a French schoolteacher sailed here
1840 in the navy ship Comte de Paris
a merchant seaman he rigged and swabbed to travel
then our great-great grandfather built a white weatherboard cottage
my distant cousin in the Waitakeries told us
Southern Maori wanted to get the English out
but the French captain let the story slip
called in further North on their three month way
by sail to cross the globe from Normandy and the Charente
French families were met by the English on the southern coast
refused permission to land unless they gave up their nation
sixty took English citizenship - permitted to disembark
while five families could afford to sail back to France
Lelievre spelt many ways five generations on
a middle name kept by some great aunts
much from over a century ago or so silent and lovely
Judy called her designer gowns Lelievre in Melbourne
she left me mother-of-pearl sequins and jet beads
they inspire admiration without speaking a word
inside and out may not match when strangers arrive
those French changed their names and blended stories
kept to their own bay area - a micro-climate and sunny
my cousin surrounded with rimu and kauri explained
the French flag outside his house in west Auckland hills
but our forebears had to hide their identity in Akaroa
when outsiders arrive like thoughts too flip
sticky as a half-cooked pancake could catch or stain
better to wait til everything’s well-heated and palatable
ideas about how French we are turn easily into a kitchen
warm plates and aromas like an arm around your shoulder
France quite at home in so many cupboards and wardrobes
talk with flying hands on our mother’s side
bonhomie and attractive arrangements drew sensitive friends
then lately we listen to Edith Piaf with a closer smile
would Lelievre have laughed at our common touch?
or drawn a story to illustrate his love for Justine
a Malmanche wife helped him welcome new arrivals
until we met a fourth cousin and heard the stories
we imagined our schoolteacher ancestor with brown hair
unmarried in a wooden room at a desk piled with books
now we know he stopped to gather willow in France
cuttings from Napoleon Boneparte’s grave to transplant
those trees grow along the Avon River in Christchurch
while I work with youngsters unable to attend school
his ghost could mend my dreams and find a map
through infinite dark a new unfolding for my little light
linked and raw the story like a new house frame
demolition timber and plans recovered from a beach
where waves tear towards land like they've ever done
our garden sprouted with artichokes and Swiss chard
thyme and other herbs Francois could know
we’d drink red wine and discuss political curiosities
Justine-Rose could explain better business
show the best way to greet a guest with salty cheeks
what to wear when homesick enough to swim home
their imagined memory as strange as a cartoon now
they sit instead behind me while I write and they watch out
the way they did onboard ship with only stars to see them true
watching from the edge of the back of beyond
escaped music from a hall window
driving towards dances in a new dress
smoky looks and spangly promises
smiles more than packaging
so many lost between rain and wind
these few observations and need
not easily coded nor tidily explained like a newspaper
but if I don't invite you in I'm told I'll disappear
please accept my apologies for any misunderstandings
met in such natural fashion we could rock or swim
while pebbles rattle when we run and kick
yes – this plays here every woken day and night
scenes alter according to who starts first
while I can't believe I'm still permitted to drive
petrol so ruinous it's like a Roman war in spacesuits
with every bod throughout history chucking nukes
perhaps that's what carbon really is – every known fight
mark this spot for where the treasure is
time runs backwards and we meet ourselves
again here with lots of make-up, a list in a locked diary
wishes as substantial as feathers or sequins
insecurities flap in a wind where flags tear to ribbons
I'm a skydiver
the earth bulges up like one large greeny-blue eye
blind burn at the core then a hull dense as language
when I starfish the clouds stay nonchalant
ground rushes at me with matador definitions
none as puzzling as a human intervention from behind
they sneak up beside me sometimes like queue-jumpers
meanwhile I'll be here with the light trimmed and ablaze
those rocks below require a warning
but wish I could reach out to you at that table
just with this one warm hand and a few pleasant words
nothing smarty-pants or questioning since this is not television
on the side of the road in afternoon sun with some interest
our unusual in common as if we've both got pointed ears
or could recite every ingredient on a bottle of plum sauce
this awkwardness lasts an entire life and is guaranteed
for anyone human enough to long for kisses and miss
then the candles lit I close my eyes
blow for privacy
you could arrive now in the bright memory and last
Prayer for a Bride, Vanished
'If I follow the inclination of my nature, it is this:
beggar-woman and single, far rather than queen and married.' - Queen Elizabeth the First
When she awakes alone in her narrow bed
the trees outside gold-leafed with sun,
sing something to her about love and cruise ships.
Each time she remembers escaping her white dress,
the way one heel caught on the lace,
how she threw the shoes away too,
make laughter ripple away other wrinkles.
You know she admires men who paint with words,
then she looks for pink sunglasses
when they lay a blue pathway,
This woman turns back to the paper trail or road.
Have those men nod and believe her stories why,
the way they accept a river or a mountain,
when there’s no sport, only a car quick-gone.
Any circle of women eager to joke about failure,
bring them close enough to darkness to see her dive in,
a figure of light through old stories;
words reformed so the crowd applauds.
Remind her often, backstage fits players fine,
masks and curtains do much still,
while an answer-phone’s her sentinel.
Change her crying to water for a garden,
where this woman could meet with friends and dig,
the sky occupied with everything she need not say.
Have her map past steps fluently
again to where parents mysteriously fed her fire,
grasp the ignorant hand with that terrible spoon,
turn it back to the bunny bowl - change time.
When she finds herself stitched into an operation,
some frayed part removed,
patch in a replacement and amnesia about knives.
Know she loves the way a moon reflects day,
or a river holds fish and stones,
allow her the unacquaintance needed
to avoid weightiness and drowning.
Give this woman all she ever wanted in sleep,
and ever decent demands awake such as conversation,
in the tranquil cafe where no clock intrudes.
Believe these lines find her in a remarkable world,
tillered through hours of thought
behind the wheel of safety’s rules,
to sail a clear heart away from crows.
Then to guard from undoing, bring.
a shell-shocked infant's life story in fragments
polished surfaces and school bell racket
lessons stretched by visible clocks
our doodles catted through those dog-days
skate talk crunchier with illicit snacks
a dental nurse lectured on the evils of lollies
then girls ran filled teeth to perfume counters
distracted by clouds of eau de daydream
for damaged children with psychological injuries, a desperate need for distracting affection from any
company may appear, flickering in and out of romantic light, dangerous as the moon.
kitchen ideas their mothers plated
nobody ever signed a birthday cake
crochet dresses or Crimpelene pant-suits
Singer sewing whirred and magazines grinned
go-colour talk for rule-the-road lessons
traffic boys sang ‘one two three you stop me’
dispensed cheap spirits and beer brainwash
a crack of bubble-gum they leaned on second-hand cars
people may be forgiven alarming flaws, warmth is currency. lonely girl turns into a heroine, kisses
transform her; a movie flickers in mind and photographs seem like kind parents.
dishes found spoons handsome as hormones made
canoodling on car seats or nonchalant beaches
a doomed search for lasting connections in weasel pops
her youth jumbled cut-up shakes of days and nights
disorientation near doilies with modern art eyes
the traction of suburbia and soap opera expectations
a recovery of almost and nearly soon settled on peculiar
for decades 20th century oddities multiplied, future shock jolted generations then self-adoration
coincided with enough wealth and technology for many to easily devise themselves new identities.
her spectator grandstand make-shift in sand
sleep stopped against creeps but not the past
disappointment tempered steel for sharper memory cuts
a cure of replacement retro and lone weeping
veiled romance to save her from more broken
in a near-nunnery under open sky in a demanding field
planet Earth turned to newly invented sacrifices
emotional wreckage may occur in apparent comfort. the precision someone strong-willed exercises
to ensure a better future can feel holy, or needing as much study as a professional career.
charity her door with a present to align
a relative created and auditioned in thoughts
her hopeful sister well-dressed in think-ink
conversation to suit when no one else tailored
a re-step to carefully think up an invisible companion
when others admire then her guard appears
impossible to exactly pull the shade of this living blue
wishes and recall formed the flesh of a paper twin; she remembers enough to listen. a record of days
and nights sing. released moments, love recognised in the quiet of her remaining decency.
Be this a Totem of Pakeha History in Aotearoa NZ?
(warning, it’s shaky)
E noho koa, kia ora - everything may grow clearer knowing love here, through lives together.
Long as we yearn ....
Comes with a wish, (pull the wishbone with someone else and make a wish, whoever gets
the biggest part of the bone gets their wish). Wishbone: attached to gift ribbon, may be pulled
whilst attached as long as artwork belongs to you.
All materials reusable. They include kauri mirror frame, (found discarded) embroidered,
crocheted cotton tray cloth, (tea or coffee stain under painted wooden heart), string, artist
hand-embroidered polyester gift ribbon, 'anti-idol' badge, op shop ‘gold’ frame and a steel nail.
Note, nail hole could be filled and stained to re-use kauri frame, however a mirror frame may
prove difficult to upcycle.
This prose poem could be framed or placed elsewhere. Totem represents my experience as a
fourth generation NZer, my first ancestor here a French merchant seaman who became a
school teacher and with his Malmanche wife, also ran a place of rest for travellers. I believe,
after three generations or so, people living hereabouts become Polynesian. Some Maori
may call us something else, probably a secret word, which is fine with me.
Oh, do you notice what this spells down the side of the page with the capital letters? Bel Canto,
a style of singing characterized by brilliant vocal display and purity of tone, etymology: It, lit.,
beautiful song. Remember how many newcomers we’ve been and know? Love the loving and
love the hateful more, since in charity our future grows best and always did, else why are we
settled so really? Kia ora, kia kaha, kia toa tatou katoa.