Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Thirteen poems about home

Home is a state of mind, it’s where you lay your roots down, where you trace your roots, feed yourself, friends and family, bake your bread and make kombucha, where you stand and sleep and dream, it’s a physical place, a small house with wooden floors and comfortable couches, a garden with kūmara almost ready to harvest, shelves overflowing with books, my family tree, my family treasures, my thoughts of life and my thoughts of death, a series of relationships, myself as mother, partner, writer, home is my reluctance to drive beyond the rural letterbox, it’s contentment as I write the next blog, the next poem, sort the kitchen cupboards, light the fire, conserve the water, feel the preciousness of each day.

The poems I have selected are not so much about home but have a home presence that leads in multiple directions. Once again I am grateful to publishers and poets who are supporting my season of themes.

The poems

all of us

once upon a time

all of us here

were one of them there.

maybe

in another skin

in a life before.

maybe

only a few weeks ago.

land of the long white cloud,

land of no borders,

floating

adrift

near the end of the world,

near the end of the sea.

we came

and stayed

and with our accents

call

this place

home.

carina gallegos

from All of Us, Landing Press, 2018

there’s always things to come back to the kitchen for

a bowl of plain steamed rice

a piece of bitter dark chocolate

a slice of crisp peeled pear

a mother or father who understands

the kitchen is the centre of the universe

children who sail out on long elliptical orbits

and always come back, sometimes like comets, sometimes like moons

Alison Wong

from Cup, Steele Roberts, 2005, picked by Frankie McMillan

What’s the pH balance of yin + yang?

lake / river / liquid / beverage / additional charges or income / (of clothes) classifier for number of washes / hai bian / shang hai /  shui guo / zhong guo / Sway by Bic Runga / three drop radicals on my guitar / liquid cement /  tai chi at Buckland’s Beach / put your facemask on and listen to the rain on a UE speaker /

It’s not outlandish to say I was raised by the water.  Aotearoa is a land mapped in blue pen, each land mass a riverbed. Originally swampland, the water gurgles from kitchen taps and runs silent cartographies underneath cities of concrete.

I was raised by my mama, raised with the treasures of every good cross-pollinated pantry. We have rice porridge for breakfast and mee hoon kueh when I plead. My siblings and I vie for iced jewel biscuits kept out of our reach, packed tightly into red-lidded jars on the highest shelf of our pantry. We stretch torso to tiptoe to reach them, knocking the jars off their perch with our fingertips. The dried goods we ignore on the levels below are the real jewels in the cabinet. From behind the creaky door comes the festivities of Lunar Celebrations: dried mushrooms, dried shrimp, vermicelli noodles, black fungus, herbal remedies, that good luck moss you eat on New Year’s.

Chinese cooking is a testament to soaking. Benches overflow with an array of colanders, damp towels cover small white bowls of noodles, rehydrating. We wash rice in liquid choreography: Pour. Swirl. Measure by the pinky. Drain.

My mum is from Ma Lai Xi Ya, her mum’s mum from Fujian, China. I google map the curve of a bordering coast, trace a line through the wet season pavements of Kuala Lumpur and end up with fingerprints all the way to Oceania. From my house you can see the windmills of Makara, jutting out like acupuncture needles. The sea rushes the wind like nature’s boxing lessons.

We fly back to Malaysia every couple years, past the sea-lapsed boundaries of other countries. In Singapore I am offered moist towelettes on the plane. In KL, where two rivers meet by the oil of Petronas, I shower in buckets of cold water and reunite with faulty flushing.

The first ethnic Chinese came to New Zealand during the 1850’s, following flakes of fortune. They came for the gold rush, fishing for luck on the unturned beds of rivers. Wisps of fortune lay in thousand year old rocks worn down to alluvial alchemy.  Chinese last names carried through the cold water creeks. They died in sea-burials.

Tones and tombs. You made your river, now lie in it. Yǐn shuǐ sī yuán. To think of water and remember its source; to remember where one’s happiness comes from; to not forget one’s roots or heritage.

Oriental Bay is the closest beach to us in Wellington City. On weekends, we drive out for picnics, happy to migrate our schedules. The beach was named by George Dupper in the late 1840’s after the boat he arrived on. Fresh off the Bay. Oriental Parade is famous for 22,000 tonnes of imported sand. In my house we are displaced soil in torrential rain. I search ancestry on Wikipedia, then look for my own last name.

Think of water and remember its source. Where do our pipelines go? When do our bodies enter the main frame? Oriental, noun. Characteristic of Asia, particularly the East. Rugs, countries, bamboo leaves. A person of East Asian descent (offensive).  A beach with fake grains. Imported goods and exported gooseberries. The fruits of our labour, measured and drained.

I think tourists find the green unsettling. It never stops pouring.

Year of the money. Year of the pig. Year of the scapegoat, the migrants, the rats on the ship. Labour. Lei. Qi Guai. Guai Lo. I google the wind howls around a shipwreck. I google microtraumas until my eyes bleed transparent. I google:

  • why do chinese people love hot water
  • can chinese people swim
  • why are there so many chinese in auckland
  • chinese people population
  • chinese people opinion

Ink blue motions stencil sight lines into the harbour of my eyes. I rub at ink sticks until the ocean turns to soot. The rising shadows of New World Power loom from water’s depths. We float currency back to motherlands in a trickle down economy.  What’s the pH balance of yin + yang?

I was raised with the dawn promise of an unpolluted skyline, pools in cyan-printed eyes, long white dreams of the colony. My body the cycle of a washing machine, bleached into safety. I was raised in a world full of oysters, one lofty pearl held between the whiskered snout of a dragon. But you can’t feng shui the comments on Stuff articles.

Feng shui just means wind water. It’s not scary. Duān wǔ jié is the annual dragon boat festival. I throw zongzi in the river to protect Qu Yuan’s body. Remember how you moved across the world to know you had been here already? My mum says she caught sight of the harbour and it’s why she will never leave. I watch her from the doorway, her frame hunched across the sink. She belongs here. The soft light of morning streams through the window, catching glints on small rice bowls. I can hear a pot of water boiling. She soaks bones for breakfast, then asks if I’m hungry. 

Vanessa Mei Crofskey

from A Clear Dawn: New Asian Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand, eds Paula Morris and Alison Wong, Auckland University Press, 2021

blue beat

Every morning he milked the cow.

It was the chime that woke me and my sister,

metal against metal,

the fall of the empty milk-bucket’s handle

as he put it down to open the gate

right beside our sleep-out.

At the end of the day, in socks,

the cold, clear smell of fresh air

still on him, was his way

of arriving back;

the glass of water he gulped,

the hanky dragged from his pocket,

how he leaned back with a grunt

against the nearest doorpost

to rub and scratch the itch,

or ache, between his shoulders. Once,

seeing me poring over a map of the world

trying to find Luxemburg,

he teased, saying something

about how I couldn’t wait to leave.

None of us knowing then

that he would be the first to go,

leaving us

long before we could ever leave him.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

from Born to a Red-Headed Woman, published by Otago University Press, 2014

We used some

concrete blocks

the hollow kind

that let the grass

grow through

to make a carport

then took a few

out back to

plant a herb garden

parsley    thyme

used to step out

mid-dish to snip off

fronds till

it all went to seed

now my mother’s not

been out the

back door in

more than a year

they’ve grown into

massive aberrant

plants to match

the trampolines

around the flats

on either side

Jack Ross

Bliss

If I were to describe this moment

I may write

bliss

If bliss meant quiet, companionship

you in the garden, me hanging washing

the fresh scent of rain on the air

the murmur of voices inside

You and me

not far away

bliss

Rose Peoples

Reasons you should retire to the

small town the poet grew up in

Because you have a Grahame Sydney book on your coffee table.
Because you are public figure
        reinventing yourself as a public figure –
        in Central Otago.
Because you can buy advertising space cheap
        and write a column about
        local issues.
Because you know how moorpark apricots
        ripen from the inside
        and look deceptively green.
Because it’s a gold rush
        a boomer boom town.
Because you are a big fan of Muldoon
        flooding the gorge
        for the generation of electricity –
        when the river rose
        it formed little islands
        possums, skinks and insects
        clung to power poles
        to escape drowning.
Because you fell in love when you were sixteen
        with the dusty curtains
        in the high school hall –
        immense as the horizon
        holding the town in.

Ella Borrie

from Stasis 2020, picked by Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connnor

In my mother’s house

Everything is always evening:

curios in candlelight, blowpipes,

riding crops, cabinets of Caligari.

Children used to giggle in the rhododendrons;

dragons wander up to the door.

There were nightingales.

The ghosts hunch, passing the port,

rehash old scandals, broken trysts,

all those garden parties long ago.

Harry Ricketts

from Just Then, Victoria University Press, 2012

Hunting my father’s voice, County Down

It begins with the medieval

throat clearing of crows

high over Scrabo tower. You

were the boy your mother

forgot to drown and still

you holler for help

So here’s a bloody conundrum

shot to blazes and back

and your brother Jimmy

in a slow swim to save you

Dad, the land is full of boulders

an apron of stones

to feed a nanny goat

chalk a plenty to soften your voice

All those stories, enough

to hang a man, come Easter

All that dreaming

the time it took

to dig breath for the fire

the knot and bog

of the back parlour where Jimmy

washed roosters

and sister Maureen, her hair

lovely enough to stop your throat

Frankie McMillan

appeared on a Phantom Poetry Billsticker 2015

SH5

From Bluff Hill we can see the ships come in. Past the buoys stitched crooked like Orion’s belt. My school is art deco seashell and lavender climb. Girls press their hands to the frames and breathe on the glass. There’s this one boy who got peach fuzz before the rest of them. His voice cracks seismic and we all swarm. I practice my California accent down the landline and my mother laughs behind the door. We pass him around like chapstick. Hickies like blossoms on his neck, like rose-purple flags planted behind pine trees and beach grass. There are socials. Socials with glow sticks and apple juice in cardboard cartons. We all look at him. We look at him, through him, to see each other. A postcard is no place to be a teenager. The sea air is too thick. Rusts my bicycle in the garage. Rusts the door hinges. Stings in the back of my eyes.

Our town’s like honey. You get knee deep. Arataki. Manuka. Clover. Sweet. Council flat, Sky TV, pyramid scheme, boxed wine, sun-freckled early twenties. Ultra-scan, veganism, Mum’s club with the girls who went to your kindy. His sisters, their perfume vanilla and daisies, their babies fat and milky. We could have built a vege garden. I could have kept a shotgun under the mattress.

Most of us. Most of us leave. We carve the initials of our high school sweethearts into lumps of driftwood and throw them out to sea. To big cities where no one knows us, where the cops drive with their windows up and their sleeves rolled down. We learn to sleep through the traffic. We keep on leaving till we find a way to go. We leave so one day we can maybe come back.

Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor

from Starling 6

The Shed

It was a shed before it was home to Tongan relatives. The inside smelled like Dad’s work gloves, musk and dirt. Dust caught in cobwebs draped over muddy tools. Overgrown insects nested between the spades and hoes. Wonky stacks of building stuff lay against the walls,window frames, doors, planks with flaking paint and nails poking out. Dad would be busy in the humming dark behind the shed, shovelling smelly things in the compost.

He’d reach the bottom of the pit in one spadeful, burying green- oaty food waste and feathering rich crumbly compost over the top with delicate shakes. I liked the slicing sound of the spade when he dug deep. The mouldy compost frame kept everything together for so many years. To Dad’s left there was the chicken coop, with a motley crew of chickens and a duck. He’d built a pirate-rigging treehouse in the trees above. To his right the long brown garden where everything he planted thrived, giant broccoli and gleaming silverbeet. Runner beans grew up a chicken-wire frame separating the veggie plot from the pet cemetery at the back where flowers grew amongst wooden crosses with cats’ names scrawled on them.

There was a flurry of bush between us and neighbours. One bush grew glowing green seed-capsules we wore as earrings, there was a sticky bamboo hedge and the rotten log sat solidly in a gap. The bush was thick enough for birds to nest in, dark patches in the twigs that cried in spring. Sometimes we’d hear strangled shrieks and sprint to retrieve dying bodies from cats’ mouths; saving lives for a few moments. Dad said we’re allowed to pick flowers to put on graves but otherwise it’s a waste.

Simone Kaho

from Lucky Punch, Anahera Press, 2016

Home is on the tip of your tongue when

you lose your tongue

watch your tongue         

  wag your tongue

hold your γλώσσα

  cat got your tongue

sharpen your tongue      

  bite your γλώσσα

bend your tongue                      

  keep a civil tongue                   

slip some tongue

  speak in γλώσσες

  roll your tongue                        

give great γλώσσα

  loosen your tongue

find your tongue                        

   find your γλώσσα

Βρες your γλώσσα

 Βρες τη γλώσσα

Βρες τη γλώσσα σου

Vana Manasiadis

And Are You Still Writing?

All day in the spaces in between

soothing, feeding, changing the baby,

fielding work, balancing accounts, juggling memos,

tidying away the wandering objects

left in tidemarks in every room –

spill cloths, rattles, stretch ’n’ grows,

a stray spool of purple cotton,

coffee cups, litters of shoes – 

a poem waited,

small, tight-skinned, self-contained:

a package left on the doorstep of an empty house.

It was to be a poem

about the spaces in between.

From it would grow

menageries and oases:

wilds and silence.

But, as so often, dusk came.

The pen cast its image on the page.

The shadow lengthened, deepened

and thickened, like sleep.

Emma Neale

from Spark, Steele Roberts, 2008

The poets

Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor was awarded the 2018 Charles Brasch Young Writers’ Essay Competition, and the 2017 Monash Prize for Emerging Writers.  Her work has appeared in Starling, Mayhem, Brief, Poetry New Zealand, Landfall, Turbine, Flash Frontier, Mimicry, Min-a-rets, Sweet Mammalian, Sport and Verge. She is Poetry New Zealand‘s 2021 Featured Poet. She writes thanks to the support of some of the best people on this great watery rock.

Ella Borrie is a Te Whanganui-a-Tara based poet from Otago. She co-edited Antics 2015 and her work appears in Mimicry, Starling and Turbine | Kapohau. The title of this poem is inspired by Louise Wallace’s poem ‘How to leave the small town you were born in’.

Kay McKenzie Cooke’s fourth poetry collection was published by The Cuba Press in June 2020 and is titled Upturned. She lives and writes in Ootepoti / Dunedin.

Vanessa Crofskey is an artist and writer currently based in Pōneke Wellington. She was a staff writer for online arts and culture journal The Pantograph Punch and has a collection of poems out in AUP New Poets Volume 6. 

carina gallegos, originally from Costa Rica, has worked in journalism and development studies, and with refugee communities since 2011. She published poems in All of Us (Landing Press, 2018) with Adrienne Jansen. She lives in Wellington with her family and refers to New Zealand as ‘home’.

Simone Kaho is a digital strategist, author, performance poet and director. Her debut poetry collection Lucky Punch was published in 2016. She has a master’s degree in poetry from Victoria University’s International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML). She’s the Director of the E-Tangata web series ‘Conversations’ and a journalist for Tagata Pasifika. In 2021 Simone was awarded the Emerging Pasifika Writer residency at the IIML.

Vana Manasiadis is Greek-New Zealand poet and translator born in Te Whanganui-a-Tara and based in Tāmaki Makaurau after many years living in Kirihi Greece.  She is 2021 Ursula Bethell Writer-in-Residence at Te Whare Wanaga o Waitaha Canterbury University. Her most recent book was The Grief Almanac: A Sequel.

Frankie McMillan is a poet and short story writer who spends her time between Ōtautahi/ Christchurch and Golden Bay. Her poetry collection, There are no horses in heaven  was published by Canterbury University Press.  Recent work appears in Best Microfictions 2021 (Pelekinesis) Best Small Fictions 2021 ( Sonder Press), the New Zealand Year Book of Poetry ( Massey University) New World Writing and Atticus Review.

Emma Neale is a writer and editor. Her most recent collection is To the Occupant. In 2020 she received the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award for a Distinguished Contribution to New Zealand Poetry.

Rose Peoples is from Te Awakairangi/Lower Hutt. She is a student at Victoria University and, having finished her law degree last year, decided that the logical next step was to embark upon a Masters in Literature. She is a bookseller at Good Books. Her work has previously appeared in Cordite, Mimicry and Starling.

Harry Ricketts teaches English Literature and creative writing at Victoria University of Wellington Te Herenga Waka. His latest collection Selected Poems was published by Victoria University Press, 2021.

Jack Ross‘s most recent poetry collection, The Oceanic Feeling, was published by Salt & Greyboy Press in early 2021. He blogs on  the imaginary museum, here[http://mairangibay.blogspot.com/].

Alison Wong is the coeditor of A Clear Dawn: New Asian Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand (AUP, 2021), the first anthology of creative writing by Asian New Zealanders. Alison’s novel, As the Earth Turns Silver (Penguin/Picador, 2009) won the NZ Post Book Award for fiction and her poetry collection Cup (Steele Roberts, 2006) was shortlisted for the Jessie Mackay Award for best first book of poetry. She was a poetry judge at the 2018 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

Ten poems about clouds

Twelve poems about ice

Ten poems about dreaming

Eleven poems about the moon

Twelve poems about knitting

Ten poems about water

Twelve poems about faraway

Fourteen poems about walking

Twelve poems about food

7 thoughts on “Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Thirteen poems about home

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