Landscape with two beaches 

for Michael Illingworth

If the landscape, Michael, is a
woman lying down

would we drive our cars
on it, like this

around and around.


The journey as far as the road

for Rita Angus

Rita, the young will not enter
the convent

the city has bright lights, too
bright lights.

It turns them on and off
for you.


Beside the fireplace, Upper Moutere

for Toss Woollaston

'I like the light
behind me

falling directly
on the subject, the light

coming from where
I am.'



for Frances Hodgkins

Frances, once again
the sun

like a bee dying
on a polished table-

can we ascribe to it
such feelings:


that most particular

and how
it melts.



for Robert N. Field

Field or valley, Robert
we watched you walk,

your colourbox overwhelmed
by daffodils,

the day's paintings
watching as you approached them.



for M. T. Woollaston

The clearing in the centre
of the thing-

isn't that the subject of
all painting? Let me explain:

the white square
in the middle

of the thing-a cup of tea
with a grain of salt-grinder

or how the flea, floating, resembles
a tealeaf. To put it

another way: I was
to spend the day painting

but a horse on a long rope
caught my attention, going

around and around
a man in a blue hat.


Painter with clouds

for Colin McCahon

I see my paintings
reflected in lakes

like billboards, hammered up
against blue sky,

between the colours of earth
and heaven

although I am not
a religious man,

believe me.


French Bay oratory

for Jacquie Fahey

Your voice, Jacquie
was the way

paint was. The beauty no one's
but theirs, your subjects.

I thought to ask you
how much

you had
to paint,

but, not needing to, your voice was
as paint was.

The order
it comes in.



for Rita Angus

Where they meet
the estuary,

Rita, creeks build monuments
to themselves. But

the imagination doesn't need
monuments, it needs

more imagination.



for the painters

One quality lacking, Frances, from your watercolours,
it was unhappiness.
                        As you said, Richard, the fields
were without flowers. No way
to paint them.

                        And the sails, Michael,

half way between islands. The paintings
fell short. But not far.
                        'We were all just

finding our way,' according to Frances
or Richard or Michael,
                        trying to capture

the moonlight curving around a bowl,
the indecision of a sarong.
                        Later wishing each other

a brief winter, an inauspicious spring
and summer

(II)          Miscellaneous poems

A painting entitled Love and the Pilgrim

after Edward Burne-Jones

The woman has wings all the pilgrim
has is a moustache and feet full of
thorns. A butterfly alights
            on her countenance
the wine trembles in its moonlit
glass. His feet are bound
to the earth
            she drifts solemnly over
and there is love enough to
evaporate a cathedral. He cannot
believe where the time has gone.
The pilgrim is crawling with bugs
moths fly through his clothes
and hair. Her face is a   
            sculpture being made
in the studio of an almond.

From Location of the Least Person, AUP 1987

A small book of paintings by Milton Avery

1.                  sand dunes and yellow sky

Of course the mind only remembers
the black
            and white
of it. Indescribable summer

they drove by. Of course there
was no black there was
                                    no white.

2.                  the chariot race

Let this picture pass. Like the best
            never were. A horse riding a
bicycle. You suspect it happened
at a circus-the painted face

awkward bodies of clowns on the
sleekest of mounts. One rides a high

wire above a field where a cow
has just given birth. A circus
of the air
            it never touches ground.

3.                  young couple

It is a night
            as late as
this. She learns to forgive him.
He has hardly shaved, reads a poem:

In my young days you were old
In my older days you were young

as true to them, her body inclined
as if to divert a river. His diversion
            another volume lifted from
a satchel. In this, his last poem
he arranges rocks on the riverbed so
the eddying water spells out her name
the crystalline
            surface of her name. Caroline.

If Caroline was her name.

4.                  two figures

I have to sisters, one is a tree of water
where I stand to wash
                        rainbows streaming
from my skin. My other sister is a stone

I skim lightly across waves, a stone lighter
than air or water. At night they talk
of their brother
                        a necklace of grass, a warm
clumsy palm. The stone sleeps in the fork
of the tree which is its sister
            my other sister
                        of water.

5.                  birds over sea

The purple ocean reminds her
of drinking tea
                        in Russia
the grey enamel sand                

the five sticks in the beach
that were once five figures-

come evening, they will be five
figures again
            hauling in their purple nets
bursting with the colours that drift
beneath oceans, that sparkle

     in her eyes, as the eyes
of the woman in Russia sparkled
one similar morning
    of enamel
            of vanilla.

From Great Lake, LCP (Sydney) 1991

Visiting the Ralph Hotere exhibition with Ross Stevens, 5 June 1997

All we know of the shadow-laden day
            illumined patches
of night, an old winch
singing with rust, the red
and gold voyages
            of breaths
others breathed, once
and never again.

In desiring life, a walk
            to the end
of a sandspit, we are
granted it, a place

our thoughts might gather
lately, lightly
these seashells that were once

human bones
            bones that were once
guitars, pitching like boats
across oceans of night-long
            that were once air
that trees breathed-
these variations

unassailable truths
the miracle of how
            we might end.

 From Winter I Was, VUP 1999

 Storm Warning

 after Colin McCahon

If, cloud-laden, the weather teaches us
a windswept humility, our children teach us
a kind of responsibility to all that is not yet formed.
Beyond beacon and wind-turbine, the half-formed storm dictates

its warning. And while our blindness teaches us how to tell
a bombed out bridge (because our children in their wisdom

cannot) from a moonlit ridge, our mathematics suggests
storms have their structures too, and how the southerly

is responsible for more than a dim day's light, ice-trails,
the early delivery of children. But it is the distant percussion

of the inner ear, our deafness that will teach us and go on
teaching us until there is no blueness on the face

of the earth, that a storm warning is only once,
then all we are left with, the storm.


Hunter Building, Victoria University, Wellington

From Winter I Was, VUP 1999


Silver gelatin print, Russell, Bay of Island

for photographer Laurence Aberhart

Given, as taken, from a westward-leaning wharf
trailings of rust buckets,
                        evening ferries. And, later,
a sheet of photographic paper adrift in the windowless room.

There is only one fish in the sea.
                        Many times over.

From Beauties of the octagonal pool, AUP 2012

Printmaking studio, Island Bay, Wellington

for John Drawbridge

If ink were a city then I imagine

            needle-boats, these rained-on
and half-remembered evenings

and the island a crushed hat
on a polished bench.

            If there lines were
a harbour, then I imagine night

as a great many swimmers
crosshatching the surface-

ink of their hands
hemispheres of their brows.

Your seaward house-
the intelligence

            of its windows, doors
in morning light-

we row the long boat of memory
out past forgetfulness, the island

a folded paper hat
you wear

            into the brightness
of each day

as it breaks, these quietly voiced
and barely registered mornings

in the next room
the night room now

down the long corridor
of your eye.


From Beauties of the octagonal pool, AUP 2012


Even if yachts were moored
mid-air, the clouds ill-rendered
and the birds far from
aerodynamic, somehow

he got you right-in the
dwindling light, with its
rugs, shawls, chimneys,
its learned reading of these things.

Night casually pencilled you in-
first some incidental shading, then
the dark edges of the page
edging their way to the centre.

From Beauties of the octagonal pool, AUP 2012