Evening, Marlborough 

As a river 
each pebble 
or a grape 
the architecture 
of its vine 
we made an 
encyclopedia of 
summer – 
trails of stars 
clusters of days 
your sleeping face 
the road 
gone past. 

Letter to Louise Lawrence 

Louise, I wanted to write 
          one of those letters that begins 
‘I have been riding horseback 
all day’ or ‘it’s great 
          to be back’ or ‘Hello, sweetheart 
                    I am trying to write this 
in the bath. I have done 
          a lot of crazy things 
in my life but have never 
attempted this before.’ 
          But your book kept 
                    interrupting me – and set me 
thinking what exactly it is 
          we send through the post: 
gladness, pessimism 
a sense of family, or where we are 
          precisely in this universe of 
                    wrong addresses and insufficient 
postage. A friend of ours 
          is always sending unwrapped 
objects through the mail: 
last week a stamped and addressed 
          tennis shoe, this week
                    a packet of seeds. Chris Cochran 
once mailed our son Felix a leaf 
          forty cent stamp and 
the address written carefully 
upon it. Such miracles of 
          the daily post – the infamous live eel 
                    inserted in the mail box at Opoutere. 
Your next project should be the Penguin Book of 
          Parcels and their Contents. Last year 
prior to our return from France 
I mailed 45 kg of books home 
          filling our three year old’s puschchair 
                    with bundles wrapped 
in brown paper then trundling them down 
          to La Poste. Along the way 
I was met with suspicious glances 
from neighbours who 
          must have thought – with 
                    my pouchette stacked child-high – 
I was about to mail our well-wrapped 
          three year old back to New Zealand. 
On much earlier afternoons 
my brother and I would 
          march in single file 
                    out the kindergarten gate with 
letters to our parents pinned to our backs. 
          The glare from the flapping white sheets 
attached to the children in front 
of us: that was how letters 
          entered our lives, and stayed. 
                    Have you considered editing 
The Penguin Book of Lost Mail? 300 blank pages. 
          Which brings us to other burning issues 
of the day: war, pestilence 
‘has Harris watered the willows 
          & planted my pumpkins & moved 
                    the bees,’ and whether we are losing 
our attentiveness to language. Think 
          of what, in the computer age, has happened 
to the word ‘attachment’. 
I’m on the side of paper, Louise. 
          This side. Which means I’m 
                    resolutely with your book 
and with Frances Hodgkins’ friend D. K. Richmond 
          who always wrote in pencil 
distrusting the newfangled 
technology of 
          the fountain pen. I’m for 
                    the Imperial typewriter 
the word-processor, in moderation. You ask if 
          I have any reservations about your book: 
maybe D’Arcy Cresswell, who was more 
successful as a blackmailer than a poet 
          is under-represented – as are 
                    blackmailers in general. Yet another 
time-honoured literary tradition
          the parking infringement notice 
isn’t given the time of day, neither 
are the bills that cram 
          our post box each morning. Rejection 
                    letters. Real estate fliers. 
Perhaps you are already working on 
          the Penguin Book of Junk Mail. 
‘The days run away,’ Louise. 
I’ll try to keep up with them 
          ambling home around Oriental Bay 
                    your book in my backpack 
all the letters contained therein 
          rubbing against my shoulders 
as though pinned there. 
And I am back again 
          at the kindergarten gate 
                    one in a long line 
of children, one letter of an alphabet 
a trail of punctuation marks 
          dissembling up the street. 


Gregory O’Briens recent publications include a book of poems, Afternoon of an evening train and the catalogue to an exhibition currently touring the country, Elizabeth Thomson – My Hi-fi Sci-fi. Forthcoming books include A Nest of Singing Birds – 100 Years of the School Journal and a book-length essay, News of the Swimmer Reaches Shore. The poem ‘Evening, Marlborough’ was commissioned by Summerhouse Winery, Blenheim, and appears on the label of their 2006 Chardonnay. ‘Letter to Louise Lawrence’ was read at the launching of The Penguin Book of New Zealand Letters, ed. Louise Lawrence, at Unity Books in 2003.