Kay McKenzie Cooke

I’ve enjoyed Kay’s poetry for many years but I’ve only known Kay as a friend for the last couple of years. Kay lives in our neighbourhood so we tend to meet up in a local cafe for a catch up about poetry, writing, publishing and Poems in the Waiting Room. After Kay judged our inaugural poetry competition last year I invited her to join Poems in the Waiting Room as a trustee. Kay has published two poetry books, Feeding the Dogs, and Made for Weather. She’s currently working on a novel while she awaits the publication of her third poetry book.

Kay CookeI live in the city of Dunedin. I am very settled here and it feels like home … yet, the place where I was brought up will always be regarded by me as my true home, a town called Orepuki, located on the South Island’s southern coast and about as far west as Southland goes. Even though I only lived there for ten years, I have a deep and unbreakable bond with the place. I would describe it as primal. Maybe it is because all my European ancestors from my great-grandparents down, hailed from there (if not originally, they all spent the majority of their lives there). Coupled with that, I also have tangata whenua connections there. These days, my tiny home-town is a shadow of itself and hardly figures on the map.

McKenzie farm and Princess Range.

McKenzie farm and Princess Range.

 The poems I am writing at present are heavily influenced by my ancestry. The fact that I am looking into my family tree has everything to do with it. I find myself increasingly surrounded by ghosts, which is not as terrifying as one might think – in fact the opposite – there is something comforting and wholesome; fulfilling and perpetually astonishing; about my life being held and directed, inspired and observed by those of my blood who have gone before me.

the girls and the geese
(sometime in the 1880’s)

The Hirst girls, the ones who in later photos
as grown women appear so stern,
dressed up to their necks in black,
secrets in their eyes; were once
in charge of the geese
that one day
as they drove them along the beach
ran off into the sea beyond reach
to float, stunned and daft.

The girls were forced to leave off
their useless flapping of arms and aprons
and as darkness fell, returned home
where all through the night
they sensed the ghostly honking of waves
breaking like bad dreams
of geese snatched by an ocean without end
or washing up in the morning, dead
with twisted necks and beaks half-opened in horror.

Worse than that, less for the larder
and all their fault. Then dawn,
the scream of birds waking the sky alive
and hands flying in delight at the miracle,
the geese back on the beach,
their offended clatter no dream but real,
as real as us today walking the same sand
but so faintly etched upon this world
it would appear that we are the ghosts.

family tree
(for my mother)

Your hair is no longer red
but is as much a flag as it ever was,
easy to spot among the grey, bald bedstead
-headstones in the cemetery we visit. As you move
your head is as bright as the white chest feathers
of a wading bird

and as always in your eyes that quick spark
when you answer back or give cheek.
You can still make an entrance.
Still have a lot left yet to say
about all those years (eighty-odd) tightly gathered.
Sometimes I remember to ask the right questions.

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