By Jillian Sullivan

These five poems from a New Zealander essay writer and poet whose vision of nature and the world are intimately intelligent and prescient. But read carefully because «we are what the shamans warned against»

We are so vulnerable here.
Our time on earth a time of
how to keep warm and how to be
fed and how to quell our most
anxious thoughts which come back
and back to connection.
How do we stay here on this earth
which is right below our feet?
Soil, clay, substrates of rock,
magma, lava, water, oil, gas;
the things we want to bring up and use,
the things we want to use up.
If all we ever wanted was to know
we would be warm and fed and listened to,
would we be kinder?
Would we in turn listen? Would we understand
the importance of those close to us
and the importance of what is under us?
We have the far sight. And we are what
the shamans warned against.

Not stardust that
absorbs us but the gulping
wealth of others, so much we
pose our feet, a photograph on planks,
servants ourselves
to their stories. The millions
unearthly in their scale. Above,
skylight upon skylight. I think there never was
some place where all was fair, no fear.
Always these edifices
to the profane-ness of other.
Still, our eyes howl. We imagine
safe crossing that allows us
ease, how fairer we would be.
Our turns around
the satined, empty rooms, before
returning to some simpler space,
that early evening light upon the elm.
A crow flying straight. We tell ourselves
our stories count as well,
we counter the horizon with feathers
held, a stone in hand. Now rain
dissolves the hills, and all sky
finds us here. We waken
to the fragrance of our lives.

Rhubarb pie
In the woods you sometimes halt before
a skunk so white in moonlight you forgive
the possibility of danger,
 and raspberries grow beside the path where,
even if there’s fresh bear print,
the air is warm and sweet with fruit.
For the rhubarb pie we added tapioca,
flavoured the cream with rum that was your grandfather’s
before he passed over.
The rhubarb about the only food
 in this year’s summer garden
on account of him dying in the wood
 like your grandmother warned:
 If you don’t shape up, Don,
you’re going to die alone.
Cinnamon in the butter-fried
 oats, ginger essence
in the cream,
his grandson’s face ebony
and smooth in lamplight,
his little sister a tease
round the handmade cherry table,
blue chair, high chair, green,
and rag rug cushion covers your Grandma
stitched when the barn still stood
and the fields grew tasselled corn
and your grandfather still dreamed.
The first time I shaved a man
razor and cream,
‘attending minutely’
to raspy contours of lip and chin,
his limbs arranged by me in warm water,
He asked How are you liking your job?
I said It’s great.
I’ve seen the submerged legs of frail patients –
smooth, golden, waxy;
the subterranean skin of those
who no longer stir.
Today, trout trapped
in muddy water after a failed weir.
I held a net in freezing swirl,
their speckled bodies
rose and tumbled.
They, too, gasp and trust
our hands. It comes to this:
some of us
must hold the net,
while some swim deeper.

 Supper with a poet
Tonight, in your kitchen, making tea
the concert programme playing
Beethoven’s Seventh, Monty asleep,
his orange magnificence on a chair,
the only other sounds your fingers
on the keys, and the fire
sputtering at the willow we risked
to heave from a tangle high
in an ancient twist,
I am struck again by sadness
that began when the young man
explained to me at the Tyre Centre
the un-repairability of my tyre.
The loneliness of not being able to back
 a trailer straight, for being the one
who ran over the nailed beam,
the loneliness of that,
which is just a timid grief,
and outside, the wind rages in the night,
though its warm, and the stars
unexpectedly bright.
In a minute I’ll turn with our cups of tea,
come into the light of your room
still filled with a poignancy
of loss that stands on shoulders of sterner
deeper woes, and speaks for them
in ways I can’t say why. 


Jillian Sullivan lives in the Ida Valley in Central Otago, New Zealand. Her twelve published books include creative non-fiction, novels, memoir, short story collections and poetry. She teaches fiction and creative non-fiction in New Zealand and America. Once the drummer in a women’s indie pop band, her passion is natural building and earth plastering. Her latest book is the memoir A Way Home, Potton and Burton, 2016.  

More of her work can be found on