Tuesday Poem: ‘A Story About the Body’ by Robert Hass

A Story About the Body

The young composer, working that summer at an artist’s colony, had watched her for a week. She was Japanese, a painter, almost sixty, and he thought he was in love with her. He loved her work, and her work was like the way she moved her body, used her hands, looked at him directly when she mused and considered answers to his questions. One night, walking back from a concert, they came to her door and she turned to him and said, “I think you would like to have me. I would like that too, but I must tell you that I have had a double mastectomy,” and when he didn’t understand, “I’ve lost both my breasts.” The radiance that he had carried around in his belly and chest cavity–like music–withered quickly, and he made himself look at her when he said, “I’m sorry I don’t think I could.” He walked back to his own cabin through the pines, and in the morning he found a small blue bowl on the porch outside his door. It looked to be full of rose petals, but he found when he picked it up that the rose petals were on top; the rest of the bowl–she must have swept the corners of her studio–was full of dead bees.

‘A Story About the Body’ must be one of Hass’s most famous poems. I read it as part of a creative writing reader long before I bought his collections. It comes from Human Wishes (1989), Hass’ third collection, and a collection which has the most apt title for poetry. I think critic Dob Bogen most accurately describes the collection when he says it ‘captures both the brightness of the world and its vanishing.’ So many of these poems are concerned with loss, transience, and with the process of seeing something disappear; even in this poem the young man’s ‘radiance’ withers from his chest. In Human Wishes Hass really gets into longer lines, and an entire section is dedicated to prose poems. I can’t get enough of them–they so completely inhabit and create a world.

For other Tuesday Poems check out the hub.

Tuesday Poem: “Olive” by Emily Dobson


I should have been
a beautiful woman.


I was tired of dealing
with the everyday waste
of an ordinary life.


The twins stand back to back
in the shower — they
won’t let me wash them.

One says,
‘I don’t want to die.’

The other says,
‘Have I kissed you?
I want to kiss you.’


Holes have throats.


Norma’s on the deck calling:

Here it is Jude, it’s in the beetroot.
It’s here, it’s in the beetroot!


I thought I smelt the sea
but it was only the freshly cut grass
and gathering of seagulls.


A house
with four bathrooms.
Four dignified baths
to slowly wash herself in.


Olive with her back turned
in a boat.

Only a few collections of poetry make me want to get to know the poet. Emily Dobson’s collection, The Lonely Nude, makes me want to take her out for a drink. I imagine, at the start, that she’d be shy like her poems. I also imagine that once we got talking — and I think that talk would be about poetry as a craft, and the importance of a single word, and how when used as well as you can, you can transfer some of life’s strange melancholy to the page — we’d be fine.

Dobson has an MA in Creative Writing from Victoria University, for which she was awarded the Adam Prize. She was also awarded the 2005 Schaeffer Fellowship to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in the United States. From her MA came her first collection, A Box of Bees (VUP, 2005), which details growing up in the Hawke’s Bay in a family of apiarists. I did my own MA in 2006, and like all collections published the year before you do your MA, they are a thing of wonder; something to aim for. I’m very glad to see her second collection has made it into the world.

My full review of The Lonely Nude will come out soon on Landfall Review Online.

For more Tuesday Poems check out the hub.

Tuesday Poem: ‘The Beginning of September’ by Robert Hass

The Beginning of September

The child is looking in the mirror.
His head falls to one side, his shoulders slump.
He is practicing sadness.

He didn’t think she ought to
and she thought she should.

In the summer
peaches the color of sunrise

In the fall
plums the color of dusk

Each thing moves its own way
in the wind. Bamboo flickers,
the plum tree waves, and the loquat
is shaken.

The dangers are everywhere. Auxiliary verbs, fishbones, a fine carelessness. No one really likes the odor of geraniums, not the woman who dreams of sunlight and is always late for work nor the man who would be happy in altered circumstances. Words are abstract, but words are abstract is a dance, car crash, heart’s delight. It’s the design dumb hunger has upon the world. Nothing is severed on hot mornings when the deer nibble flower heads in a simmer of bay leaves. Somewhere in the summer dusk is the sound of children setting the table. That is mastery: spoon, knife, folded napkin, fork; glasses all around. The place for the plate is wholly imagined. Mother sits here and Father sits there and this is your place and this is mine. A good story compels you like sexual hunger but the pace is more leisurely. And there are always melons.

little mother
little dragonfly quickness of summer mornings
this is a prayer
this is the body dressed in its own warmth
at the change of seasons

There are not always melons
There are always stories

Chester found a dozen copies of his first novel in a used bookstore and took them to the counter. The owner said, “You can’t have them all,” so Chester kept five. The owner said, “That’ll be a hundred and twelve dollars.” Chester said, “What?” and the guy said, “They’re first editions, Mac, twenty bucks apiece.” And so Chester said, “Why are you charging me a hundred and twelve dollars?” The guy said, “Three of them are autographed.” Chester said, “Look, I wrote this book.” The guy said, “All right, a hundred. I won’t charge you for the autographs.”

The insides of peaches
are the color of sunrise

The outsides of plums
are the color of dusk

Here are some things to pray to in San Francisco: the bay, the mountain, the goddess of the city; remembering, forgetting, sudden pleasure, loss; sunrise and sunset; salt; the tutelary gods of Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Basque, French, Italian, and Mexican cooking; the solitude of coffeehouses and museums; the virgin, mother, and widow moons; hilliness, vistas; John McLaren; Saint Francis; the Mother of Sorrows; the rhythm of any life still whole through three generations; wine, especially zinfandel because from that Hungarian vine-slip came first a native wine not resinous and sugar-heavy; the sourdough mother, yeast and beginning; all fish and fisherman at the turning of the tide; the turning of the tide; eelgrass, oldest inhabitant; fog; seagulls; Joseph Worcester; plum blossoms; warm days in January . . .

She thought it was a good idea.
He had his doubts.

ripe blackberries

She said: reside, reside
and he said, gored heart
She said: sunlight, cypress
he said, idiot children
nibbling arsenic in flaking paint
she said: a small pool of semen
translucent on my belly
he said maybe he said

the sayings of my grandmother:
they’re the kind of people
who let blackberries rot on the vine

The child approaches the mirror very fast
then stops
and watches himself

So summer gives over –
white to the color of straw
dove gray to slate blue
a little rain
a little light on the water

I’ve spent the last four years studying American poet, Robert Hass. Over the next month I’m going to post some of my favourite Hass poems. This poem is from his collection, Praise (Ecco, 1979). There is a great recording of Hass reading this poem to an audience in Rotterdam.

For more tuesday poems check out the hub.

Thursday Poem: ‘the dictator’ by Kerrin P. Sharpe

the dictator

the brother of birds
smokes feathers

sucks a collar
of small black tunes

coaxes thick slices
of red berries
into his bunker

preorders gasoline
shoots his dog

crushes tiny skulls
of poison for his wife

persuades his gun to talk

I really wanted to post this poem on Tuesday but didn’t make it, so this is a Thursday poem instead. I’ve just reviewed Kerrin P. Sharpe’s new collection, There’s a Medical Name for This, for Booksellers NZ. Sharpe was born in Wellington and now lives in Christchurch where she is a poet and teacher of creative writing. Sharpe’s poems are a lot of things: condensed, arresting, often surreal, and funny. What struck me about this collection was the way the poems slowly reveal themselves to the reader (her writing is deliberately elusive), and then, figuratively, knock you out.

Poem posted with permission from VUP. For more Tuesday Poems check out the hub.

Tuesday Poem: ‘Attempts to Hearten a Sooty Shearwater’ by Charlotte Simmonds

Attempts to Hearten a Sooty Shearwater

It doesn’t matter too much on these islands if you are a seabird and have found your way inland. From any mountain here, we can sight the sea.

From any heightened place, we can see one cloud somewhere in the cloudless sky, or one patch of blue somewhere in the dark, so if you do get lost, be assured you can rise up high where the sea is always east or west, the land always north or south.

Higher than the rain, you will notice water blown across the city tops. It looks like the sound waves I’ve seen recorded on paper, but you’ll hear nothing from the city itself, and then whiteness should hide it all from view.

Far in the distance, someone wiggles a sheet of corrugated iron.

If you are a seabird and have found your way long inland in the rain in this country, let your sense of smell be tough. Let it be durable. Let the city odours of the rain-drenched concrete-dwelling bacteria not drown your nostrils in utter confusion, so that even in whiteness and the wet, you might always smell the bacteria of the ocean, little shearwater, little petrel, little cormorant, little shag.

Born in 1983, Charlotte Simmonds is best known for her work in Wellington theatre. Her plays include Arctic-AntarcticThe Story of Nohome Neville and Unwholesome Clare who Worked in Kitchens and Smelt like a Dish, and Burnt Coffee. I first read Charlotte’s work when I reviewed her book, The World’s Fastest Flower, and this is the second poem of Charlotte’s that I’ve posted as a Tuesday Poem. She sent it to me after I posted a poem by Bryan Walpert that also features a shearwater and a petrel! ‘Attempts to Hearten a Sooty Shearwater’ plays wonderfully with the idea of distance and connection. We are up on a mountain, in a “heightened place” looking out, and noises come over the distance, but there is always a “patch of blue” or the smell of the ocean to connect with.

For more Tuesday Poems check out the hub.

Tuesday Poem: “Demolition” by Sarah Jane Barnett


At the moment I’m nervously reading through my PhD thesis in preparation for the viva next week. This is one of my poems from the thesis, or at least a version of that poem. When I read it again yesterday I had to fiddle; I took out a few words and changed the poem’s form. I reconsidered some images and cut a few lines. An hour later the poem was different. The original poem (the one that lives in my thesis) is also different to an earlier version published in Trout 17So often I find these collections of words to be insistent and pushy, but I like the idea that a poem can be an evolution, rather than an end point.

For other Tuesday Poems check out the hub.

Tuesday Poem: “On Children” by Kahlil Gibran


On Children

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Kahlil Gibran was a Lebanese artist and writer who, as a young man, immigrated with his family to the United States. This poem comes from his 1923 book, The Prophet. I heard Sarb Johal read this poem on Nine to Noon with Kathryn Ryan (thanks Pip Adam for suggesting the listen). The segment was about mindful parenting, and Johal, an Associate Professor of Psychology, cut into the conversation to read the poem. It was unexpected, and it made me a little teary “For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.” The picture at the top is of Sam, my intrepid son, striding off into the Botanical Gardens.

For more Tuesday Poems check out the hub.

Tuesday Poem: “Towards the Mountain” by James Norcliffe

Towards the Mountain
for Pat Hammond

The paddocks wrapped in boxthorn
are so green they shine in late light.

You talk of how the lambs’ heads
swell into gargoyles during parturition,

so much so that a newborn’s head stuck
in delivery must sometimes be decapitated.

After a day or so the heads of survivors
shrink into cuteness and their bodies frisk.

We are on the swing bridge built to deliver
sheep from one side of the gorge to the other.

It sways back and forth with all the
grotesquery of these birthing stories,

and although the water below is as clear as
reality, you still mistake a stick for a trout.

You couldn’t do it the first time, you say.
You brought in a less ruthless neighbour

whose sweet whisperings somehow saved
the ewe, although her lamb did succumb

and was later slung on the heap of slinks.
It is winter. We look up to where the sheep

batten on the hills. Lambing’s not too far away,
and the slopes, you say, have never looked so green.

Lambent, I say. It means the light is playing there with
a soft radiance. Like lambs, you say, like lambs.

downloadJames Norcliffe has always been one of my favourite New Zealand poets, and he was the first to encourage me to publish my work. Norcliffe has written collections of poetry and short stories, several books for young adults, and worked widely as an editor. I reviewed his latest collection Shadow Play (Proverse 2012) for New Zealand Books Quarterly. “Towards the Mountain” is from that collection.

For other Tuesday Poems check out the hub.

Tuesday Poem: “Objective Correlative” by Bryan Walpert

Objective Correlative

Start with a bird.
A petrel. No, a shearwater.
Whatever. You start with a shearwater,
then add a backdrop. An ocean, but not
too close, just close enough to hear it.
Not too much information, but a shearwater,
an ocean, and a house. Who’s in the house?
Two people. Well, one person. The other’s
on the deck, in a chair, writing a poem
about a shearwater, an ocean, a house,
and two people, one of whom is on the deck,
the other coming out to ask him what
he’s writing about. He explains about
the shearwater, the ocean, the house,
the man writing, the woman asking
this question, who is gone before he’s finished
the sentence, gone meaning her eyes are off
toward the ocean, which is fine because he
can get back to writing about a shearwater,
a woman looking out over the ocean at a boat
rising and falling on the surf, a fisherman
out alone under a hat, working in good faith
under a sun that shines in equal measure
on the ocean and house and the man writing
about a woman staring into the distance
of the past, thinking of someone important
she gave up for a house, an ocean,
and this man whom she can see now walking
down the path from the house to the ocean
to take a long run on the sand, as long as his body
will allow him, which is not the body it once was,
the body that drew her to a house near the ocean,
but what that body has become, a familiar
body, and though what is familiar can replace
youth and strength and mystery, it is no
substitute for it, and of course she’s thought
to leave, he thinks as his shoes slap the sand,
a hundred silent decisions in favor of
a commitment she made once to a house
near an ocean and the child that until
now was not going to be in the poem,
is not quite yet in this world, so
of course, she thinks, that explains the run,
and no doubt he’s thinking about the poem
on the pad he left on the chair on the deck
to take the run on the sand to chase a body
he is leaving, little by little, thinking
as he runs that it should be a petrel,
after all, can’t see her pick up the pad
to read about the house and the ocean
and the shearwater that might be a petrel
and the woman, who is not inclined to offer
an opinion on the matter because to live
with someone in a house by the ocean is
to take each suggestion as something more
than what it means, hence it occurs to her
to wonder why the bird at all, why
the fisherman, why alone, wonders as well
for the first time whether a fisherman thinks
about the necessary sacrifices the ocean makes
for his hunger, the generosity of it—she wonders
this as she comes out of the house to watch
the boat bob its way through another afternoon
at the noisy ocean and to listen for a bird
she could identify absent the shushing of the surf,
if the house were somewhere else, would wonder,
too, about the poem’s odd displacement—
she finds his choice of word interesting,
a Freudian word, and a literary one—
of their lives to an ocean, would wonder
this, too, were her mind not already on the dinner
she plans to prepare, a piece of something for herself
and a man walking the last bit up the sandy path
from the ocean to the house, curious
whether she picked up the pad as he’d planned,
whether she understood what he meant by the boat,
the fisherman, whether it might elicit from
the woman a revealing comment, something,
she thinks, they might have split along with
a nice white, were she allowed to drink it,
to open while he ices his knee, while the ice
does what it does, the boat does what it does,
as the house and the woman and the man
(and the wine she can’t drink) breathe
in the salty air wafting through the poem
in the hand of a woman on a deck watching
the fisherman wait patiently beneath his hat
for the fluid world to deliver itself up
as the bountiful flesh, that it might be divided
into equal parts mercy and remorse.

This is the third poem of Bryan’s that I’ve posted on my blog (the other two being “Horse Story” and “Operation, October). “Objective Correlative” is such a clever and touching poem that I am not surprised it was selected a finalist for the 2011 Rattle Poetry Prize.

Bryan Walpert is the the author of the poetry collections A History of Glass (Stephen F. Austin State UP), and Etymology (Cinnamon Press); the short story collection Ephraim’s Eyes (Pewter Rose Press), named a Best Book of 2010; and a scholarly monograph, Resistance to Science in Contemporary American Poetry (Routledge). He teaches creative writing at Massey University’s School of English & Media Studies in Palmerston North. “Objective Correlative” will appear in his next poetry collection, Native Bird, which is to take flight as part of the new HOOPLA poetry series published by Mākaro Press, with a launch date of March 2015.

For more Tuesday Poems check out the hub.

Tuesday Poem: “Persimmons” by Harold Jones


His wife used to come to my flat –
She was tall, dark haired, her skin
Very pale. Sometimes he’d follow
Soon after. We were always
In a hurry. Once or twice he was
There at the door so quick I thought
We’d had it. Now I don’t know.

What was it all about? That was
In Chelsea, years ago — our flats
A short walk apart. The things
You think of at funerals. Out there,
Through the window, all sorts
Of birds are picking out the last,
Big, hanging orange persimmons.

The leaves are such mixes of colours –
Yellows, reds, green, some almost
As rich as the fruit. The celebrant
Doesn’t have a clue. He presses on,
Making the most of the usual
Platitudes, working them for all
They’re worth. His tone is unctuous.

But what else is possible without
Beliefs? His life was led and it came
To an end. What’s there to offer
By way of consolation but these
Fatuous words? Yes, he’ll live on
In our memories. So pale she was,
And this fruit so huge, so bright.

Harold Jones was born in New Zealand in 1952 and read English at Cambridge University. His poetry has appeared in a range of New Zealand and international journals, and he was also published as part of AUP New Poets 4. This poem comes from his debut collection, Curriculum Vitae. The collection is downright incredible (if you want to read my full rave I’ve written a review for the next issue of New Zealand Books). You can also read other poems from the collection on Google Books, but I suggest buying a copy.

For more Tuesday poems, check out the hub.