Monday Poem: Emma Neale’s ‘Called’





It is October in Dunedin.

Rhododendrons fan out flamenco skirts;

magnolias, magnanimous with their moon-cool glow,

light the path south so the sun stirs us early;

although the river, the creek boulders,

the city’s cinched green belt, still hold the cold

like an ice store’s packed down snow.


The days shiver with filaments

of ua kōwhai: soft rain that dampens paths,

shakes loose carpets of white stamens, yellow flowers

bruised and trodden like flimsy, foil cornets.

School holidays send out falling, silvery arcs

of children’s sky-flung laughter; our bodies drink it in

as if love’s parched ground sore needs this watering.


Yet the radio stays hunched in the kitchen corner,

hard grey clot in the light’s fine arteries

muttering its tense bulletins

and as if they sense this late spring still harbours

frost’s white wreck, or some despotic harm abroad

seeps too near, our sons more than anything want

their old games: secret codes, invisible ink, velvet cloaks;

hide ’n’ seek in public gardens’ clefts and coves—


and again, again, can we tell them again


the chapters of how they first appeared

in the long, blurred myths we are entangled in;

kingfisher-blue wells of their eyes a-gleam

as if they know how much all adults withhold.

They want us to go back deeper, to when

we both were star-spill, sea-flume, spirits,

only belatedly woman, man, climbing up from a shore

feathered in sand black and soft as ash,

driven by some gravid magnetism towards each other


in case we changed to birds, lizards, trees,

or back to sea-salt borne by wind;

an urge clear as hunger coursing the cells’ deep helix

to complete this alteration, half bury and re-germinate

the fleet molecules of self, so we could run our mortal hands

the right, kind way along the children’s plush skins,

learn, pulse on pulse, their true, human names.

Yes, we must go back and back; as if to swear

even to this dread epoch’s wild, original innocence.


©Emma Neale


Emma Neale received the inaugural NZSA/Janet Frame Memorial Award, the Kathleen Grattan Award for an unpublished poetry manuscript (The Truth Garden), the University of Otago Burns Fellowship and the NZSA/Beatson Fellowship. Her poetry has been shortlisted for the Sarah Broom Poetry Award and the Bridport Poetry Prize, and her poetry collection, Tender Machines, was long-listed in the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. Her novel, Billy Bird, was short-listed for the Acorn Prize in the 2017 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards and long-listed for the International Dublin Literary Award. She is the current editor of Landfall.






2 thoughts on “Monday Poem: Emma Neale’s ‘Called’

  1. Pingback: NZ Poetry Shelf | Emma Neale

    1. Paula Green Post author

      Thanks Emma. I love doing the blog but to make it work I don’t accept submissions! I have rebooted it this year with some new features but decided the easy way to run with the least stress is if I do most of the work! With the occasional invites to other writers.



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