13 April 2006


A cold wind in the late afternoon, blowing pale sunlight over paddocks stripped of ripened crops. Stubble, ploughed earth, shorn pasture. A field of black and white bulls. An empty paddock where a horse the colour of the faded daylight moon stands, enduring the wind.

I drove home through light drained of its power to warm—it slipped over surfaces, unable to sink in, bounced off buildings and tree trunks and leaves; shadows everywhere. Later, pain behind my right eye, and rain on the iron roof after dark.


morning sun
through last night’s rain
a yellowhammer


The sun’s just rolled below the western skyline, leaving light the colour of a duck’s egg and the clouds, changing moment by moment, shift through grades of orange and grey and white. The textures are astonishing—here a wild ruffle like a surfer’s sun dried hair; there a scatter of confetti; elsewhere a patterned sheet like muscle beneath skin, a mackerel sky; close to the horizon, long, lenticular clouds as smooth as the cheek of a woman, as a closed eyelid and everything within. One of those curved clouds looks like the profile of a sawfish—that strange creature we used to see sporadically on the wonderful Attenborough narrated natural history documentaries before pay-to-see TV drove them to extinction on the free-to-air channels—a kind of devolution where reality replaces what’s real and adrenaline supplants intelligence.

I sound like a grumpy fossil, a disceptatious dinosaur.

Before my eyes, the sawfish cloud thins and disappears; the space it encompassed fills with a brilliant light which has no colour, like the purest form of nothing. Light only; light without colour; light and nothing more. This makes no sense until you see it.


Tonight the phone rang, an event so rare it startled me. I picked it up.

“Pete speaking,” I said.

It was a woman from the blood bank. She sounded tentative, almost apologetic, which I suppose is understandable when you’re asking someone if it’s all right if you drain a pint or so of their blood. I warmed to her immediately. Before I could say, “yes, of course,” she’d begun to list their opening hours and was wondering whether I could manage to come in some time in the next few weeks.

“Yes, of course,” I said, eager to please, eager she should feel good about the call. “I’ll come in tomorrow morning. I have things to do in town, so I’ll be in anyway,” I lied.

I put the phone down, sat back, and listened to the music filling the room. When it ended, I picked a book from the shelves, not quite at random but more or less haphazardly. I opened it.

There, still, we have magic adventures, more wonderful than any I have told you about; but now, when we wake up in the morning, they are gone before we can catch hold of them. How did the last one begin? ‘One day when Pooh was walking the Forest, there were one hundred and seven cows on a gate...’ No, you see, we have lost it. It was the best, I think.

I went to bed and dreamed of things I don't remember.

1. Perhaps the short poem is or is not a haiku, depending on what you believe haiku to be. For me, it's more about quality than form and structure, and the obsession with 5-7-5 syllables is irrelevant. In any case, it's based on the confusion of onji with the western syllable. Cyril Childs, editor of both NZ haiku anthologies summed it up perfectly when he said that focusing on the structure of haiku is like focusing on the cage that surrounds the singing bird. Whatever mine is, I hope it sings for you.
2. Yellowhammer: Emberiza citrinella. Another of those introduced birds no one seems to know or care much about.
3. When I donated today, I asked, and was told they take 470 ml. So, for the pedantic, it's only about 3/4 of a pint.
4. The quote, if you haven't already guessed, is from A.A. Milne's The House at Pooh Corner, in the Contradiction.

Photo 1: I pass this shed twice, every time I make a trip into town and back.
Photo 2: Posting photos of me seems pretentious, but I'm getting bored with the other photos and I suspect people are vaguely curious by nature. Whatever.

Photos and words © 2006 Pete McGregor


Tracy Hamon said...

A poem is whatever it wants to be, whatever that may be; I like it as is.

Rexroth's Daughter said...

The light in the shed photo is quite beautiful, and your description of the sky, clouds and shapes conveys so much.

I play with haiku and believe absolutely in quality over form, but tend to go the easy route and play with form rather than trying to say something with actual content. The cage sometimes houses the inadvertent bird.

I did a post the other day about magic, after spotting a bobcat in the yard again. I hadn't thought of the magic of dreams when I was writing about magical thinking. Dreams, the one place where I willingly suspend logic and reality.

KiwiSoupGirl said...

As always - inspired and meditative writing - an absolute pleasure to immerse into, like warm water. Thank you Pete. I hope the needle doesn't bite too hard on that sense of peace you are feeling.

pohanginapete said...

Well said, Tracy. I'd rather write than argue about a tag. Glad you liked it.

Thanks RD. Form does have a function; sometimes constraints can be liberating, as I discovered a few years ago when I tried writing sonnets. BTW, I really enjoyed the bobcat post.

Thanks KSG — it was fine. Just a bit of a prick, really. ;^P

Duncan said...

Looks like another thing we have in common Pete, W & G, cheese, and now Pooh! I have my three 65 year old copies here beside me,frayed, faded blue covers, the odd page torn, in two words, well read. (and still being read from time to time) Doesn't look as if I'll ever grow up!

pohanginapete said...

And long may you fail to grow up, Duncan.

adagio said...

the best of writing wriggles out of being read once. requires re-reading. and re-reading. this qualifies, with bells on.

ps. i'd say you scrub up quite nicely pete.

Mary said...

I'm always curious about people I read .... photos of bloggers are cool! And the photo of the shed is a keeper.

Brenda Schmidt said...

Thought provoking as always, Pete. I've lingered over the part about devolution, something I think and talk a lot about, though not nearly as eloquently.

Dave said...

Yup, that's a haiku.

It doesn't make sense to count syllables in English. Stress-inflections, yes.

yllstonewolf said...

new to your writing - sent this way by other journals i read often. i love the image - the light just painting the hills. look forward to spending some time reading here.

pohanginapete said...

Thanks Adagio; that's a good thought about how some writing wants to be read again. I'm honoured. As for the photo... *coughs. mumbles unintelligibly; shuffles and looks at feet*.

Mary: that'll have to satisfy your curiosity for a while! As for the shed, it's one of those places that just insists on being noticed, not in a pushy kind of way, but because of the way it seems to draw attention to the light. Maybe there's a lesson there.

Brenda: Much of what I write isn't intentionally thought-provoking. At least, I think it's unintentional... But, when it does provoke reflection, it's always a buzz. Thanks.

Dave: Cool! Glad you consider it a haiku. BTW, I really like the elegance of the new Via Negativa site (have updated the link in my sidebar).

yllstonewolf: I drive past that shed so often, but I just couldn't that evening. Good to have you here, and spend whatever time you want reading around ;^) [BTW, apparently I'm a pixie].

Lulu said...

Pete, I agree with Adagio. I apologize in advance for the shuffling and mumbling this may produce -- as well as the overall cheekiness -- but based on your writing and your photos I'd love to set you up with my mom. You appear to match her vision of the ideal specimen. }:D

pohanginapete said...

Ha! Yep, that's cheeky, Lulu. But I have to ask: are you on speaking terms with your mum? And do you want to remain so? ;^P

larry said...

Pete--the shed photo is great. Small fragments of sunlight on landscape create topographic haiku.

As I drove through Moab (Utah) on Friday morning I listened to the two guys who do a local call-in show on the radio that is devoted to selling and buying second-hand merchandise, but the last 15 minutes of the show addressed (with calls from the public) the question of what makes haiku haiku. It's incredibly pleasing to hear literary theory on call-in radio in the American West.

pohanginapete said...

Thanks Larry. Yes indeed; there are certainly some very close parallels between haiku and photos. And, I can imagine your surprise and delight at hearing that literary discussion. As much as I'd like to be loyal, I can't imagine it happening here.