Michele Leggott

Michele Leggott is a Professor of English at the University of Auckland and was the Inaugural New Zealand Poet Laureate 2008-09. She has published seven books of poetry, including Milk & Honey (2005, 2006), Journey to Portugal (2007) and Mirabile Dictu (2009). She edited Robin Hyde’s long poem The Book of Nadath (1999) and Young Knowledge: The Poems of Robin Hyde (2003). A major project since 2001 has been the development of the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre (nzepc) at the University of Auckland. Michele was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) in the 2009 New Year Honours for services to poetry. See also www.nzepc.auckland.ac.nz/authors/leggott/index.asp




te torea / the oystercatcher        

trebling stage left   
and how would you ever
pick them out on the rocks
until they move and orange sticks
poke and shrill at the kids    who want
food and probably flying lessons
same old same    old torea    not in
Native Animals of New Zealand
but certainly one of the cards torn
from the jelly crystal packets each week
always three and often duplicates
what were we learning and why is it stuck
in the active grid this morning
looking at Motukorea    their island    and Motuihe
where a goose jumped out of a boat
on new year’s day and danced
for lettuce from a bucket    oh he’s
too little to leave on the farm    they said
and rowed back out to the yachts
bobbing off Von Luckner’s bay

dogs rode in the bows of kayaks
landing we supposed on other parts of
the island famous for its permeable approach
to security    Pearl chasing down the Moa
out there in the sparkling waters of the gulf
and they got all the way to the Kermadecs
with their charts sextant and radio
and their pantomime imperial flag    another story
outside the cordon of plastic ribbons
on the landward beach and a sign
absently out to sea just above
the highwater mark    a jelly card swap
an indigene without sound    and this book
that comes into the house today
trebling calling catching itself
on the black terraces above the tide
Maungauika    and the winter stars rising
over my northeastern shoulder



the answers

it looks impossible    but really
it happened    is happening    the table top
bright red and the little chairs
each with a decal on its creamy enamel    
the continuous tea party
that seems to be taking place whenever
we look    whenever we ask
what was that    where are those baths
that merry go round she rides
with one of us    the plank and sawhorse
seesaw in the driveway    the baby
stomping along in the sunhat
with her mother and the mountain behind
is that her on the path with presents
and why are his fingers bandaged

it is the moving that matters
the two of us and her walking to camera
at Pukeiti    the waterwheel beating
along the cool ravine    or the Rinso box
and one of us running and jumping
under the clothesline    rocking the pram
one taking out the other with the business end
of a hobby horse    silent howling   
swimming and getting stagily into the car
the circus the fire engine a donkey ride
at Ngamotu    Fishers’ bach Dees’ bach
Onaero Urenui Mokau    ordinary things
and behind them the extraordinary grief
of watching the toddler on the lawn
fall into her father’s arms

tonight on the cold Wellington streets
I see them walk by    coats no longer over
their arms but the ring from Stewart Dawson’s
glinting on her hand there    and on mine
and on mine here    extraordinary grief
and the answers we make
from distance which is no distance at all    



te oru / the stingray

hot blue stars at the edge of the world
some like horses    some like music
and one has a saxophone
we’ve got chalk words and lots of food
we’ve got the saxophone
blowing us out to the edge of the world
where the poems are

orcas arrive in the harbour
hunting stingray    the researchers
who named them have tracked the pod
from the Kaipara and say it is unique
in taking on the rays    maybe    maybe not
the whales frolic all morning
and when an escaping stingray
soars on camera    ray skips lunch
with orca    an old story flaps into view
stingray in the boat    crew jumping about
trying to gaff it    the whacking tail    pain
my father’s bandaged fingers
held up to the whirring camera    his salute
to the fish    to us    and to her

hot blue stars at the edge of the world
cool blue bird under the wharf
a new sun climbs into the sky

on this side of the harbour
the tug Wainui and her barge Moehau
are bringing in sand from Pakiri
for the beach at Torpedo Bay    
a stingray cruises about the shins
of the kaumatua blessing the sand    
the foreshore and the seabed
are not quiet places    who can say
what belongs to this green mountain
rearing out of the morning mist

hot blue stars    flash of wings
under the wharf    kingfisher    bird of omen
tell us how the sun lights the new moon
how kites with sting tails float over Orakei
how an old story encircles the gleaming bay