new zealand electronic poetry centre

Dinah Hawken

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The Second Quarter

Even the smallest intention towards
letting go can be enough to bring grace.

The Desert Fathers

Both Sides

Now she is on holiday with two women friends in a deep narrow cove.
The pine trees and gorse are showing each other up in the late afternoon light
and she is heading for the place where the forestry road seems to touch
the horizon between peaks, the one place where she might get a view
over both sides. Halfway there the light begins to fall
and she calls over the bay towards the cottage where her friends are reading
and talking round the fire. No one answers but four gulls come circling
high over her head crude and squawking. She goes on and on uneasy
towards the place she’s chosen, and she gets there, and it is possible to see over
both sides. On the left Opua Bay (now with two other narrow bays
branching off it, opposite each other, making a cross of deep waters)
and to the right Tory Channel opening into a small bay below her
with an island at its entrance. The light is blue as the sun leaves
and there is a track down the other side for another trip on another day.

A Visitation

A Maori woman comes into her house.
She leaves a carved stick leaning against the kitchen bench
as a gift and a challenge.

Her Daughter Tames a Lizard

Walking into her living room she finds a lizard and other reptiles
and insects there. She’s frightened of the lizard since it’s large
and still growing. So she calls her small daughter who comes with pleasure
to get the creatures out of the house: she treats the lizard as a pet
talking to it and stroking it while it grows a different head
brightly coloured like a tropical parrot, a wondrous thing.

Her Son Brings Her Great Good Luck

While she is sitting on the land outside her back door, her son asks
if she has ever found a four-leafed clover and at that moment,
her fingers idling the grass verge, she finds one.
Later she places it in a book of very small poems. On the front there are
dragons with claws and teeth, breathing smoke and fire.

The path she’s on is deserted. So is yours.
So are all the others which is wonderful.
To meet you’ll have to wander off into the dense
bush where vines hang and soft ferns and mosses
cover the uneven ground. You won’t know whose territory
you’re in — if the wildlife’s at home, or at large, there


The Sacrifice

It is one of those days. Stepping up she looks around and knows
that she loves every single person on the bus. Not in a mild, distant
way. In an embracing way. Even the sluggish ones. The woman
with the bitter mouth. The guy with his greasy head on one side dozing
off. But she doesn’t open her arms, the way her body wants,
making a gesture too large and too sudden. She gets off the bus
at the next stop and walks home.
When a smile has come to be on her face she knows she is smiling
with each person walking towards her. One is a pale strained
woman of her own age in a pale blue raincoat whose smile is slim
and supple like toi toi in the wind. It is faint and unmistakable.
It is a gift and a pact.

Her Body

Now she is finding a place
                                  of her own                                     in the sandhills
and she is beginning to abandon           herself
                            into her body, into the calm
accommodating sand.
A woman is suddenly interrupting her, telling her that a man
                                                                                              is darting
in and out of the sandhills
                                      watching her abandoning herself
                                                                                           into her body.
During the night the same man is darting in and out of her dreams
                 watching her there.
Now her anger (which has accumulated) is accumulating and accumulating
                  it is rising
                                  like a wide deep swell in the ocean
while all she is wanting
                                     is to abandon her self into her body.
Now she is walking miles along the beach and there are only
two clouds in the sky           small ones over the island.
Now she is on the most deserted part of the beach lying her body down
in a hollow in the sandhills
                                                                      from where she can see
                         and not be seen: it is utopia.
But utopia is broken by beach bikes roaring down the sound of the sea.
                               So now        in the soft hollow        in the broken
                                 she is beginning to lower herself
                                                               into her body                 she is letting
the sun, and her own hands, and the sea’s breeze and the sea’s sound
settle over her        she is weeping
                                                over her exposed breasts and loving
her own whole exposed body
                                        for once
                                        and for the first time
she knows
               that it is not a man
                                          she has been wanting
to enter her body                                                                                                   it is the
                          lighter half of the natural world

She Goes to a Lecture on Deconstruction

The lecturer is Welsh. His mind is totally involved in the words he is using
to explain the other man’s ideas. He is using the words swiftly, clearly
and colourfully while he fingers the end of his light brown beard.
The extraordinary thing about his beard is that it curves and tufts
towards the right.

She could lure him into her ancestry,
into her realm. He could come, he could enter
without trepidation. He could make a fantastic
entrance, swinging his long full cape
over the dusty, softly-worn stones.
He could be led by the air of her sweet instruments.

Her Friend Who is Dying

She is at the beach of her childhood with her friend who is dying.
They are looking out to sea when a clear channel opens in front of them
allowing them to see longitudinally into different layers of the ocean.
Then a cross-sectional view, a clear slice of the ocean layers, opens
so that they can see what the ocean contains. Now they are in the water
themselves — a part of it, alive and breathing and other creatures
are swimming around their heads. The second layer from the top, head height,
is the clearest layer and since her friend who is dying holds her head
at the most receptively human angle she has the clearest viewpoint of all.

The Tug of War

Is a scene that rises in her mind. A long line of men, say 100,
facing north, holding a long rope. A long line of women, say 110,
facing south, facing the men, holding the same long rope.
They are all dressed in late nineteenth-century clothes, standing ready
on the shore-line of a long New Zealand beach. A long line
of surf is breaking.
                               The rope is clearly visible in the gap
where the first man faces the first woman. Here the starter also
stands. He is shouting into a megaphone:
‘Take the strain — get ready — go!’ So the tug
of war begins. Equal weight and equal strength on each
side. Centuries of struggle are rising
in the blood of each man and each woman and at the exact
moment that they judge the men to be at the height
of their physical and mental power, the women
let the rope go.

They love to let go and they love to get going:
they get themselves going and they let themselves go.
They let love go and they get love going:
they get others going and they let others go.
They let life go and they get life going,
they live to give love and they love to let live.

The Mirror

The orange light in the sky is more silent
and more still and more beautiful than ever before because
watching it over a long time she is more silent
and more still and more beautiful than ever before like the sky.

She is Kissed Three Times

She goes out to make love with a woman
in a large brass bed in a high field, mountains
and hills all around. There are others on the soft bed,
a few friends, her own baby daughter naked.
Her lover kisses her in a precise, gentle way:
she kisses her clitoris and a baby boy — with a mature
shapely mouth — is born; she kisses her again and a small black dog
— sleek, alert and totally self-determining — is born. His collar
is studded with dark precious stones. Her lover kisses her clitoris
a third time and it is exquisite and nothing tangible is born.

Who is she? She is trimming the smallest
fingernails, she is threading honeysuckle
through trellis. She is the context, the swell,
the breathable air. She is singing,
she is swinging the boy on the swing
in the park. She is fluent and steady and unpaid.


She first meets him in New York. He is part of the exhibition
at the Metropolitan Museum. There he is — exposed
in the beautiful high hall. She stands with him for a long time,
knowing how he is wanting to be at home with his own people,
how painful it is exhibiting his body and soul.
How formidable he is. How shy he is.
She stands with him for a long time.
Tentatively, awkwardly, she stands with him for a long time.


From Small Stories of Devotion (VUP, 1991)

Dinah Hawken

Last updated 14 December, 2004