2013 runner up

Dust – Holly Brendling

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A china elephant
Small, delicate
Sat still on the mantle.
A gift from Father.
But why had she kept it?
Mary Lennox was not a child.
She had no time for childish things
Or childish games.
She was to be “quiet
And polite
And well behaved.”
But mostly quiet.
It was strange
Mother had always called her ‘child’
And told her to act as an adult
Was it not?
Perhaps she forgets my name.
How silly she was
To pack a little elephant.
Only a small suitcase she had,
Yet she packs a toy?
What would Mother have said?
The elephant glinted
Shimmered, in the sunlight
The Indian jewels shining.
Mary kept it very clean.
It wasn’t that she cared about it.
She just hated dust,
That’s all.
Holly Brendling
Year 13
Baradene College, Auckland

La Langue Française – Madeleine Ballard

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La Langue Française
I first came across you looking out of the window
smoking pensively in long streamers, full of care.
you were like a photograph of someone, gazing from an apartment,
head wreathed with tiny flowers,
at the mediaeval clock tower striking noon
over the rain-dressed streets, the 1930s cars rolling
serenely on.
I didn’t like you, I confess.
you seemed pretentious, pedantic,
full of self-centred philosophy.
you were constantly giving people roses:
sensuous dark red roses,
like those for a lover.
imagine my surprise
when I found you smiling that day,
sudden subtleties apparent
under your hushed, beautiful face.
you turned to me
and gave me a whole bouquet.
Madeleine Ballard
Year 13
Diocesan School for Girls, Auckland

Just another sketch – Bryony Campbell

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Just another sketch
I’ve written another letter
this time its form traced
on an old newsletter found discarded in the recycling bin.
In charcoal feathered pencil, I hastily sketched an outline
then folded the words into each other,
so that they held each other in with no room for escape. I
squirreled it into my jacket pocket and
zipped it away from
the prying eyes of the world, perhaps
for a rainy day
when the droplets are fat
with memories and dust. I intended to
let it breathe, or see the sun’s rays,
to let it hide forever in the shadows and collect
my ill-timed reminiscences,
but I was tempted by who knows what,
to read it once more. It’s by no means
a magnum opus, shining in clever wit. It’s
just a mere draft, just as this
is a mere draft
that I won’t dare to read or touch
again. I’m not even sure you could call it a letter
– just a collection of thoughts that stumble
and trip over each other; a clutter
of musings and broodings.
A jigsaw puzzle
with pieces missing, and unwanted pieces that
I tell you, though, there really is something
about committing your spilling thoughts to white virgin paper,
to let the blankness soak up your feelings
and make them belong to someone who is
irrevocably distant from plain old
You can blacken the paper with ink
screw it up, tear it to furry pieces,
if you don’t like what you have written,
wring it out like a towel
and empty the burning mind
of distracting thoughts.
Bryony Campbell
Year 12
Wellington East Girls’ College, Wellington

Wintersweet – Didi Hughes

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I pause before the peeling, sagging gate,
the drunkenly leaning picket-fence palings,
some fallen, abandoned to their slow-rotting fate.
Here stands an overgrown thicket. The plants assailing
the fence romp beyond it. Spring will come too late
for the dying, twining vines scrambling up, scaling
the decaying boundary, blurring all that would show: this was once a garden.
Tangled thorn-branches snatch
at my hair as I duck beneath a bloomless rose.
I wade through waist-deep weeds. Spiked teasels catch
at my skirt.
Few prim plants in shaggy borders grow,
where Queen Anne’s lace and fennel riot. Dead weeds thatch
the cracked plastic gutter of a slumped, wooden shed.
One half of it fallen; the other half crumbling, and bent
with the strain of supporting itself.
Every thing is dead.
But wait. A cold gust of wind flings a scent,
fresh, sweet, and lemony, as if Spring crept ahead
to strew Winter with fragrance. The heady perfume dents
the leaden mood of death. I start forward to trace
the silk scarf of scent past the wild mass of tangled
shrubs and tares. There, looking not out of place,
is a wizened bush, boughs all twisted and mangled.
But amber buds cupped with a childish grace
are held in brown sepal-hands. A few faded leaves dangle.
Sweet fragrance and memories slowly drift back.
Here, where weeds run rampant and picket fences sag,
lived an old kuia. Loose clothes hung off her like flour-sacks.
Her fingers were gnarled twigs, her face a crumpled paper bag.
But kindness carved a moko through its creases and cracks.
She would sit on her porch at dawn, puffing her fag,
keeping an eye on the valley, and us, her neighbour-friends.
When dusk dropped its curtain down on our dell,
her lights would gleam out at the winding road’s end,
and a dark-frightened girl would feel comforted, all was well.
Year by year, we children would wander up to the bend
where her house stood, wafting its warming smells.
Like lengthening shadows in the noonday sun,
the childish figures grew older – tall, and strong.
Where I once passed the old woman’s house at a run,
I slowed to a gangly lope…then easily strolled along.
But though time and times would be past and done,
in our minds, ‘Nan’ would always be there. She belonged.
Then she died.
But memories loving in the winter of grief
scent the place – and people – she tended.
A gnarled old bush, in tattered leaf,
had the sweetest fragrance extended.
Didi Hughes
Year 12
Te Aho o te Kura Pounamu – The Correspondence School

Incandescent Essence – Timothy Fraser

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Incandescent Essence
My thoughts are silver herrings, darting.
Sometimes I grab a hold of one,
But they melt
Like quicksilver.
I’ll see a splash,
But I can’t touch
The taste of success not quite on my tongue.
Only smell it,
Tentatively close.
I like to share my thoughts with Robyn Thompson
At 131 Elizabeth Street.
My thoughts are bedrock
On which I can lay foundation
If I read the instructions right…
I draw inspiration surreptitiously
From my subconscious.
Because I was sleeping, but it was awake.
“I’ve been spun to…”
The incredible cupboard of consciousness
In which my thoughts reside,
Sometimes gets left open when Timothy waltzes away with an idea.
It will never result in anything because
Thoughts are ephemeral aurora and unreliable compasses,
They are marshlights not to be trusted.
C’est vrai, ils sont chimérique.
They wander far and wide, seeking someone to listen,
And are easily lost in the depths of the pools from which they came.
Timothy Fraser
Year 12
Hutt International Boys’ School, Upper Hutt

A China Robin – Philippa McMenamin

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A China Robin
You’re dust spluttered into the night sky shaken free of stars
One of those nights where the sky feels sort of closer than usual
As if you could swallow it, or bathe in it, or just swim within its depths
You’re the girl I see in the mirror
The one with the face cracked all the way down as if carved of china doll fragments
You’re way up there with the greats
You’re better than them all
You’ve hooked your ribs within those of
The sullen boy whose ruby eyes bled into his soul
Somehow I see you reflected in the stormy pavement
And the cinderblock sky
In the words that I can’t say
And my shouts which fall to whispers
You’re like a tree which falls in an emptied forest
You’re like a tear that soaks into your pillow at night
You’re the kind of person whose petals feel exactly like thorns
You’ve plucked away at your angel wings
You hanged yourself with your halo
On the shoulder where angels often graze, I see only another devil
You’re someone I choose to think about
Because the pain of you is like huffing paint
Because even though you’re a relic
And you’ve nested deep within my skull
Speaking only in migraines
You’ve curved mountains in my shoulders
Knitted a knot within my spine
I’m huffing air
And breathing paint
I’m certain that you’re the sunlight which illuminates those sad sparkly granules of dust
I hope that wherever you are, you are somewhere
I hope that heaven isn’t dirt in the ground
I hope heaven heals wounds you can’t lick clean yourself
And I hope that you shake hands with Athena
Strong and wise like you
I’m sure that you painted the last pink sky I saw
Because I know I saw that dress you used to wear in it
You’re up there with the greats
But none as great as you
Philippa McMenamin
Year 12
Villa Maria College, Christchurch

No one ever tells us – Isabelle McNeur

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No one ever tells us

until i hit twelve,
the muddle of new, yet-to-be-explored tension when the seating plan got announced
the flitting not-glances as everyone held their towel up too tight in the changing rooms
the dry-mouthed wrestling in gym class, christmas cards with rows of kisses
girls being walked home and guys doing the walking, both looking anywhere but each other –
i thought that you could only fall into one of two categories.
i had been taught from birth by every movie, every book I pretended to turn up my nose at
but started going through it when their backs were turned, not knowing what i was searching
for –
to daydream about white veils and a wedding garter hidden daintily out of the way
and, of course, the groom, forever smiling, maybe tearing up at the end of the aisle.
it has been rubbed into me, however well-intentioned, by giggled sleepover conversations,
by my parents, by people in the street who don’t try very hard not to smirk
at my friend from the boys’ school up the street who keeps brushing my palm with his.
(it’s not until years later that i realize that yes, i did want the overly clammy wrap of his hand, but
that particular clutch at the back of my throat was for the friend who had been on the other side
of me: oblivious, ruby-lipped, and straining the shirt I had let her borrow when we had shared a
changing room together an hour before.)
i sometimes think about shearing my hair off, pulling on hoodies instead of sloping dresses
maybe get a metal stud: tongue, nose, a row of silver cuffs along my eyebrow,
let my pants bag around my hips, stop wearing lipstick
to see if people will stop asking me why i don’t ‘look the part’.
pick one or the other, they say,
and god knows i used to, but now i’ve watched the lines blur, and not the ones i ever expected:
shame-faced boys pull their belts achingly tight so they don’t droop and reveal the rim of lace.
not facing the mirror, girls hurriedly bind their chests before their shift changes.
they shower in the dark, stumbling and skidding, because if the light was on
they couldn’t get to a towel fast enough without getting smacked with their reflection.
and they would rather risk a bashed-open head on the wet sink than turn on the light
and see their body locked up in front of them, aching and wrong.
(some people falter before going into public bathrooms. there has never just been one or the other.)
it has been ground into me: pick one.
either the hard, jagged lines of the shoulders and the bolt of the jaw,
the lovely protruding of the adam’s apple,
the grate of stubble, the gangled elbows, the blunt fingers, all angles and edges.
or the waterfall of collarbones crested above the swell of her breasts
that strain her shirt perfectly, the tangent of curved hips,
the flash of thigh above the skirt, charcoal smudges of mascara,
the uninterrupted flow of her throat.
(they both have the soft sweep of their eyelashes on their cheek. the lift of their shirts when they
reach for something. the burst on the end of their laughs. and tongues always feel the same in
my mouth, whether they’re ringed by stubble or lips smeared with artificial red.)
one or the other or you’re greedy, or a liar, or a sinner, or all of the above.
an impatient mother of a whining child with fistfuls of two types of candy at the checkout,
and her fingers will leave marks on your wrist that you will rub over later:
five raised lines reminding you that you cannot have both.
Isabelle McNeur
Year 12
Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti, Christchurch

Oceanic Romeo and Juliet – Abigail Mossman

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Oceanic Romeo and Juliet
Waterfaerie, beautifish, why did it have to be like this?
Future, present, forgotten past, moonlight flickers in no shape cast
At eventide he’d close his eyes, the dreams that came were endless
Beneath the seas and oceanskies, scales gleamed, she swam so careless
Who’d have thought, that just in sport, two lives could be changed at will?
They’d hunt on mutual territory, and meet, before the dawn would spill
Oceanlegend, watersong, above the twisted kelp so long
A tale that would come to pass, a tragedy across the sea like glass
He’d set off whilst still dark, into the sea he’d cast his nets
She was swimming with a whaleshark, not quite knowing what to expect
Two adolescents upon their way, before the dawn and break of day
With fates entwined, they’d yet to find, the trouble they’d cause and pay
Hunter, fisherman, mortal man, who’d journeyed from grass and trees, dry land
Exotic splendour with ocean heart, fate’s true happenings were yet to start
He’d lain to rest, not minding his nets, that would tug, resist and pull
She’d glimpsed a truly curious sight, one she just had to see in full
So up she swam, unseen nets that ran, two paths sure to collide
So sudden he’d wake, not sure what bade, but feeling so wrong inside
Earthen land, ocean sea, having caught what should be free
Taken, captured, caught, entwined, scales began to lose their shine
He checked his nets and in his chest his heart was beating fast
Deadly wounds, the pain that bloomed, sure each moment was her last
In his arms he finally found her, kissed her brow and gently held her
She closed her eyes, the stars grew dull, the sun began to rise…
Abigail Mossman
Year 12
Te Aho o te Kura Pounamu – The Correspondence School

Hurt – Ruby Solly

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when I sounded the notes of hurt
and watched the hammer play its nails through the skin
I imagined falling
falling past every stained glass window
of every church
as the thinning souls inside
let my falling body
reflect in their eyes
without sounding a single harmonic
upon their heartstrings
we need to stop
so I can kiss you on the church steps
while the people inside look at the patron saints
of the sins I commit without thinking
I will string a line between the two tallest trees in town
and let the holed clothes that lie closest to my skin
air themselves in the dark that nobody sees but me
and when the wind shakes them from the top down
I will laugh to myself
at how they look like the flags that my grandmother hung
at times of celebration
so thick with revelry
that we could have cut it with a knife
Ruby Solly
Year 13
Western Heights High School, Rotorua