"Looking forward to seeing you, old friends": Sam Hunt in 1979, with poets Alistair Te Ariki Campbell (died 2009), Jan Kemp, and Hone Tuwhare (died 2008).

New verse on death and the next life by two great New Zealand writers

An email to the unknown, by Sam Hunt

I enjoyed it on Earth

but am looking forward

to seeing you, old friends.

You won’t have aged a wrinkle,

I’ll be the one on crutches.

Let’s keep the hugs gentle . . .

When I get off the phone

I ask aloud to an empty room,

what’s this I’m listening to?

All I hear is the rain

reminding me how to fall –

gently, with no bruises.

Mary, by CK Stead

The first time I saw her

three children, seven grandchildren and how many cats


she was 20, a student in a bathing suit, hosed

on the front lawn by her mother.

We were buying the house next door, number 37.

The last time she was old, naked on her bathroom floor

mumbling, unconscious.  She may have been there two days.

Death took a further four.  There were no ‘last words’.

They were a Trinity, Mother, Daughter and Roy

the Holy Ghost.  I carried Roy to the ambulance

for his last ride.  Zoe lived on,

played golf and bridge, died in an Old Folks Home

and not a thing at number 39

was changed – the interiors for ever Zoe’s,

the garden Roy’s.  Was Mary their resentful prisoner

or just a loyal daughter?

Travelling we always sent her a postcard

of a new exotic corner.  She kept them all,

also my glowing reference supporting

her application for her first job.

When she retired she was H.O.D Art

at the same college.

Mary always seemed too tough for tears:

those who’d loved her were with her – Zoe whose yellow car

she kept in running order, Roy whose lawns she mowed

and flower beds she replanted.

When we talked it was about the weather

and what was happening in Tohunga Crescent;

her decades teaching seemed to have floated away.

She walked the Bonnys’ dog, had drinks with them,

went to a gymn, had Christmas with her cousins.

In her chest of drawers were found

new dresses still shop-wrapped, ‘outfits’ never worn –

it seemed she’d liked shopping.  Sometimes

she borrowed a book from us.  There was one she liked

by Jim MacNeish about Oxford and spies.

I promised I would tell her more about Mulgan…

All those years of the world behaving badly –

how much of it touched her?

And yet she’s there still,

the stylish, busy, never subdued Mary

who borrowed my garden tools

and tended (cheerfully) to shout

in conversation.

The silent house next door is full of her,

full of her absence.


It was not the Ides of March;

the virgin Mary lacked significance

without a Son.  Where was the turbulence,

the black sky torn across?

She was in her box but hadn’t she been there always

elusive, undeclared?  A neighbour poet

(not this one) had written her

a kindly dirge.  So we went through the motions

and out the door, and she into the fire.

Days later swimming with my friend Geoff

at Kohi we met a young whale at the yellow buoy.

It circled us, listening to our talk

and followed us inshore. 

Geoff stroked its flank.  It was a visitation,

Nature giving us a call

on the right side of silence:

alpha, omega, a poem, and Mary forgetting.

Sam Hunt remains the finest lyric poet in New Zealand. He was born in 1946.

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