like pelicans, like cloud islands,
there was, of course,
the beautiful mission station
and goings that tended
to come to a head
and everyone friends
all we ever wanted to do
was to sit down and try
to thrash things out with you
it ended up as it always does
with wounds and lamentations
and holes dug in the ground
for the dead,
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)
Listen to Bernadette Hall read ‘Apology‘
The White Dress
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.
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‘
like a Jumping Jack all over the field’s bright
green. His boots leave little swamps
where water rises through the flattened weeds.
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.
to turn my dark face down to your shy fury.
Listen to Bernadette Hall read ‘Pastorale‘
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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.