Tracey Peterson

Aloneness Has A Taste

In the way kitchens
and conversations go together
he said do you turn together after sex
or away?

Looking back
this was the beginning
of their absence
and wilderness

They straddled a fine line
while serpents rose
from the dust

Wanting cake
and eating her too
hardly something to immortalise
in a poem

Aloneness has a taste
Not one to savour
Its sound, the hollowness
of her laughter

Tracey graduated from Hagley Writers’ in 2015 with distinction. She has been published by London Grip (2015, 2016, 2017), The Christchurch Press (2015), in “We” Society Poetry Anthology (2015), in Leaving The Red Zone (2016), and was longlisted in the National Flash Fiction Competition 2016.

Stephanie Grieve

Tomorrow, Wendy

In this house of stone, the windows are open.
She waits in half consciousness
composing moonlight
the toss of possibility
the turn of the past.

Night air on her cheek
a final push to leave their bed
just the smallest leap
and it is done.

Out, across the rooftops
she is dashing white water
in a swollen river, her own protagonist
at last, the freedom of telling:
escape or abandonment
chimney sweep, pixie or reindeer.

Arriving at an opposite house
there’s a fire in the grille
an apple tree in the yard
guilt, and sugary desire.

The choice is already made
The bridges no longer exist.

Time passes, asterisks on a page
and in the next chapter
ordinary ornaments appear
a toilet brush and a rubbish bin
the creeping threat of routine.

Circumstances change, the candles
are lit less often.

The season is shifting again
like the weight of consequence
and suddenly there it is
Autumn coming ‘round
that vague flavour of dissatisfaction.

In the cool night
the ache of indecision
either side of midnight
and windows, always windows.

Stephanie is based in Christchurch and was an inaugural member of the Hagley Writers’ School. She finds time to write occasionally in the space between her day jobs as a lawyer and mother of three. She has had poems published in various journals and publications.

Jenna Heller

Tornado

Behind the bar, she washes mugs while outside the sky churns.

Clouds tumble and wrestle and a long woolly spindle rolls like a wave then turns on point, reaches down and plucks the roof right off a grocery store. Two smaller spindles embrace like lovers clasped together for one urgent night, sucking and pulling at hundred-year-old trees, ripping at glass and paper. All of it takes flight, circling, spinning, a murmuring of debris, swirling in freeform. Then large stones of ice empty from the heavens. The sky a chaotic blur.

People spill off the streets, slip through the doors, seek refuge and hope in the comfort of strangers and walls of timber. Children whimper while their parents stand in fearful silence. Some drink like they’d never drink again – shot after shot followed by beer after beer. To keep warm, they say. Settle the nerves, they add.

And then it all stops. The clouds relax and thin and sun pours from a hole in the sky. The children return to smiles before everyone leaves just as quickly as they arrived, rushing back through the doors like a dam tripped opened.

She stays behind, invents a drink, a swirling tonic to calm the nerves. Calls it a tornado, but no one wants that. Not now. Not today.

Jenna Heller completed the Hagley Writers’ Institute in 2010. Her writing can be found in Takahē, Popshot, *82 Review, and Headland. She is currently completing a final edit on a novel that got its start during her time at Hagley.

Fiona Farrell

Extract from section 51, Decline and Fall on Savage Street

… this house, with its ridiculous turret, its inglenook and aging roof and nighttime creakings, delighted her. It was scuffed and layered. When they stripped away the wallpaper in a back bedroom it was to find four different kinds of paper, a pale blue floral over ochre stripes over a pattern of green acanthus, and at the bottom, against the sarking, a layer of newspaper dating from 1910 with pictures of women wearing long skirts and enormous hats. It reminded her of a book she’d read as a child, about a little house that was built upon a hill where it could see the sun and the moon and stars. And steadily, season by season, the world about it changes, from horses and buggies to cars and the city edges nearer until the little house is engulfed by tall buildings blocking out the sun and the moon and stars. It becomes sad and derelict. And then a woman comes by and buys the little house and moves it on a truck far out into the country where it can see the sky once more and is happy. She’d loved that book, with its illustrations of trees in all seasons and the house whose windows were eyes and whose front door was its nose. She’d loved the idea of the building living through change.

And now here she was, living in just such a house, a place that had seen many people come and go, perched on a rise above the river. She loved it for itself. She did not want to restore it to some notion of authenticity, with flowery Edwardian friezes and lumbering antiques. She did not want to retain the off-white good taste of its previous owners. She wanted to play, fill its ample shell with colour, dress it up, a garish old lady with wonky lipstick. There was room for that here. For silliness. For happiness.

So they drink their pinot as the house settles into the dark. It is late, after midnight, when Rob reaches out and touches her hand, the way he does. It’s the familiar question to which she feels the familiar response, the bubbling excitement, and they are kissing, they are fumbling on the retro sofa and she is a little drunk, her head somehow not quite attached to the rest of her body which is tumbling somehow or other onto the mat in front of the fake fire and both of them are laughing, but quietly. Tom is staying with his friend VJ somewhere in town, but Poppy could blunder in on them at any time, in flight from some dream, so half-undressed they stumble across the hallway to their bedroom and shut the door. The curtains have been taken down and the windows left wide open to let out the smell of undercoat. The carpet is covered in drop sheets and there are ladders and trestles. It does not look like their bedroom at all. It is strange.

Strangeness has always done it for them. Hotel rooms, for example, where in hushed anonymity, several floors above a city street filled with cars driven by people they did not know, to places they did not know, it was as if they too became strangers. Rob became the man in the fantasies they sometimes murmured to one another, the man she has just met at a party, or on a beach: the one who picks her out among the crowd, the one whose shadow falls across her as she lies sunbathing naked among the sandhills. That’s the man she meets in the hotel room, not Rob who wonders if he should get back into surfing, get another job, lose a few kilos, slams in from work, rumpled and fed up, dragging off his shoes without undoing the laces, kicking them into the corner, saying, ‘God, I’m buggered. Bloody commissioners. I need a drink.’ Rooting in the cupboard above the fridge where they kept the whisky.

Not that man. On the hotel bed’s 500 thread white linen, he is a stranger, someone she picked up ten minutes earlier in the lobby downstairs.

And now, in their bedroom, their bed waits, and it too is strange, though they have made love on it on average three times a week for fifteen years allowing for interruptions following the birth of each child when she had sat in the dark, feeding, Rob passed out from exhaustion, managing somehow to sleep through the crying. She had leaned against the headboard as first Tom and then Poppy had sucked mightily, while her own body clenched the way it had previously done only at the point of orgasm. And with that clenching came such a surge of love: not the ordinary soppy Valentines card love, but an all-pervading, fierce attachment to this little creature whose steady slurping relieved the pressure that had built within her breasts. Then there was the time of the wakeful toddler clambering between them at odd hours, squirming into the nest and resisting all attempts at eviction until one of them, usually Rob , gave up and left the child in full possession, chattering away at 2am, while the adult squeezed into a vacated bed among the stuffed toys.

But that time passed. Now the children sleep alone behind doors firmly closed with signs warning off intruders and two or three times a week through the tangle of jobs and deadlines and assignments and meetings they find their way back to one another. Sometimes a brief coupling before sleep, sometimes a more elaborate business of strangers on a beach or the fiddle of the black lacy outfit Rob had brought back from a trip to Sydney, with suspenders, for gods sake. It slid over stretch marks and cellulite and the scar where Poppy had been cut from her in haste, the ring of masked faces looking down at her as she lay, high as a kite on Pethedine. The lacy outfit slid over it all and Rob ’s hand moved up and under and they were off again.

Tonight they navigate their way over the drop sheets between ladder and trestle to the bed that has been dragged from its customary place by the wall which had once housed a fireplace, long since gibbed over, out into the centre. No time nor need for fiddle, just kissing, unzipping, undoing and falling together onto this strange new bed, and fondling and sucking and her with him between her legs and he with her between his and the rhythm builds, harder, faster and the taste of salt on her lip where she has bitten down hard to stop the oh oh oh, (mustn’t waken Poppy in her room down the hall) and his face strange and inward above her and then the groan, the explosion of little lights behind her eyes, the release.

And later, parted now, each sinking on their own side of the bed to sleep, he murmurs, ‘Thank you.’ As if she has given him a present. It amuses her, these good manners after they’ve been writhing round one another, under and over, and here they are, all drying sweat and semen and general stickiness, yet from somewhere, deep in some past training of ‘Say ‘Please’!’ Say ‘Excuse me’!’ Say ‘May I get down from the table’?’ rises this muttered ‘Thank you.’

‘Thank you,’ he says, from a long way off, on his way down the steep slope into sleep. Snuffling at the pillow the way he does in the seconds before oblivion, its soft bulk clearly some primal substitute for the ample breast of his faintly terrifying mother, Ruth, who must once have sat and fed and fiercely loved, though now she exists as dotty doyenne of the Ambleside Retirement complex on Edgeware Road. ‘Thank you,’ as he passes out.

What is he thanking her for? The writhing? When you have been doing something, anything, three times a week for fifteen years, you know how to rate the experience. There is Unsatisfactory. Not Achieved, for those times when they have been too tired, too distracted, too irritable from some earlier argument. There is Satisfactory. Achieved. A little predictable, but pleasant enough. And there is Excellence, for those occasions when everything feels exactly, intuitively right and it has felt like flying, like lifting off.

And tonight? Achieved. Verging on Excellence.

Or is he thanking her for something more general? For their shared life, for the pregnancies, and the children and putting up with his mother, and listening to him moan about the council, for being his friend, his mate? Is he thanking her for being happy to spend Friday night painting a bedroom? Or is the source of gratitude a bit of all that?

‘You’re welcome,’ she says, as she rolls over, drifts out into oblivion. ‘And thank you to you, too.’

For all that. The solid structure of their lives.

52. The River

Something happens.

She has stopped eating. She no longer snaps at smaller fish and errant ducklings, their tiny legs furiously paddling overhead.

Her guts have shrunk. Her body has become an empty cavity.

Something is about to happen.

Fiona Farrell is one of New Zealand’s leading writers, receiving critical acclaim across a variety of genres. Uniquely she has been a finalist in all three categories at the NZ Book Awards, for fiction, non-fiction and poetry.
Her first novel, The Skinny Louie Book won the 1993 New Zealand Book Award for fiction. Since then, other novels have been shortlisted for the Awards with four also nominated for the International Dublin IMPAC Award. Farrell’s short fiction has appeared in the company of Alice Munro and Hanif Kureishi in two volumes of Heinemann’s Best Short Stories (ed. Gordon and Hughes), while her poems feature in major anthologies including The Oxford Book of New Zealand Poetry and Bloodaxe’s best-selling Being Alive. Her play Chook Chook is one of Playmarket New Zealand’s most frequently requested scripts. Since 2011, she has published three non-fiction titles relating to the Christchurch earthquakes: The Broken Book, The Quake Year and in 2015, The Villa at the Edge of the Empire, the factual half of a two-volume work examining the rebuilding of a city through the twinned lenses of non-fiction and fiction. The accompanying novel, ‘Decline and Fall on Savage Street‘ was published in August 2017.
She has held residencies in France (1995 Katherine Mansfield Fellowship to Menton) and Ireland (2006 Rathcoola Residency). Fiona was the 2011 Robert Burns Fellow at the University of Otago. In 2007 Fiona Farrell received the New Zealand Prime Minister’s Award for Fiction, in 2012 she was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for ‘services to literature’ in the Queen’s Birthday and Diamond Jubilee Honours List 2012, and in 2013 Fiona was awarded the Michael King Writers Fellowship.
Fiona tutored at the Hagley Writers’ Institute in the inaugural year and has supervised students over the years.

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.

arohanui,

Bernie

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.

Phoebe Wright

See us

See us roll down the burnt hill, a thousand bright balls like an ad for microbead skin cleanser, coming at you in a tsunami of fruit-burst colour. The circus freaks will emerge from their disguised truck when we reach the action, with their stilts, their pogo sticks, their flaming juggling clubs. The contortionists have been told not to contort. It may be interpreted as demonic. We zorbers are the unskilled, non-agile masses. The late-teen enthusiasts, the burnt-out activists with a death wish, the aging hippies chanting their mantras. I brace against the pink plastic sides of the inner ball and I am somersaulting – sky! Rubble! Sky! Rubble! Sky! – as the AK47s chatter closer and closer.

Of course, there was a girl. A girl with piercings in her nose and fire in her eyes, who sat at the front of the Political Science lecture on humanitarian intervention, who said, Of course it’s problematic if you use violence. What if you didn’t use violence? Who said, What if some people cared enough to get killed? A girl who dabbled in circo-arts, and could hula on stilts. There was the internet rallying cry, the pledges and waivers, the tearful parents. But always, up ahead with a backpack, chatting to a muscled contortionist or a bespectacled and passionate law student, there was the girl. Who may or may not have been right. Who may or may not look up from her hoops at the cascade of zorbs, and wonder which is mine.

I’m no circus freak, no human rights lawyer, no soldier, just a drop-out in a plastic ball, which may be pierced by bullets as I reincarnate from man to statistic. But in this moment, in our tumbling fluorescent hope, before we see their faces and their guns, see us.

Phoebe Wright is a writer and English teacher based alternately in Christchurch and in Gulu, Northern Uganda. She has enjoyed taking part in the Hagley Writers’ Course this year, working on both poetry and a novel.

Frankie McMillan

the existential crab colony of Kyushu Bay

previously published in JAAM

so frugal we sleep on sand
under an upturned dinghy

my lover clasps me tight
for thirty days and nights

I dream of shipwrecks, the light-
house keeper who feeds me

gastropods, morsels of seaweed
until my belly begins to swell

and I’m back in the house market
for something larger. meanwhile

the paddle crabs play music
how can I explain this to myself?

I see them scoop salty water
blow through their gill chambers

such a riot it gets
the hermits out of hiding

this is the nature of serendipity
I follow their grey scuttle

their Japanese bustle and go
as they check out the vacancies

of mollusc and carapace. such
longing to find a place to call home

to say this is mine to the edge of my shell
and over there stranger is you

my lover says we are all renters –
none of us know the landlord

Alan Bennett striding over the shore

previously published in JAAM

Maybe it’s a short cut to somewhere
and if he keeps walking

out of the photograph and into my room
we’ll have a laugh

about our terrible mothers – their warnings
about what was coming to you,

their cheerfulness at the rude disasters
of the world, the train wrecks, the ghosts

of the tsunami leaving a wet patch
on the kitchen chair, you should

always carry a penny, a cracker
in your handbag in case you tumble

down the stairs. I imagine he’s walking
to get away from the trickiness

of language. A stiff sea breeze to carry
away any stray vowels

so I won’t ask him in. Let the mothers float,
their arms splayed to the sky,

let him find the rhythm of his own sure feet.

Frankie McMillan is a poet and short story writer and a tutor at the Hagley Writers’ Institute. She is the author of The Bag Lady’s Picnic and other stories and two poetry collections, Dressing for the Cannibals and There are no horses in heaven. In 2009 she won first prize in the New Zealand Poetry Society International Poetry Competition. In both 2013 and 2015 she was the winner of the New Zealand Flash Fiction Award. Frankie McMillan was awarded the Creative New Zealand Todd New Writers’ Bursary in 2005 and held the Ursula Bethell residency at the University of Canterbury in 2014. Her latest book, My Mother and the Hungarians and other small fictions (CUP) was published in August 2016 and was been long listed for the 2017 Ockham Book Awards. She has recently spent 6 months in residence at the Michael King Centre in Auckland.

Christina Stachurski

Extract from Love Babe

Church bells begin ringing out the three-quarters of an hour sound. Lights up stage right (SR), indicating midday on a street in Verona, Italy. JULIET HULME enters (13 years old in 1952), wearing a frock and sunglasses, and carrying a camera, guidebook and little rucksack. She stops, looks around, consults a map in her guidebook, walks SR in front of the SR table, does a 90 degree turn and heads downstage, checks the map again, walks across the front of the stage – as the lighting comes up there, turns and fixes on the SL table and runs towards it.

JULIET H Oh, this is it!

JULIET H strikes a dramatic pose

JULIET H “O Romeo, Romeo!

JULIET CAPULET – as the ghost of herself with a horribly pale face and lots of blood from her fatal stab wound staining the front of her nightdress – glides on to her balcony) behind JULIET H.

JULIET H carrying straight on    – wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse / thy name …”
JULIET C Forswear! I get so sick of hearing that paltry crap

JULIET H jumps and looks around. She is gob-smacked to see JULIET C and waves her hand in front of her eyes, as if to brush the illusion away, but it won’t go. JULIET C is surprised that JULIET H can see her, and pulls a face to check the reaction. JULIET H takes a few steps back before her curiosity moves her forward again.

JULIET H Are you …are you Juliet?

JULIET C rolls her eyes.

JULIET H I’m Juliet too, Juliet Hulme.
JULIET C Really? You won’t believe how many silly little Juliets turn up here, wanting to have their photo taken under my balcony.

JULIET H hides her camera behind her back.

JULIET C Then there’s the busloads after busloads of tourists and hundreds of thousands of lovers. As for the shrieks of joy from women who’ve just been proposed to – I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep for 564 years.
JULIET H Don’t you get tired?
JULIET C I’m supposed to be tired and miserable.
JULIET H But you’re Juliet, the famous, greatest girl lover. Everyone wants to be you.
JULIET C There wasn’t much being about it.
JULIET H I beg your pardon?
JULIET C Romeo and I died almost before we began. Should never have listened to the Friar – God won’t forgive me for killing myself in the name of Love instead of trusting Him. That’s why he stuck me on this Hell of a balcony with non-stop bloody tourists forever. I’d throw myself over the edge, if I wasn’t dead already.

A couple of beats

JULIET H Would you like some chocolate? It always cheers Mummy up when she’s down in the dumps.
JULIET C Chock – ?

JULIET H gets the chocolate out of her rucksack and shows JULIET C.

JULIET C Oh I know – the tourists stuff their faces with it while the guides drone on. No one’s ever offered me any before. Mind you, no one’s ever seen me before. Why you?
JULIET H Shrugs    Shall I bring it up?
JULIET C If you desire –    indicating   there’s a staircase behind.

JULIET H steps up on the table via a chair. She sits down on the edge of the table to take the wrapper off and break up the chocolate. JULIET C sits next to her. They eat chocolate during the next bit – JULIET C scoffing lots – talking with their mouths full.

JULIET C You’re English – what are you doing in Verona?
JULIET H We’re on holiday on the way to live in New Zealand.
JULIET C New Ze – ?
JULIET H Zealand. Daddy’s got a new job at a university there.
JULIET C Oh. About the chocolate You’re right – I feel better already.
JULIET H That’s something. It must be ghastly having no hope. Are you really doomed forever?
JULIET C Yes. Well … oh, God gave me one chance for redemption, but that’s impossible.
JULIET H A chance?
JULIET C God said that I can go back to life and try again for a place in heaven if … Tch    She waves her hand in dismissal
JULIET H What?
JULIET C If I can save one human life. And how am I going to do that – a ghost on a balcony. No-one’s even been up here since I died – except for you. Sigh You don’t want to end up like me. Very seriously Juliet, even if you’re really really desperate, promise that you’ll think things through.
JULIET H Mmmm.
JULIET C Urgently    Promise?
JULIET H Absently    Promise.
JULIET C Very urgently    Really?
JULIET H Seriously    Cross my heart and hope to die.

The church bell rings twice, ie two o’clock. JULIET C jumps up.

JULIET C The caretaker‘ll be back from siesta any minute – better leave or you’ll be in trouble.

JULIET H scrambles to her feet, kisses JULIET C, runs down the steps and out into the courtyard. They wave. JULIET H walks away, back the way she came.

JULIET C Calling    Oh, Juliet.
JULIET H Yes.
JULIET C Would you bring me more chocolate before you leave town?

JULIET H nods.

JULIET C Lots and lots.    To herself    – enough for eternity.

JULIET H nods, waves, walks away, and exits as the lights fade to blackout.

An award winning playwright and theatre director, Christina has been involved in theatre from an early age, also as an actor, stage manager and designer, and producer of outdoor Shakespeare for the Christchurch City Council’s SummerTimes (1993/4). Her M.A. is in New Zealand drama and her doctorate in New Zealand fiction focuses upon issues of ethnic identity. She has been a visiting lecturer at the Christchurch College of Education, and taught creative writing for Continuing Education, the School for Young Writers and the Books & Beyond Festival. Christina has also acted a guest poetry editor for Takahe, one-act play festival adjudicator and judge of the secondary schools’ Peter Smart Poetry Competition. She very much enjoyed her time as Writer in Residence at Hagley College in 2006. At present, she teaches Modern Drama and Creative Writing at the University of Canterbury. She has been a tutor and supervisor at the Hagley Writers’ Institute since 2009.