Jenna Heller


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.

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.

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.

Justine de Spa

survivor’s lament

there are bones in the throats of my words
there are hands at the throat of the bones in the words
of my keening song

there are strings held by hands
there are hooks on the strings
which the hands reel in
reel me in reel me in
rip my throat
rip my words
take my keening song

they’re a man’s
all these hands
at my throat
all these bones in my words
it’s his hook on the string
reels me in reels me in
hear my keening song

feel the nails of his hands
feel the barb of the bone
feel the gaff in my gut
feel the cleave in my cleft
then tossed on the deck
with my keening song

I lie on the deck with my keening song

I lie long on the deck with my keening song

I spit to be here and he gone

they’re my legs
I can stand
they’re my words
never choke on a man
feel the nerve in my verve
I can sing I can sing
sing my keening song

Maternal Instinct

Maria’s new flatmates were always doing it. Certainly every night but often after work as well. Such joie de vivre rather irritated her. She would shut her studio door and abandon nudes for still life.

In the evening she could not avoid it. The bedrooms were next door. Maria would be reading when they’d begin. She wouldn’t picture the act itself, she couldn’t, but she pictured the climax as she had painted it once,- a woman in shining white holding her arms open to a wide blue sky. The soundtrack next door didn’t fit. She would frown at the wall and listen until it was quiet again. Then the house could sleep and Maria would dream.

Usually the dream was about babies.

The babies were lovely but the fathers were a pain. In one dream the father (balding, sweaty, nylon suit) arrived shortly after the birth, looked at the baby, a girl, and declared to all, “The infant shall be named after myself, Howard”. The nurses scrambled to fill in the forms as Howard senior stood there beaming and grew larger and when Maria looked over at the baby again it had grown a ZZ Top beard and handlebar moustache.

She had read that when a baby is trying to come to earth its spirit form will come to the mother in her dreams. Well, they were queuing up for Maria.

…And Kelvin and Lisa always threw their condoms in the rubbish bin in the kitchen. Sure they sort of covered them up with another bit of rubbish but it seemed a strange thing to do. People usually flushed them down the toilet didn’t they? It wasn’t the kind of thing you could ask your new flatmates about. Still, it was funny for her, making toast in the morning and it seemed as if a perfectly good baby was there, knotted up in a condom behind her. She imagined their little muted cries and heard them call her name. She was quite tender with the rubbish as she tied the tops of the bags down.

Sperm. Lisa obviously didn’t want it and Kelvin could do very little with it again. It wasn’t a bad idea.

Maria went to the chemist and bought herself a plastic needleless syringe.

Ejaculation. Insemination. Conception. Gestation. Birth.

Maria bit her nails. She paced. She poked into the rubbish bin with a pencil and kept a journal of frequency of sheathed ejaculations but she didn’t write that on the cover.

She felt she knew Kelvin better when she started handling the condoms, first with gloves on, then without, and then came the day when she snipped the top off one with the kitchen scissors.

After all she was going to have to practise getting it inside the syringe.

She discovered that Monday to Friday mornings there were on average eight and a half condoms in the rubbish bin. They were cold. There were usually two on Saturday mornings, one from Friday evening before they went out and one from Saturday morning itself, deposited into the bin after they showered and before they breakfasted and went off to tennis. That one was always warm.

She got friendlier with Kelvin over meals. What did his parents do? Did he have brothers and sisters and what were they like? Was there a history of spina bifida or mental illness in the family?

Kelvin and Lisa meanwhile had decided to get married and since they’d been together so long they thought they wouldn’t bother about an engagement. They set the date for six weeks time. It was to be a garden wedding. Maria was invited. She had been a really friendly and interested flatmate they said.

Lisa became clucky and wifely. She was always on the phone arranging things and subscribed to Bride and Parenting. She handmade invitations sampled fabrics. She asked Maria’s opinion of tiaras.

Ask the queen, Maria thought.

And we’re going to start a family straight away, Lisa told her one breakfast and kindly patted her on the back as Maria choked on her eggs.

They strolled off to tennis. It was a Saturday.

Justine de Spa is an artist and writer based in Christchurch. She completed two years at the Hagley Writers’ School and was awarded the Margaret Mahy Prize for her Folio work. She enjoys reading her poetry aloud with the Canterbury Poets Collective.

Brindi Joy

Play ball

I counted out the nickels and dimes into the bus driver’s palm. The same nickels and dimes I’d squirreled away in the coffee can until I saved enough for me, Junior and Adam to ride the bus to Seattle for a baseball game. Mariners vs. Dodgers. Junior insisted on caretaking our tickets and when the bus dropped us off, Junior flashed the tickets at the Kingdome’s ticket keeper who waved us on with half a glance. “It’s like a pilgrimage,” I said to my boys as we passed through the gate and we were all of a sudden inside the Kingdome with bodies that bumped and shouted and pulled and laughed and balanced Cokes and Cracker Jacks and hot dogs with sauerkraut and mustard. I was glad I’d packed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Cut on the diagonal. Nothing but the best for my two little men.

“Hey batter, batter. Play ball!” Junior and Adam chanted and launched into the crowd before I’d even had time to absorb the new surroundings. “Boys!” I called, stumbling after them and we were all three taken up into the tide of bodies and carried along the tunnel-like space that circled inside the stadium. At least I could see above those heads when I stood on tiptoe but what were Junior and Adam thinking as legs and stomachs and butts of all shapes and descriptions pressed them and carried them along? “C’mon, boys,” I yelled, following behind, “keep together with me!” All the while I kept one arm clutched around my paper bag of PB&J, near squashing them to death, and the other arm out and trying to grab hold of my boys who clung to each other and not to me. It reminded me of the time Hunt took me to the ocean and the undertow dragged me helpless beneath a wave, my eyes wide and watching the green churn draw me out to sea. But unlike that time, I didn’t have Hunt’s powerful arm to reach in and pluck us out.

Don’t let me lose them. Please, please don’t let me lose them.

I’ve always believed in miracles. It was a miracle when, after all those bodies and ours squeezed into a stairwell that smelled of days old piss and popcorn, we found ourselves together in sudden light with the baseball field gleaming bottle green below and at our seats in the third row of the upper deck—three red seats amidst the ballpark’s tens of thousands filling with housewives and office workers, janitors and truck drivers, yuppies and teachers, children towed behind and they were all hunkering down as comfortably as possible for the next few hours.

I need space.

I collapsed into the molded plastic and staked my claim on that one square foot.

“Hey batter, batter! Play ball!” Junior and Adam chanted again, this time with their heads bent to each other so they were near cheek to cheek, thumbing through their stack of baseball cards worn soft and pulpy.

I relaxed my grip on the bag of sandwiches and tucked it under the seat. Dried pop made the concrete sticky.

“Three strikes and you’re out!” Junior said.

“Keep your eyes on the ball!” Adam answered.

“Foul ball!”

“Home run!”

I listened to them. Waited until my breath and heart went back to normal and said, “Knock, knock.” I’d been saving up a joke as jealously as I’d been saving up coins to take my boys to the game. I turned, looked to them. “Heya, knock, knock Junior and Adam.”

Junior pulled the brim of his baseball hat down over his eyes. It wasn’t one of those pricy hats with the Seattle Mariners logo across the front. It was a secondhand one from the thrift store. Solid navy for Junior and yellow for Adam. At least they were Mariners colors.

“You’re supposed to answer, ‘who’s there?’” I said, already chuckling at the punch line. Doug. Chuckle. Doug-out is where the baseball players sit! “Knock, knock.”

“Nobody’s home,” they answered as if they’d been practicing.

Life’s a game with winners and losers.

“Hot dogs! Get your hot dogs!” a vendor hawked, stalking the steps with his box of hot dogs and passing a few down the rows. I turned away from my boys who smacked their lips and panted like wolves and I thought about what our neighbor Patti said when she saw us off at the bus stop. What she said after she promised to keep one eye to our house and if Hunt happened home that day of all days she’d tell him we’d bussed to the Kingdome but, not to worry, we’d be back in time for supper. “That is, Nadine,” Patti said to me, pulling on one of her looks so I knew she was about to warn me against some sin or other, “if those boys of yours have an appetite for supper at all and don’t stuff themselves sick with hotdogs.”

I reached under the seat, let my fingers find the brown paper bag. Wrinkled and creased but still there.

“Ladies and gentlemen, you are invited to stand…” a man’s voice announced over the loud speakers, amplified and booming and sounding a lot like God. The stadium rustled, stood, right hands and hats clasped over hearts. As I pushed up out of my seat I caught my breath with a sudden premonition that something wonderful was about to happen. I had the same feeling when my boys were born because I’d been waiting and praying for them for so long. Never mind how starting in the second trimester I felt like I was going to give birth by ripping in two because of the way those two battled inside me, my belly contorting to their kicks and punches. But once they came into this world, Junior first and Adam second with a broken arm, those two were so happy with each other it was almost like they didn’t need me at all.

“Cotton candy! Get your cotton—“and the vendor broke off as a solitary figure walked onto the field.

Ballpark sounds and ballpark smells forgotten and all eyes turned to a child in a white dress that looked whiter than white against the AstroTurf. Passing through the players who had stationed themselves on the field with hands over hearts, she looked very small from my distance. But I saw her as if in great detail. I watched white patent shoes as they took step after step across the infield, into the baseball diamond and up onto the pitcher’s mound where, in a short while, the pitcher would throw the game’s first ball toward home plate. I watched as she reached for the microphone and I noted the fine smocking on her dress. The satin ribbon in her hair. The dark lashes rimming dark eyes that seemed to acknowledge me.

“Oh!” I said. But to myself. I didn’t trouble Junior and Adam. They didn’t like girls.

She began to sing.

And it was the most beautiful singing I’ve heard my entire life. Oh.

My eyes turned Heavenward, almost seeing beyond the Kingdome’s domed roof that kept out Seattle’s constant rains. Since I was a kid I only troubled God for one thing—kids of my own. But in that moment this other inclination hit me.

Give me a voice to sing like that.

An angel. She sang like an angel or like armies of hallelujahing angels. Her song didn’t start with a timid whisper. No, not this girl’s. That tiny body filled her lungs full with that one song, those perfect words coming to life through music. Oh say! can you see…?

I felt my face changing. I smiled like I’d smiled at Hunt when he pulled me out of the ocean and I believed all the promises of the future would come true. I smiled like I’d smiled at Junior and Adam when the nurse brought them to me after they were washed and bundled and hungry, one in each arm and Hunt named Junior and I named Adam. I smiled at this girl who could have been my own child. And what if she had been? She would have taught me to sing like her and to fill the cracks of my life with singing.

A voice. A voice.

I started to sing too. With all my heart traveling up to my voice box and passing through my lips and into the air. All the hope in the world was mine and it was wrapped up like a present in that one small child. And I sang to her. It was like the finest dream where my voice grew wings.

Singing dreams are better than flying dreams.

Dear Lord, from now on I’ll only ever trouble you for this one thing.

And I sang and sang and turned and looked behind and all around the grandstand at the faces of people who waved hand lettered signs and foam fingers and flags. They were all singing too. The whole stadium full. All our voices one voice.

I wondered what Hunt would think of that.

A hand tugged at my shirt. Once. Quickly. An economical tug.

I sang toward my boys. They were staring at me, the same look coming from two people. They hadn’t taken their hats off in respect. Had I told them they needed to?

“Mo-om,” Junior whined. He grimaced and all of a sudden I heard my voice for what it was.

A mighty, toneless croak. I frowned.

Adam picked his nose. I imagined my boys out in the front yard, throwing and catching and batting the baseball, and me at the kitchen window sidelines, “Thatta boys!” and “Whoopsie daisy.” They ran, dove, leapt harder and higher for the ball, miming a greatness they’d never achieve.

“Lady, you want a hot dog?” The vendor looked right at me after the song’s last note chimed somewhere in the roof tiles. After the girl had disappeared back through the sidelines and the players began to form up in some kind of order and some settled down in the dugout. Hey batter, batter. After I’d listened to the weight of forty thousand bodies sigh back into forty thousand seats, plastic creaking. Play ball. After someone squealed. Did I want a hot dog? I thought about those squashed PB&Js beneath my seat. And Patti. How boys need good solid food for growing. Three strikes and you’re out. My coin purse jingled with enough money for three hot dogs.

Or the bus fare home.

Brindi Joy is a graduate of the Hagley Writers’ Institute and took home the Year 2 Margaret Mahy Award for Best Portfolio in 2013. Her fiction and non-fiction has been published nationally and internationally. She lives in Christchurch.