Wednesday, July 05, 2023


  MAPLE |  Robert Frost

Her teacher's certainty it must be Mabel
Made Maple first take notice of her name.
She asked her father and he told her, "Maple—
Maple is right."
"But teacher told the school
There's no such name."
"Teachers don't know as much
As fathers about children, you tell teacher.
You tell her that it's M-A-P-L-E.
You ask her if she knows a maple tree.
Well, you were named after a maple tree.
Your mother named you. You and she just saw
Each other in passing in the room upstairs,
One coming this way into life, and one
Going the other out of life—you know?
So you can't have much recollection of her.
She had been having a long look at you.
She put her finger in your cheek so hard
It must have made your dimple there, and said,
'Maple.' I said it too: 'Yes, for her name.'
She nodded. So we're sure there's no mistake.
I don't know what she wanted it to mean,
But it seems like some word she left to bid you
Be a good girl—be like a maple tree.
How like a maple tree's for us to guess.
Or for a little girl to guess sometime.
Not now—at least I shouldn't try too hard now.
By and by I will tell you all I know
About the different trees, and something, too,
About your mother that perhaps may help."
Dangerous self-arousing words to sow.
Luckily all she wanted of her name then
Was to rebuke her teacher with it next day,
And give the teacher a scare as from her father.
Anything further had been wasted on her,
Or so he tried to think to avoid blame.
She would forget it. She all but forgot it.
What he sowed with her slept so long a sleep,
And came so near death in the dark of years,
That when it woke and came to life again
The flower was different from the parent seed.
It carne back vaguely at the glass one day,
As she stood saying her name over aloud,
Striking it gently across her lowered eyes
To make it go well with the way she looked.
What was it about her name? Its strangeness lay
In having too much meaning. Other names,
As Lesley, Carol, Irma, Marjorie,
Signified nothing. Rose could have a meaning,
But hadn't as it went. (She knew a Rose.)
This difference from other names it was
Made people notice it—and notice her.
(They either noticed it, or got it wrong.)
Her problem was to find out what it asked
In dress or manner of the girl who bore it.
If she could form some notion of her mother—
What she bad thought was lovely, and what good.
This was her mother's childhood home;
The house one story high in front, three stories
On the end it presented to the road.
(The arrangement made a pleasant sunny cellar.)
Her mother's bedroom was her father's still,
Where she could watch her mother's picture fading.
Once she found for a bookmark in the Bible
A maple leaf she thought must have been laid
In wait for her there. She read every word
Of the two pages it was pressed between,
As if it was her mother speaking to her.
But forgot to put the leaf back in closing
And lost the place never to read again.
She was sure, though, there had been nothing in it.

So she looked for herself, as everyone
Looks for himself, more or less outwardly.
And her self-seeking, fitful though it was,
May still have been what led her on to read,
And think a little, and get some city schooling.
She learned shorthand, whatever shorthand may
Have had to do with it--she sometimes wondered.
So, till she found herself in a strange place
For the name Maple to have brought her to,
Taking dictation on a paper pad
And, in the pauses when she raised her eyes,
Watching out of a nineteenth story window
An airship laboring with unshiplike motion
And a vague all-disturbing roar above the river
Beyond the highest city built with hands.
Someone was saying in such natural tones
She almost wrote the words down on her knee,
"Do you know you remind me of a tree--
A maple tree?"

"Because my name is Maple?"
"Isn't it Mabel? I thought it was Mabel."

"No doubt you've heard the office call me Mabel.
I have to let them call me what they like."

They were both stirred that he should have divined
Without the name her personal mystery.
It made it seem as if there must be something
She must have missed herself. So they were married,
And took the fancy home with them to live by.

They went on pilgrimage once to her father's
(The house one story high in front, three stories
On the side it presented to the road)
To see if there was not some special tree
She might have overlooked. They could find none,
Not so much as a single tree for shade,
Let alone grove of trees for sugar orchard.
She told him of the bookmark maple leaf
In the big Bible, and all she remembered
of the place marked with it—"Wave offering,
Something about wave offering, it said."

"You've never asked your father outright, have you?"

"I have, and been Put off sometime, I think."
(This was her faded memory of the way
Once long ago her father had put himself off.)
"Because no telling but it may have been
Something between your father and your mother
Not meant for us at all."
"Not meant for me?
Where would the fairness be in giving me
A name to carry for life and never know
The secret of?"
"And then it may have been
Something a father couldn't tell a daughter
As well as could a mother. And again
It may have been their one lapse into fancy
'Twould be too bad to make him sorry for
By bringing it up to him when be was too old.
Your father feels us round him with our questing,
And holds us off unnecessarily,
As if he didn't know what little thing
Might lead us on to a discovery.
It was as personal as be could be
About the way he saw it was with you
To say your mother, bad she lived, would be
As far again as from being born to bearing."

"Just one look more with what you say in mind,
And I give up"; which last look came to nothing.
But though they now gave up the search forever,
They clung to what one had seen in the other
By inspiration. It proved there was something.
They kept their thoughts away from when the maples
Stood uniform in buckets, and the steam
Of sap and snow rolled off the sugarhouse.
When they made her related to the maples,
It was the tree the autumn fire ran through
And swept of leathern leaves, but left the bark
Unscorched, unblackened, even, by any smoke.
They always took their holidays in autumn.
Once they came on a maple in a glade,
Standing alone with smooth arms lifted up,
And every leaf of foliage she'd worn
Laid scarlet and pale pink about her feet.
But its age kept them from considering this one.
Twenty-five years ago at Maple's naming
It hardly could have been a two-leaved seedling
The next cow might have licked up out at pasture.
Could it have been another maple like it?
They hovered for a moment near discovery,
Figurative enough to see the symbol,
But lacking faith in anything to mean
The same at different times to different people.
Perhaps a filial diffidence partly kept them
From thinking it could be a thing so bridal.
And anyway it came too late for Maple.
She used her hands to cover up her eyes.

"We would not see the secret if we could now:
We are not looking for it any more."

Thus had a name with meaning, given in death,
Made a girl's marriage, and ruled in her life.
No matter that the meaning was not clear.
A name with meaning could bring up a child,
Taking the child out of the parents' hands.
Better a meaningless name, I should say,
As leaving more to nature and happy chance.
Name children some names and see what you do.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

What the earth bequeathed us

                               What the earth bequeathed us

                                 This is what was bequeathed us:
                                 This earth the beloved left
                                 And, leaving,
                                 Left to us.
                                 No other world
                                 But this one:
                                 Willows and the river
                                 And the factory
                                 With its black smokestacks.
                                 No other shore, only this bank
                                 On which the living gather.
                                 No meaning but what we find here.
                                 No purpose but what we make.
                                 That, and the beloved’s clear instructions:
                                 Turn me into song; sing me awake.

                                 Gregory Orr

Monday, September 30, 2019

On what cannot quite be said

A couple of days ago, I stumbled on the site of 'The Open Ears Project': 'Part mix tape, part sonic love-letter, the Open Ears Project is a daily podcast where people share the classical track that means the most to them. Each episode offers a soulful glimpse into other human lives, helping us to hear this music—and each other—differently.'

In episode No. 6, author Ian McEwan chooses the slow movement of J.S. Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins.

And in Episode 16, On ForgivenessMezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges shares what she learned about memory and forgiveness from Henry Purcell’s Dido’s Lament.


This morning I woke abruptly from a dream, startled into wakefulness. The first thing I read was a post from Caroline on FB - an acknowledgement of Jessye Norman's death with a recording of her singing Dido's Lament.  

Further reading took me to an article in The Guardian. "17 hours ago; Jessye Norman died at Mount Sinai St Luke's Hospital in New York." Her rendition of Dido's Lament is being played all around the inter-web. May she rest in peace.



[ graft, grahft ]


Thursday, September 26, 2019

Advancing Women Artists

"Interestingly, women make up the majority of art restorers in Florence. This professional dominance can be traced back to the mid-60s, when a catastrophic flood laid waste to millions of the city’s art treasures. 'It was the first time women began wearing trousers in Florence,' Linda Falcone, AWA’s current director told Artnet. 'Women’s liberation in Florence is deeply linked to the art restoration effort.'

Many of the artists in the database were self-taught, barred from seeking formal training or studying anatomy on account of their gender. They could not hope to make a living from their talents when women were forbidden from issuing invoices. And then, of course, there were the demands of marriage and motherhood.

Small wonder they have been so underrepresented in museums and art history books."

Friday, September 20, 2019

How You Remain

I will not surrender my heart,” the tenderly ferocious poet ire’ne lara silva has said. “I will not surrender my art. My poems and my stories are what I have to give in this world.” 

Here, in her invocation for the endangered axolotl — Ambystoma mexicanum, also known as the Mexican walking fish (an amphibian resembling a smiling, translucent salamander) — she praises the intrinsic healing power of beings, a power greater than all governments or public pronouncements. It’s the gentle force of organic, elemental restoration; the song that keeps people singing even when the news grabs them by the throat. [Poem selected by Naomi Shihab Nye, for the NY Times - 12 September 2019]

                                                               little warrior
                                          almost imperceptibly
                                          from so much healing
                                                           how many regrown limbs
                                                           how many repaired organs
                                          even precious
                                                   brain tissue
                                                           created anew

                                          teach me this
                                                          little warrior
                                          how you remain
                                                  tender and
                                                        soft and eternal
                                                        in the face of struggle
                                          how it is the healing
                                                  has already begun
                                                           even before the wound

                                          ire'ne lara silva       

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

All This | Elizabeth Brooke-Carr

          All this

          Winter beach, desolate. Wind-whipped, exhilarated, salt
          air stings our faces. Sand, marshmallow-soft winkles
          out our toes. A gull swoops low, querulous, edgy,
          screaming at us, this is mine! We throw back our heads,
          laughing, tease, it’s ours! But we know all this
          is only ours to care for, our kaitiakitanga, as we pass,
          pressing footprints into the wild, southern afternoon.

          You see it first. A lumpish, static shape on the shoreline.
          Kelp? Driftwood? An old jacket, lost long ago, returned
          by the tide, hunched shoulders, bunched lining, seams
          split by a careless shrug of sea? Our footsteps track to
          the hump. Collars up, we huddle into curiosity. A pup
          shark, dark biscuitchip eyes glazed with ancient fog,
          leafbud ears. Kneeling, I whisper its beauty.

          Perfect parabola, black velvet shading to ashy grey,
          white belly curve stained with a blush of weeping pink.
          Did the waves carry you here to finish your struggle,
          lay you out on this cold sand slab, for us to marvel at,
          as if wonder was a last rite we might perform for you?
          Far out, at the edge of my spindrift mind you swim
          again, intrepid, in a school of gliding fins.

          Elizabeth Brooke-Carr [1940 - 2019]

"... Our harbour and peninsula held a special place in our friend Elizabeth’s heart. When we first met I was living in an old villa in Ravensbourne; the house stood - still stands - directly opposite the Lone Soldier. Many of you will be familiar with our harbour sentinel. I was intrigued by him – took to painting and photographing him in all-weathers and waving to him from my bathroom window. Then one morning in early 2009, a poem landed fully formed on the page, as if the soldier had somehow called it forth. It was a love poem. I took it along to our next writing meeting and read it to the group. 

Fast forward several months - possibly even a year or two - and out of the blue, Elizabeth sent me a letter. 'I'm not sure how to tell you this,' she said, 'but the soldier has written a response to his poet.' She'd attached a Word document. As was her way, she had meticulously followed the same stanza- shapes and line- lengths as in the original poem; the voice of the soldier echoed back at me from his hill across the harbour. His words brought me to tears. And to laughter. I wrote straight back to her saying, ‘MsLiz, we have to do something with these poems – this pair, their relationship’.  And so we wove the two poems together, stanza by stanza; I added visuals and a music track and turned their conversation into a small film. Our mutual friend Paul Sorrell agreed to read Elizabeth’s soldier’s lines. 

Elizabeth was a relationship-builder with a fierce sense of justice. An open-hearted warrior woman in a tiny physical frame, there was something utterly solid and reliable about her –

'If you call, I will answer'

— which is essentially the same reassurance - and invitation - the characters in these poems extend to one other and to each of us."*

Ms Liz

Writing Group: Maxine, Jane, Paddy, Kath, Elizabeth, Martha, Claire, Carolyn, Huberta 
(Penelope, Eva, Beatrice, Shirley and Jenny weren't present for this pic)

*excerpt from A Tribute to Elizabeth. Her memorial service was held in Dunedin on Saturday 7 September.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Love Liberates

"[A person] does not think with [her] hands, but the intellect of a painter certainly thinks in [her] hands, so much so that, in moments of manual inspiration, an artist can sometimes let the hand do its job without bothering too much about what it does." Etienne Gilson Painting and Reality (1955)

 Rest in peace, dear woman

29 January 1932 - 31 August 2019

| |

Sunday, August 25, 2019

For the Sleepwalkers

          Tonight I want to say something wonderful
          for the sleepwalkers who have so much faith
          in their legs, so much faith in the invisible

          arrow carved into the carpet, the worn path
          that leads to the stairs instead of the window,
          the gaping doorway instead of the seamless mirror.

          I love the way that sleepwalkers are willing
          to step out of their bodies into the night,
          to raise their arms and welcome the darkness,

          palming the blank spaces, touching everything.
          Always they return home safely, like blind men
          who know it is morning by feeling shadows.

          And always they wake up as themselves again.
          That's why I want to say something astonishing
          like: Our hearts are leaving our bodies.

          Our hearts are thirsty black handkerchiefs
          flying through the trees at night, soaking up
          the darkest beams of moonlight, the music

          of owls, the motion of wind-torn branches.
          And now our hearts are thick black fists
          flying back to the glove of our chests.

          We have to learn to trust our hearts like that.
          We have to learn the desperate faith of sleep-
          walkers who rise out of their calm beds

          and walk through the skin of another life.
          We have to drink the stupefying cup of darkness
          and wake up to ourselves, nourished and surprised.

          Edward Hirsch

Image CB
OIl on paper (detail of larger work) 

Friday, August 23, 2019


Some years ago, I was Artist-in-Resident for a week in the Caselberg Trust's cottage on the Otago Peninsula. In the kitchen cupboard were two old, pale and slightly brittle egg cups. A pair of hens, as you will see. Before leaving the cottage at the end of my stay, I photographed the egg cups on the kitchen windowsill along with my two last mandarins. Something about those photographs always made me smile -- and so this truly odd little vid. came into being.


The world is - quite literally, in places - on fire. We're daily tasked to somehow gather the bitter and the sweet together and to hold all manner of uncertainties and extremes alongside in the same oddly-shaped basket.
I'm posting this quirky wee vid. as a gift (and with just the faintest flutter of trepidation). My hope is it will bring joy, a moment's reprieve, some welcome lightness. It's not attempting to say or reveal anything about anything - nope, it's as simple and innocent as can be; two mandarins in two egg cups dancing in sunshine on a kitchen window sill. That's it. It's also not intended to be in any way 'flip' or irreverent - especially given current world realities. I know for myself (with my inborn 'PFI '- Propensity For Intensity) that there's something immeasurably uplifting about laughter. 

It's often said, isn't it, that joy and sorrow stand back-to-back; each can spin/give way/allow us access to the other. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

TUESDAY POEM | BIRD by Pablo Neduda

Artist Unknown


                     It was passed from one bird to another,
                     the whole gift of the day.
                     The day went from flute to flute,
                     went dressed in vegetation,
                     in flights which opened a tunnel
                     through the wind would pass
                     to where birds were breaking open
                     the dense blue air -
                     and there, night came in.

                     When I returned from so many journeys,
                     I stayed suspended and green
                     between sun and geography -
                     I saw how wings worked,
                     how perfumes are transmitted
                     by feathery telegraph,
                     and from above I saw the path,
                     the springs and the roof tiles,
                     the fishermen at their trades,
                     the trousers of the foam;
                     I saw it all from my green sky.
                     I had no more alphabet
                     than the swallows in their courses,
                     the tiny, shining water
                     of the small bird on fire
                     which dances out of the pollen. 

                     Pablo Neruda

This week on the Tuesday Poem hub, Helen Rickerby has chosen a prose poem I find riveting - 'New Margins' by Joan Fleming.

"On the way home from art school she stopped to shave off a piece of her hair. The skin was new

 under there, soft as soft bristle, a new field of thought. . . "

Please click on the quill. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

TUESDAY POEM | I Saw Her Dancing by Marge Piercy

                                     I SAW HER DANCING 

                                     Nothing moves in a straight line,
                                     But in arcs, epicycles, spirals and gyres.
                                     Nothing living grows in cubes, cones, or rhomboids,
                                     But we take a little here and we give a little there,
                                     And the wind blows right through us,
                                     And blows the apples off the tree, and hangs a red kite suddenly there,
                                     And a fox comes to bite the apples curiously,
                                     And we change.
                                     Or we die
                                     And then change.
                                     It is many as raindrops.
                                     It is one as rain.
                                     And we eat it, and it eats us.
                                     And fullness is never,
                                     And now.

                                     Marge Piercy

This week’s editor on the Tuesday Poem hub is Wellington poet and publisher, Helen Rickerby. Sugar Magnolia Wilson, her chosen poet, is from a valley called Fern Flat in the Far North of New Zealand.

"Pen Pal, by Sugar Magnolia Wilson (or Magnolia, as she is generally known), is a rather twisty sequence of poems, in the voice of a young, not-so-sweet, not-so-innocent, and actually very real girl. . . "

Today's selection from 'Pen Pal' includes a car crash, mangroves, guinea pigs, a falling meteorite and a 'spell for apology'. Enjoy! 

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

TUESDAY POEM | Earth by Derek Walcott


                                             Let the day grow on you upward
                                             through your feet,
                                             the vegetal knuckles,

                                             to your knees of stone,
                                             until by evening you are a black tree;
                                             feel, with evening,

                                             the swifts thicken your hair,
                                             the new moon rising out of your forehead,
                                             and the moonlit veins of silver

                                             running from your armpits
                                             like rivulets under white leaves.
                                             Sleep, as ants

                                             cross over your eyelids.
                                             You have never possessed anything 
                                             as deeply as this. 

                                             This is all you have owned
                                             from the first outcry
                                             through forever; 

                                             you can never be dispossed. 

                                             Derek Walcott 
                                                            (from the collection 'Staying Alive - real poems for real times', edited by Neil Astley)

 ". . . It's so hard to write the poem of grief or absence, to make it approachable and fresh, and not to push the reader too hard to feel the deep upwelling ugly thing. 'candle' is powerful for its restraint and its ranging unexpectedness. For its cavernous, versatile waha that does everything except cry. . .'  Stunning commentary by Mary McCallum, this week's editor on the Tuesday Poem hub. Mary's chosen poem is 'candle' by mightily-multi-talented Hinemoana Baker.

                                      '. . . The boat was a mouth, the word was a whale,
                                      the moon was a flying fish, the swoop of a letter. . .'
Please click on the quill.