blackmail press 16
Mark Pirie
new zealand
Clouds : an essay

joni mitchell thought
of clouds as if they were
a metaphor for life and love;
sometimes you can’t see
clearly till they’re gone.

in Wellington all the clouds
have been and gone; it’s
another fine day, but yesterday
the clouds took over, breathing
thunder and rain into our lives.

at times I think joni feels what
can’t be explained, why we love,
why we live, and why the clouds
(knowingly) come rolling in,
covering us - and then they’re gone.

The Gift

Thinking back to a party
some ten years ago, and in the bedroom

this guy I knew was dealing ‘cool’
like a shark avoiding the bait

his teeth at the ready. For twenty minutes
he dealt the cards and never

said a word while several others
attempted to beat him. They couldn’t

of course, and after they left
in shock or was it awe, he turned to me

said “I’ll show you a good trick,”
and he did - it was a privilege just to seem him

at work. I said, “Do you ever play
for money?” and he looked at me saying,

“Don’t like to use my gift in that way.”
Then he left the room, staunch,

and joined the party, a girl at
his shoulder.

Lift Poem

They have their fates, whether to rise and fall,
And when their numbers come up, they get out.
- Howard Nemerov, Fictions

Each morning, the people come and go
talking not of Michelangelo.
The people though are well dressed,
Sprightly, always neat. And stressed -
yes, they seem to be. But never mind

this is life and work is life. It’s a bind
they know too well: Keep up the dates,
mark your calendar, lunch with ‘mates’,
put your ‘life’ on the back burner,
forget love, rise to the top, it’s a page turner -

this daily walk to the lift of dreams;
keep getting in, eventually light streams.

Fragments on a Marae
(For Apirana Taylor)

Stepping on to the marae,
I sit by the wharenui,
eyeing up the ancestors –
the tekoteko of madness above me:

Who are you Pakeha?
Why are you here?
Do you come
to challenge?

They eye me, they issue
their wero. I eye
them back. I am unafraid of
history and utu.

There is only aroha left
in this slow-ticking heart.

I look across at Titokowaru,

his carved face, his mana hanging beneath:
von Tempsky’s corpse,

yet, even the Great Warrior himself was
humbled, imprisoned, left in a cell,

until Hine-nui-te-po equalled him finally
inside her terrible womb.

Te Herenga Waka Marae, Wellington


driving through the dark
back to town, past rusted tracks
Dire Straits and Knopfler’s guitar
on ‘Industrial Disease’

the family, all of us
together in the car
we’re ‘going home’
returning from holiday:

beach, sand, sun, new scars,
words, conversations on our minds
some happy, some sad
just the four of us together

older, looking out the window
a friend lighting up
someone yells, someone screams
the wind lets in the night air

we’re journeying back,
the city won’t let us sleep,
on our way back, to more bars
and painting up the town

in the back are laughing girls
picked up from a party we were
just at, drunk, no doubt,
and one has her hand across my lap

the same stretch of road again,
this old highway, tonight
thinking of all the times
I’ve driven this way

all those lovers, families,
friends, people, fighting,
talking, loving, under night
all those words spoken

and all those left unsaid
and thinking too of all those
like me, who’ve driven this way
lost in the dust, this highway…

Mark Pirie was born in Wellington, New Zealand, in 1974. He is the Managing Editor for HeadworX, a small press publisher of poetry/fiction. His poems and critical essays have been widely published in India, New Zealand, Australia, Croatia, the US, Singapore, Canada and the UK. In 1998 University of Otago Press published his anthology of ‘Generation X’ writing, The NeXt Wave. He is an editor of JAAM literary journal (New Zealand), the contributing New Zealand editor for papertiger (Australia) and serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Antipodes (USA). Salt Publishing, Cambridge, England, has recently published his new and selected poems, Gallery: A Selection. His other work includes twelve collections of poems and a book of short fiction.

The poems used here are from his new collection Wellington Fool published in the ESAW mini series, visit the ESAW web site for more information on the series!

Author photo is by John Girdlestone and is after John Cougar Mellencamp's American Fool inside album photo.