Reading the runes

A score of pictures I’ve gone through, only
one I keep—a blue raincoat, black
stockings, a daffodil held against your side
in an English wood that is pure cinema

spring, the boles of oaks like the hides
of things there aren’t names for, the reach
of splayed twigs towards a sun that’s scarcely
there, the ground’s scurf of leaves

curled where they fell, months back.
Wind is a word from another country,
not the wood’s we walk. And the thin
buttery flower loose in your hand,

laid along your thigh. A photo that says
‘Hope doesn’t pay off, don’t hope’; says
‘No looking past the camera, towards
what’s next.’ I prop for a day

the unexpected picture against a lamp,
as if something indeed ignited from the season’s
turn, a trail suddenly vivid, quite
out of time; a stir when least expected,

as though the daffodil proves itself, what-
ever else; a fragment we’d better
call beauty, because nothing else
will say it, beauty like that, a blue

coat, a girl shy even at twenty,
a flare held down like a dousing
torch that shivers the wood, signals
at silence where nothing’s yet undone.

Vincent O'Sullivan was born in Auckland in 1937 and is one of New Zealand’s leading writers. He graduated from the universities of Auckland and Oxford and has lectured in the English departments of Victoria University of Wellington and the University of Waikato.

He is the author of two novels – Let the River Stand, which won the 1994 Montana NZ Book Awards, and Believers to the Bright Coast, which was short-listed for the 2001 Tasmania Pacific Region Prize – and many plays and collections of short stories and poems. His poetry collection Seeing You Asked (Victoria University Press, 1998) won Best Book of Poetry at the 1999 Montana NZ Book Awards, the same year that Believers to the Bright Coast was runner up for the Deutz Medal for Fiction. His 2001 collection of poetry Lucky Table (Victoria University Press) was short-listed in the poetry section of the 2001 Montana NZ Book Awards. Nice Morning for it, Adam was published to acclaim in 2004.

He has a well-earned reputation as a thoughtful and incisive editor and critic and was joint editor of the five-volume Letters of Katherine Mansfield, and has edited a number of major anthologies. He has recently published a biography of John Mulgan called Long Journey to the Border.

He lives in Carterton in the Wairarapa.

Poem source details >



New Zealand Book Council writer file
Victoria University Press author page