Your basket is empty.

The Rocky Shore

Monday morning and I want to paint the shed, 
but it’s Room Two at the rocky shore.

Children in their named sunhats, with buckets,
clamber around the rocks, poke at things – starfish,

anemones, the odd unfortunate crab. It’s rocky
and it’s the shore, and very bright. The hem of my skirt

is wet and really, my mind’s on other things. Like the afternoon’s
translation seminar, which is where I eventually drive to,

brushing sand from my hair; and then I am in the lecture theatre
with my still-damp salty clothes, trying to translate myself

from the rocky shore to here, to the shed, where the paint waits, 
viscous in every language.


Home is a house of men. Men I love, but what I crave
is a shed. I always thought I should have been

a boy. I liked girls, but I liked boys better. That’s 
changed now, though I still envy them their shirts. 

My friend, Peter, has about sixty. All second-hand.
We spent a morning once, speculating on their previous

lives and decided that maybe there should be some kind of quarantine 
station for old shirts, so they could get their old inhabitants

out of their systems. About this time, people started mistaking me
for a doctor. A woman even came up to me at a party and asked 

if I was a psychiatrist. Peter, my friend with the shirts, 
suggested that I might just have that look about me.

Anyway, this doctor thing was unusual (I could be more
literary and say resonant) because for years I did want

to be a doctor, but never felt able. From time to time I still entertain
thoughts of medicine. Usually when I read about doctors saving lives

(this appeals to my sense of the heroic), or we need to buy a new
heat exchanger for the caliphont.


A shed seemed a desirable structure, so my friend, Chris, drew
one up, and I made the shape out of an old sheet and

sailed it around the lawn at the back of our house. This part of our garden
was a place I didn’t visit much after my father died. He and my 

mother and Greg and the children and I had spent a lot of time
up there, clearing and digging, and when my father became ill 

we closed it down. Lay newspapers and flattened boxes over the earth
and abandoned it to itself. I’ve already written a poem, some poems, 

about this and don’t want to repeat myself. But then I do.
People often ask about the form of a poem and I usually say something like

the poem finds its own form. Which is something I believe. Truly. 
But sometimes it takes a while. This poem, for instance, was like the shed.

I had to make it out of something and move it around the lawn. I didn’t
want to repeat myself, but then I did. The garden needed revisiting.

No two sheds are ever the same.


Margaret rings. Suggest a yard full of previous habitation. Doors stacked – 
framed, unframed, the occasional cracked pane. He’s coming through, she’s

gone, she’s slammed the door, there was no need for that. 
Bent back through a window, she watches, sees the blossom full

of bees. Chris says you know if you choose these windows 
you’ll be building a window, not a shed. The man in the yard says

she may well be a poet, but the only writing of hers I’m interested in seeing
is on a cheque.


Monday morning I arrive home to find a truck outside, and on it 
half the six-paned bow window. The other half rests on our front porch. 

That night a great wind shakes the garden. In the morning
the shed, still a sheet, is wrapped around a tree. What began as

talk, then pencil marks on paper, a sheet on the ground, a wrapped
tree, becomes four walls and a roof in the minds of our builders 

who arrive and walk the steps up to the top garden. As they head
up, our child descends into illness. His first steady translation of

one thing into another.


For a whole day, the apprentice named Jessie 
carted bags of cement mix and wood up to the back lawn.

He was a procession of one, back and forth past the kitchen
window. A boy of few words that became fewer 

as the day wore on, he also became smaller, bowed down, as he was,
by the load. As the materials gathered on the grass, I moved the trees. 


The garden, you see (and must understand) is a mess. This is no
false modesty. Once a newspaper did a story on me and my

garden, thinking, mistakenly, that because I write about gardens,
I know what I am talking about. I explained my position and lack

of expertise, but they persisted, and because I was a nicer person 
then than I am now, I gave in. To my alarm, a day later, there was
     a message

from a photographer saying would this afternoon suit? A nice guy,
he came down the front path, looked around and said Jesus.


In an odd place in the lawn is a lovely old apple blossom, which looks
like snow from the kitchen window. I’d planted a fig, olive and bay

in memory of Mary Ursula Bethell. Of course these were the first trees
that had to be moved. You think you have everything in its right place

and bingo, something goes and blows it all apart. I had taken 
this garden apart once, and here I was doing it again. Still left

is the pale yellow dog rose, backdrop to the new black doris plum,
planted because that was my grandmother’s name. The mother

of my father. Sometimes I would like the garden to just be
the garden and not a place of memory. I moved the fig

and olive, left the bay as a cornerstone for the shed
and forgot the old rose. Days later I found it replanted

beside the plum. Now it’s called the builders’ rose. Why this need 
to name and place everything? I do the same with clothing – 

always want to give its genealogy. New trousers? asks 
my sister, raising an eyebrow. Yes, I reply. Four dollars 

from the Salvation Army in Newtown. What do you think? Fine, 
just don’t wear them out anywhere.

Once the builders had moved the rose, they dug deep into the generous,
forgiving earth, then laid the foundations. Concrete slab like a sheet.


While the men build, I tend to our sick child who moves
further and further into an illness constructed from grief and 

loss. Even as I write these words I feel uncomfortable. Show
not tell, is the way, I know, but in this case I want to say. Grief

and loss. And again. Grief and loss. As the men build on the back
lawn, where the boy remembers his grandfather, he too constructs

his own shelter. Illness his shed, or place of retreat.


One of the builders’ vans breaks down and down, then our car too
breaks down in Cuba Street. I walk around the corner to Driscolls,

ask Les for help and he leaves the car he’s under and comes,
crowbar in hand. Lifts the bonnet and shows me the place to

give it a tap. Things you can fix by knocking. Fords, says Les, 
they often have a problem with the dash lights. You just

give the dash a bit of a knock and on they’ll go.


My sister’s baby. Her heartbeat dropped down
and down and a cry went up and the baby was delivered just

in time. As I write that, my sister walks past on the road below,
pushing the baby in her pram. Looks up and waves. Look,

here comes the mother of someone, says our youngest son
on the way to school. And there goes the mother of our friends.

Her two sons polish their shoes on the verandah in their under-
wear on the morning of her funeral. White boxers, roses,

sheet; clean black shoes. Nails knocked into the coffin. 
And then the danger begun, writes our son.


Is your kid still sick? asks Jessie. 
He’s not gonna die, is he?

Scaffolding up around the school holidays.

It would be sad if you died because you wouldn’t get
to go through all the numbers.


I spend a lot of time at the dentists and the hospital.
One child has a supernumerary tooth holed up in his gum.

It stops his big front tooth making its way into the world. The gap
has been there since we were in Menton, France, two years ago,

and has come to resemble that place we miss most. The other child
develops a tooth abscess, which, until we spend an afternoon

up at the hospital, is not deemed to be urgent. Then it is. 
We drive to Keneperu Hospital very early one morning in fog.

He has a long wait, an iceblock, and two hours 
in a laz-y-boy, before driving home again. Weird ways

to spend your days. This is a grand and hallowed moment
says the child, as she kicks off into the pool.


Our friend Noel, who is always drinking something
new and interesting, is having trouble with his kiln,

hence the Hindu blessing. He writes, enclosing copies
of the instructions: Dear Noel,

thanks for inviting me to consecrate your kiln
herewith are the things you will need to purchase:

vashtu shanti ceremony
coconuts small x 2
bananas x 10
seasonal fruit
fresh dates x 100gms
turmeric powder x 50gms
flowers x 4 bunches
rice (white) x 1kg
matches or lighter x 1
incense sticks x 1 pkt
Dollar coins (washed) x 5

additional requirements
mango leaves – unblemished – x 10
trays and vessels (brass, copper, steel)
new tea towels OR 1 roll paper towels

This ceremony is the traditional ceremony performed 
for the sanctification of the home or business to generate

a peaceful and harmonious environment in which to live 
and to prosper. I will arrive half an hour before the puja –

please have all the puja items ready as per the list – all fruit 
to be washed. The family should take a bath before the ceremony 

and wear clean clothes. Loose fitting white clothes for men are preferable 
and coloured for ladies. Jeans are not suitable. Explanations

will be given in English before and during the ceremony.
All chatting and gossiping is to be avoided so that those who are serious 

can concentrate fully on the puja. Please note: Until now 
we have avoided setting fees for pujas, since it is our sacred duty and not 

our business. But due to the fact that some hosts have been 
unfair in their charity, indifferent to the value of our time 

and unmindful of the cost of living to which we are subjected, 
we are now compelled to set a minimum donation of $150
per ceremony. Thank you for your patronage.   

Shortly after the blessing,
Noel’s kiln exploded.


I have become a woman who walks. People assume I must think
about things – poetry maybe – (I blame Wordsworth for this) but no, 

I pride myself on thinking about nothing in particular, just try
    to concentrate 

on each step on the ground and look around. The other day though,
I found myself puzzling over Swedish rounding at the supermarket. 

I enjoy the snatches of conversation – two cyclists: You know what
    they say,

if you’re thirsty it’s too late. And the boy talking to himself: There is
    much similarity
between station wagons, more variety is what’s needed.


Walls laid, then raised against the cold light of the garden.
The shed’s articulation. We stand in the skeleton of the doorway

and look out on the lawn’s other structure. A rabbit cage.
We have become a foster home for hedgehogs. Hedgehogs?

Well you might ask. The SPCA asks will we be okay to administer
medicine should they need it? Medicine? What kind of medicine?

Well, they get mange sometimes. Oh. And what sort of medication 
might they need for that? Well, it’s sheep dip. But you only give them

a tiny bit. 

The ‘O’ in the centre of your name, says Denis O’Connor, you work
from there.


Children play. Say you be the bad guy and I’ll be in here in the fort
and you have to attack me. Yeah and say I come in here with my

guys and we’ll do a raid and say we have secret weapons. Yeah and
say I blast you before you shoot off your secret weapons and say

you lose them and say my guys capture them and then we have
a battle about the weapons. Yeah and say then you get injured

and your guys have to come and rescue you. And say a child 
is troubled and nothing seems to help and you don’t know what to do? 

What then?


Send a postcard to Noel to check about the kiln. He rings
to say actually it was a fault with the glaze.

The supplier kept saying just try it at a higher temperature
so he did and eventually this caused a meltdown in the kiln.

So it wasn’t the fault of the kiln blesser. Maybe it was because
the supplier hadn’t been blessed.

God will bless you, says Bill as he hammers in
another nail.

It’s important to get the facts right, says Noel. Every day
that passes, events become more hazy. This

according to a forensics programme he’s been watching
on television. A day can make all the difference.

In between episodes, Noel has been painting the most
commonly caught fish in Australia. Murray Cod

is a huge river fish, caught most successfully using
a scorched starling as bait. How did anyone discover that?


Pioneer Red walls go all around and then the roof is on.
I buy beer to celebrate. Just whatever’s cheapest, says Bill.

We raise a branch above the roof to mark the days when trees
were the highest things on the land, then raise our glasses to the shed.


As an antidote to exams, our tallest son (the one the youngest calls
boy-man), sets a small plane on a round-the-world flight on his computer. 

Comes upstairs to tell us he’s over Greece, then has to leave
because he’s about to attempt his first night landing.

Downstairs there’s engine trouble over Athens.
There might be a question about moral necessity.


They make good the walls, the men. They make it all 
good, and then they go. Down the steps. Leave the shed

behind them. My shed. And the scaffolding. We like these men,
we are sad to see them go. Pioneer Red and Manuka Honey

on the outside. Pioneer Red floor, Jungle Mist walls on the inside. 
After trying Rivendell, Laurel, Bush, English Holly and Heather. 

Each week, as I paint,
our son invents a new illness.

The garden too, made good. You don’t want to repeat yourself
but then you do. The child digs for the chink

of metal on stone and goes down to discover the path
which became buried and turned to grass. Move the lilac.

Revive the olive. Bay thankfully thrives at the corner.
Plant raspberry canes where the gooseberries used to be. Leave

the rhododendron and the rose. Move the lemon to where at last
it looks convincing.


After the storm, blossoms stuck to the window
like confetti. We’re about to go to Waitarere Beach

and my mother tells me the last time she was there
was with my father, the weekend before their wedding.

The two of them went with friends and sat on the sand
talking about the future. The future. Here we are in it,

some of us, some of us not.


I miss my father.
I miss having a father.


Why didn’t you let me visit him when he was dying?
Why didn’t we let him visit when he was dying?

A question like the path, uncovered. Because I didn’t know
how. There seemed no hope in it. Death seemed such unfair knowledge

for a child to have. And I am sorrier than I can ever say. Although I do,
over and over, and hope that having uncovered this path, 

which leads nowhere in the garden, but to the bedside of what 
troubles him, I can show I didn’t mean harm. 


This morning, on the waterfront, the couple who run
bound at the wrist. After a few mornings I realised

he was blind. She talks him through it. The sky
is lightening. It’s very calm and beautiful. 

Do you think it’s going to be a good day?
Yes, I think it is.

More from this issue

Two Stories

HEAT 11. Sheltered Lives
Today my Auntie Lien and I are appearing on the television show of the famed psychologist Dr Phil. The Dr Phil episode we are appearing in is titled ‘What are you really mad at?’ and Dr Phil is asking Auntie Lien and me about how we deal with anger.
Read more