Helen Lowe won the Robbie Burns poetry prize (Previously Unpublished category) in 2003 and has since been successful in a number of poetry competitions, most recently as a finalist in the biennial Takahe competition (for The Wayfarer) and taking first (Argos) and second (This is My Heart) place in the A2O (Australia) poetry competition. Helen has also been broadcast on National Radio and published by the NZ Listener, Takahe, the NZ Electronic Poetry Centre, A Fine Line, Yellow Moon (Australia) and Carve (USA) literary journals, the Christchurch Press and Waikato Times newspapers. She has been anthologised in tiny gaps and Home (New Zealand), and the Best of Carve 2005 (USA), and currently produces a monthly poetry feature for Women on Air, Plains 96.9 FM (Christchurch). Her first novel is scheduled for publication by Knopf, a division of Random House (USA), in October 2008.
Todd said there were no ghosts, but Cissy was not so sure. When she was small, her father had carried her up to the old house on his shoulders, with Todd stamping alongside, determined to make his own way. She, elevated, always saw the red roof first, rising above tall grass that rippled along the curve of the hill. There were palings missing from the fence, spaces for a small girl to creep through, and hollyhocks nodding over the gate. Dad said his Great-Gran had planted them – had brought the seeds from France, wrapped in oilskin cloth, and nurtured rosebushes through months at sea, only to find the new land already a British colony when she arrived.
Cécile Lamartin had stayed in Akaroa anyway, planting her garden, and now she too lay in earth, a short walk from the old house. Five generations later, Todd had reversed her journey, and gone to live in France.
"He should have taken kowhai," Cissy murmured, staring out over hill and harbour, "and cabbage tree, to colonise the ancestral soil."
The wind stirred the grass, shook in the hollyhocks like laughter. "Cécile?" she asked, on a half breath, but only silence answered.
Perhaps Todd was right, and this world was too new: there was no history, no possibility of phantoms here. But Cissy was not so sure.
Cordyline on a windswept pointstark
each frond stabbing
sharp as a taiaha's blade
defying the elements
facing down the ocean – that vast expanse
conquered first by Kiwa
the far voyaging salt encrusted
sculpted by endless distance
always lookingever longing for land
lying over the next line of horizon –
the darker smudge of blue
lifting to green above the deep swell
the first sightingeyes shaded
of that solitary tree piercing sky
above a coastal headlandmarking
the moment of transition
the place between.
Ti, Maori name for the NZ 'cabbage tree'; scientific name Cordyline Australis
Tiaha, A Maori stabbing spear, used now in ceremonies of greeting and challenge
Kiwa, The Maori name for the Pacific ocean is Te Moananui a Kiwa, 'the great ocean of Kiwa', a mythic voyager