so much as
the presence of the other

you go on listening
till they’re done
they have to go to
an urgent appointment
they’ll tell you about
next time)


however it got here
it stands
lies open or flat
its ideas slake you
in the early morning
before you open your eyes

then you go to it
and a suspicion is confirmed
it knows something

through pages, letters
the haunting inhabitance


‘things to do’
reappear as
things unfinished

‘things to let go of’
not printed
on stationery


a kiss of light
the morning star accuses

an oak tree rumbles
in another spring gale

prayer flags flap

you see your reflection
it will be unlit

the glass melted


a guitar silent
you don’t care about it
because music is in the imagination

winds sigh
and push around the world
are already there

in Soeul

the old man sweeping the street wears a simple
grey uniform with rolled sleeves

two young men clearing leaves in the park
have brown suits of coarse cotton

the porter directing luggage in the hotel dons
beige, lapels, identification, highly polished shoes

the front door man walks a suit like a movie star
in an off-beat role, colored brushes at the shoulder

waiters & waitresses are dressed alike as
far as possible, incredulous at ‘milk in tea’
but polite & ultimately obedient regarding breakfast

old men at the twenty-four hour market
carry packages on racks strapped to their backs
in loosely fitting coats, grey or brown checked