Bernadette Hall

A Letter to Hone Tuwhare

Dear John Upstanding-house,

I’ve just walked into the catch on an open window. After days of rain and floods, the paddocks out here at the beach have turned into lakes, black swans swimming on them, and paradise ducks and shags and gulls and a single lovely grey heron. This small world of ours is unrecognizable, all watery, riverine, shimmery mirrors.

Sorry if the words womble on a bit. My face is cut and sore and my brain is addled but probably no more so than usual.

I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed that visit I had with you all those years ago when I drove down to Kaka Point in the old white Merc with Nicki and Peter and his beautiful black dog, Huia. The way you sneaked food to her under the table. Nicki and I didn’t let on but after a while Peter realised that something was up and he got a bit cross. You explained with some ceremony that you had links with Ngāti Kurī, so that should make everything OK and you couldn’t stop laughing. You were just about to make a trip to Africa and you were very excited about that. All of us should have a seeing-eye dog, don’t you reckon. That way we wouldn’t walk into window catches and any other unexpected obstructions.

And we wouldn’t have cuts and abrasions on our faces as if someone had given us the bash. It’s going to take a bit of explaining.



The Big Coat

for Jan Devereux

So this is how you chose to live a good part of your life,
chatting up Luke Shepherd, the Elizabethan
pamphleteer, a vitriolic anti-Papist.
This is how you learnt to live with difficult men.

You walk beside the harbour in Cyprus or is it Sicily.
Your white dress is caught by a hot gust.
The fishermen whistle.
The sea is sparkling. A caryatid is holding up the roof.
But the gallery is shut so that’s it for Caravaggio’s beauty.

‘Travel with your eyes on history,’ you tell me,
‘with your eyes on history and on beauty.
Travel with your bag on your front and your hands
folded over it. Wear the finest, the most beautiful silk.
Become one of them, the luxurious Milanese.
Buy the big coat, order the taxi. The taxi-man will wait
until you finish your meal then he’ll drive you back to the hotel.’

The Accident

I remember you in your scarlet tights,
a girl-child running your father’s house,
your mother living elsewhere in her short shorts,
her house exotic with the smell of Scotch fillets
and American coffee.

the log rolls out of the fire and there’s screaming
the log and the voice in your arm, the both of them screaming

Bernadette Hall is a nationally recognised award-winning writer, best know for her poetry. Her sixth collection, Settler Dreaming, was short listed for the Tasmania Pacific Poetry Award in 2003. In 2007 she spent six months in Ireland on the Rathcoola Fellowship. The Lustre Jug, published in 2009 was short listed for the 2010 NZ Book Awards and her latest collection of poetry, Life and Customs has just been published. She has also established a strong reputation as an editor and as a writer of essays, short stories and critical reviews. She has taught at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University and was involved in the founding of the Hagley Writers’ Institute in 2008 and tutored on the course for the first three years. She is still very involved as Patron, tutor and mentor of students at the Institute She received the Prime Minister’s Award for poetry in 2015 and was named as a Member of the NZ Order of Merit in the 2017 New Year’s Honours list.