Althea Barr

New Zealand


The path I walked tonight has a phantom hedge.
I walked the sterile, curving concrete
Under lamps like huge drooping flowers,
And saw instead the mess of blackberry,
Wild rose and strange red-speared flax
That once was there.
We picked the blackberries
And ate them with our apples;
The dog chased rabbits through the briar patch;
I picked the small pink roses,
Fugitives from some ancient garden,
And watched the tui drink the flax.
Where are they now, the animals?
Gone, like the small pink roses,
Swept from the path of progress.
We have become suburbia.


Sweet-scented syringa
  Flower of the middle age,
Perfume of experience,
  The voluptuous, the sage

Freesias of the springtime
  Tender with scent of youth
Fresh and sweet with the soft scent
  Of purity and truth

Last rose of the summer,
  Yours is the best of all.
Scent of the beauty that has been,
  That lasts as the petals fall.

Sweet scent of the springtime,
  Hold it, O hasty youth
It’ll blossom into maturity,
  Experience grow from truth.

Perfume of the summer;
  Glorious days between
The awakening and the passing;
  Guard them no longer green.

Last scent of the autumn,
  Softly you drift away,
Beautiful yet in the passing,
  When life has had its day.


Wide the Waikato,
  Tree fringed and grey,
Brown the good earth
  Pukekohe way,
White the wild surf,
  Port Waikato’s black sand
Gleams in the winter sun
  Smokes along strand.

Ride the white water!
  Walk the black sand,
Boat the Waikato,
  Farm the brown land,
Outdoor existence,
  Warm winter hours;
Taken for granted,
       This land of ours.


Great thinkers and philosophers
never had to think of the mundane
which is probably why
they were mostly men.

They had wives or servants
or fellow  monks
to think about
what to buy
or what to cook for tea.

The rest of us spend our lives
fretting about these trifles
which is probably why
are not philosophers

Dog Walker

I’m a dog walker, I’m a dog walker!
  Dog’s a –walking with me, see?
  Healthy as can be, we be!
I’m a dog walker, I’m a dog walker
  Dog sends ducks all a-clutter
  Rosella parrots all a-flutter
I’m a dog walker, I’m a dog walker
  Boxer owner, healthy chap
  Joggers doing second lap
I’m a dog walker, I’m a dog walker
  Itty bitty fluffy pup
  Big rottweiler’d eat him up!
I’m a dog walker, I’m a dog walker
  Two fat women power talking
  In all weathers they’re out walking
I’m a dog walker, I’m a dog walker
  Dog thinks smells are perfect bliss
  Good way to meet the neighbours,  
I’m a dog walker, I’m a dog walker
  G’day, good to see you, Jo
  Can’t stop, the dog’s rarin’ to go..
I’m a dog walker, I’m a dog walker
  See you around sometime, May?
        I’m a dog walker…….
  Maybe walk with us sometime, eh?
    I’m a dog walker…..
        Wait for me, dog!

Burn the Candle

Burn the candle
Burn the candle
Burn the candle at both ends

We are the modern women
Full-time jobs and teenage kids
Carpools and PTAs
Microwaves and instant meals
Endless rushing, endless days

Burn the candle
Burn the candle
Burn the candle at both ends


We walked the bush path tonight
And I knew
Where I belonged;
This, with the green flax spikes
Dark between the totaras
And high above, the tui’s call
Clear, then strident;
This, I would miss
More than the rolling Downs,
The copper beeches,
The ancient stones
Of that land
I once called home.
So in the end one settles
And the familiar becomes the preferable
And in the old land
One walks a stranger,
Knowing one’s heart to be
Half a world away.
And here, returned, I find
In the evergreen of evening bush
And the soft scents of early spring
An acceptance
And serenity.

Althea emigrated from England to New Zealand via South Africa in the 1970s. She has independently published two volumes of poetry, entitled Reflections and Challenges and has had poems published in Manukau in Poetry, Strands of Silver and Nga Maunga Korero, the Language of Mountains (A DOC publication). In September 2005 she was a finalist in the Titirangi Going West Poetry Slam.
In 2003 she collaborated with her photographer daughter Lucy on an exhibition of poems and photographs in Paihia in the Bay of Islands. They ’re currently working on a book together.