When the big ships came in 
like pelicans, like cloud islands, 
there was, of course, 
the beautiful mission station 
and all the comings 
and goings that tended 
to come to a head 
with everyone talking 
and everyone friends 
and to tell the honest truth 
all we ever wanted to do 
was to sit down and try 
to thrash things out with you 
but somehow or other 
it ended up as it always does 
with wounds and lamentations 
and holes dug in the ground 
for the dead, 
a mad woman hiding 
in a dark corner of the house 
(we handed her back to her family) 
a little half-breed girl shot 
and the watchman (we apologise) 

The White Dress

How the skin loves to be touched, 
light strokes on the surface like a bird stroking 
the blowy air, the windmill like a backstroker 
in the wind water. 
                               Tell me who I am, 
the way the body is a book, a famous French 
novel with the pages cut, maybe Paul et Virginie. 
How we hope to hang onto things forever, 
wrapping them in creamy hand-washed shawls, 
laying them in a series of polished drawers: 
the land title, a man’s title in a dying institution, 
a tobacco pouch made from the blue inked skin 
of an enemy, the white dress. 
                                                 How it fills 
and billows in the air that rises from damp ground, 
from the river at the edge of the clearing, 
moonlight in the flounces, so lovely, so European. 
Te Keepa, in his scarlet jacket, watching. 

Listen to Bernadette Hall read ‘The White Dress’

Two Songs from the 60s

Who knows what the concert might have been, 
maybe Bill or Jack conducted, both of whom came 
to such different ends, one a Sir hoisted high 
in Scandinavia, the other leaving early. 
Like Iain whom I loved but from a distance. 
He did wheelies in Leith Street with a car full of students 
and years later he wrote to me so sweetly about my poetry, 
that I was like a bird listening to sounds underground, 
probing with little jabs for the worm. Don’t worry 
about the grammar, he’d said, when it came 
to my limping Greek, just go straight to the heart of it. 
I’d arranged at the Freshers hop the night 
before to meet him after the lecture, the boy 
with the pretty blonde hair, the nice eyes, 
a rash all over his thin, smooth cheeks 
but as I stepped out of Chem. 13, 
I ran into my sworn enemy. Her eyes glittered 
like the sun off ice, ‘Are you meeting someone?’ 
I could see him craning there, shy 
and all spruced up, right behind her left shoulder. 
I could see his pretty blonde hair, his nice eyes, 
the rash all over his cheeks, poor boy. 
I was eighteen. I had no choice. 
I walked straight past him, turning my head 
from side to side like a satellite dish, 
my eyes open wide as if I was blind. 
My daughter frowns at this point in the story. 
She tells me I was cruel. If I ever did run 
into him again, I probably would say I was sorry, 
and that anyway I’m an old woman now, 
far too fierce and stubborn for the likes of him. 

Listen to Bernadette Hall read ‘Two Songs from the 60s


The little girl sits in the top of a tree. 
The little boy tumbles and darts in spurts 
like a Jumping Jack all over the field’s bright 
green. His boots leave little swamps 
where water rises through the flattened weeds. 
He’s running now all zigzag and silly 
like a puppy. He falls over, rolls, comes up wet 
and muddy, he spits. They put him on a long lead. 
It slows him down. Now he walks into lamp-posts. 
Forty years, my love, it’s taken me to see you, 
to turn my dark face down to your shy fury.


Bernadette Hall is a North Canterbury writer, normally resident at Amberley Beach. This year she has been the Writer in Residence at Victoria University, a blissful time, she says. In June, she was a guest at Ice Cold Words, an Antarctic literary festival held in Hobart. In September she took part in several events at the Christchurch Arts Festival.