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Robert McLean
New Zealand

Featured Artist Amanda Kemp
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of her outstanding works
Robert McLean - Is currently studing a Masters of Fine Arts and Canterbury University.
Poems published in Glottis, Catalyst, PNZ, Jaam, Bravado, Spin, Poetry Aeotearoa; online at Trout, Bathysperic Review, BMP, Pemmican Press, Cordite.  Email me at       


Now that all the talk's over and done with,
perhaps we can start to get on with life
together. After all, you've been my wife.
To be with you. To listen to you breathe.

Infinitives. To smile as you laugh
on the phone. To communicate with looks
and gestures. You could start reading those books
I've wanted you to read. I'm only half

serious. We both know there'll be a time
when all is neither said nor done. But now
isn't one of those times. The nearest thou
at hand, my nearest and dearest, I am

happy to save all I have to say for
some other day. I know it must be hard
living with someone who fosters each word
as if life depended on it. But your

being here, with me, is more than enough
for now. Let's take our time. Don't say a word.
There is nothing more that needs to be said.
And that's all we've ever wanted from life.


Your dress dissolved. A viscous black
vista smeared behind the mountains
threatened us as unusual pains
ripped your belly. I rub your back 

in a queue outside a port-a-loo,
knees clamped into a vicelike clinch,
a squirming toddler as you inch
towards the lavatory where you

and I relieve ourselves. We walk
back in December rain. It seems
less poetical.from 4am
until the next morning we talk

about our new realities
as bodies sway to Drum n' Bass
fuelled on illicit substances
you haven't taken. I know this

means more than anything you'd say.
48 hours in Takeka.
Great music. We sleep in my car   
on hot blue vinyl. And come what may.  


Today's your birthday, and so now it's time
to estimate your not unnatural lack
of height by cutting notches into the door
frame with a kitchen knife. Just look at you!
My father, a tall man with heavy hands
and heart, measured my height in the same way,
except he owned his home and quarter acre.
We never will. We rent this house, and when
we leave we'll leave behind the evidence
of how much you have grown. Our bond will pay
for what we've done, the damage that we caused
will be fixed-up before the next tenants
move in.  A photo album cannot show
what's relative, and it seems you've grown much more
than I'd expected, several inches, perhaps
a foot. So much can happen in a day,
a week, a month, a year. Too often I
simply aren't there to see these changes take place.
Your mum and I are still good friends. The trick
is not to say too much, to let the poem
speak for itself. This has been done before,
when Snodgrass wrote about divorce, the loss
that he had suffered as an absentee
father. He utilised complex rhyme schemes
to explicate his pain. I've used blank verse,
the best that I can offer at this stage -
I find it hard to manage my transitions.
A little house on Grassmere Street was where
you learnt to say goodbye. The blade-scored lines
carved into wood will be erased, so all
that I can do is dedicate this craft
of verse to you, hoping I can trust it to
record with grace and skill what's taken place
somewhere, indelibly incised and true. 


behind my eyelids
is her hair
threads of her

across the water
the sun turns blind
against the sky
beyond the sea

I am the colour
of her eyes
behind my eyelids
is her hair

I am now a thread
of words
she is moonlight in
the river mouth

I am sunlight pebbled
in her hair
she threads my eye
across the water

beyond the sea
against the sky
a thread of words


Up at 5:30 for a feed,
with 2 or 3 hours of sleep
to satiate a childish need
for Goat's Milk Formula. I keep 

watch, burp them and see the sun rise
for the 3rd week in succession.
Nursing a hangover, my eyes
adjust to reality. This twin  

seems satisfied. For now at least,
the morning after Waitangi
Day floods back. I light-up. Our lease
has expired. Not for the first time, I

will hunt for an alternative
with an extra bedroom, maybe
a study for me - somewhere to live
in peace. After my 1st coffee,

it's time to sterilize bottles
and teats. Opaque plastic reflects  
my face. It's feeding-time: puke spills
onto my lap. I dream about sex

if I'm able to get some sleep,
still up at 12:30 to read
and write, 2 or 3 hours I keep
to satiate a childish need.


He whom we lost will not be found
unless we hear a voice so heavy
with woe our backs would break. Its sound
established His presence - but have we

turned out to be so deaf and blind
our duplicitous contrivance
of occasion empties the mind
of His sacrament of silence,

so we only notice symptoms
or traces of absence, but not
the yawning wound itself? His ransom
remains unpaid, His blood a blot

on the lines of our copybook.
Which is His voice? If we listen
without prejudice, if we look
devoid of bias, perhaps then

the kidnapped victim of our love
will raise His voice a little louder,
and, if allowed, will stoop and move
the rock we rolled back, help us shoulder

the burden of necessity.
His freedom's not cheap. Costly grace
is our reward - it's the price He
demands from us to see His face

in a favourable light. Harrowed
in hell at our expense, we wait
for Him to come - perhaps we know,
in the end, He'll carry our weight. 


Let's enjoy ourselves, because when you wake
I'll be gone. An animal, I watch you sleep.
You make funny noises like baby birds make

when they're hungry. I think you said to me
you just weren't happy anymore with him,
you wanted to live in a house by the sea,

you needed a change. I've been here before,
with someone like you. Perhaps it was you -
I cannot be sure. I open the door

and close it behind me. It's cold. I take
a piss against a tree. I hear seagulls cry,
far from the sea.  They'll be gone when you wake.


My girlfriend, drying her red-hennaed curls
with my daughter's electric hairdryer,
smiles while thinking I think of those girls
who'd usurped function to make love to her.
I can't help but wonder if she'd prefer

the empathetic self-acknowledgement
that similitude of sex engenders.
A sensitive guy, I know women are meant
for more than procreation. It's not perverse
to love somebody. And she's not adverse

to loving me. But sometimes variety
can leave you trapped within a double-bind.
I know she is, though it's even worse for me -
approximate a perfect man in mind
and body; no guarantee should she find

the perfect woman with whom she would be
able to identify without pretence.
I've read that very few people are Kinsey
zeros or sixes. And you've twice the chance
on weekend nights when straddling the fence.

I'd better keep an eye on her. Unaware
of my girlfriend's odd relationships
when I met her, I could just sit and stare
into her eyes for hours: she'd roll her hips
and the room would spin, my name on her lips

as we fell asleep. "What are you thinking
about," she asks me. "Nothing." Sometimes we
knew what without asking. Not this morning.
And then she smiles again. Fuck jealousy:
perhaps she's just thinking that she loves me. 


The Lives of the Saints
provided solace
in difficult times.
As an atheist,

I read the stories
about the martyrs
with a mixture of
admiration and

incredulity -
how could anyone
have sufficient faith
to orientate

themselves towards death,
a death justified
by circumstances
within their control?

such deaths are now a
common occurrence.
Almost everyday

we will hear stories
about pious men
who have sacrificed
their lives for a cause

which to us seems odd.
They are vilified
and praised as heroes
in equal measure.

To whom should I turn
for comfort when life
seems so confusing,
when everything seems

to make no sense? Now
that gross penitence
disgusts me, there is
always poetry

for momentary
peace of mind. I still
have questions for which
I have no answers. I

hope my death will be
exemplary - I
know that heaven's a
fraud, but Hell exists.  


And it will take a very special woman
to marry me. On the Lilac Walk at
the bottom of the garden lived a man
without a wife. I know he had a cat,

a tabby with little white paws, with whom
I was allowed to play. Fruit trees gave shade
to us when the day became hot. His room
overlooked the orchard in which we played.

She will have to love me for who I am.
I'm much older now. And set in my ways.
Still playful - but just a little less trusting.

Last summer we married. Nothing's the same
anymore. We still talk about those days.
I guess you never know what life may bring.