and I have something to expiate

after D H Lawrence



a marbled dog
a           lone
stone     d


           comes to my back-door
early one evening under dark
sits wooden by the wall
seeks my hospitality

shards of shot shatter anything that moves
barks like a sniper’s rifle
a a a ah ahhhhhhhhhh
sniper    dog
            snake dog



            the snake god growls
and the voice of my education whispers
the front page news of weeks
            I should call someone
            I should
a fissure opens in my side
reason oozes — heart to heart
lost dog
a            lone
shivers shakes
cold marbled dog
scare  d
wooden hurt a            flee


Little Red daughter
drives up to the back gate
in little red car
screams—wolf !
sniper dog
a a a ah ahhhhhhhhhh
Little Red makes it through the door


danger danger
ranger ranger
a pound for your thoughts
and a chance of escape
one piece two piece
bit pull  pull  pull 
bit by bit 
limb by limb
            heart to heart


huntsman woodcutter
whistles croons
here fella            come here boy

a a a ah ahhhhhhhhhh
trickery dickery
god dog not fooled


marble dog
tears at the silence
and the woodcutter in his covered wagon
scalps yelps


the woodcutter drives away
marbled dog howling 
into his blackness

rings later
says the bastard was mad
and we finished him off


how paltry, how vulgar
I tell him the real bastard’s left holding the collar



scratch marks 
three parallel lines
two sets
half circles
cut deep into the hardwood at my back door
like a language

girl dog 
soft bellied pelt dog 
rump to my wall dog 
she’d sat 
no name dog 
a            lone            d 
                      go go go gone   d 

and I must confess how I liked her


Jessica Le Bas has had poetry published in most major New Zealand literary journals, including LandfallSport and Poetry NZ. She has won the New Zealand Poetry Society’s International Poetry Competition (2003), and in 2005 she was winner in the Bravado International Poetry Competition. In 2004 Le Bas was short-listed for the Landfall Essay Competition, with “Visitors”, an essay about working for the United Nations in the former Yugoslavia during the Balkan war. Radio New Zealand later broadcast this essay in three episodes. In 2007 Le Bas was short-listed for the New Zealand Book Month’s Six Pack2, and the Sunday Star Times Short Story Competition.

In 2007 Auckland University Press published her first collection of poetry, incognito.

Le Bas is the recipient of a grant from the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand, and is currently working on her second poetry collection, which deals with depression in adolescents. She lives in Nelson.

‘and I have something to expiate’ won the New Zealand Poetry Society’s International Poetry Competition in 2003, judged by Keri Hulme, and their anthology that year took the title, something to expiate.

Radio New Zealand commissioned a reading of the poem, as part of its Summer Drama Season in 2004.

The poem appears in Le Bas’ first collection of poetry, incognito, Auckland University Press, 2007.

Le Bas comments: ‘This poem was written after an episode where a stray pit-bull dog wandered into our backyard. This was about the time that a young child had been attacked by a dog in Auckland, and the potential danger it posed was heightened in my mind. The dog was young, and beautiful. She decided to guard my back door, and took to being very aggressive, and scared.

My neighbours had two little children playing outside at the time, which necessitated we ring the pound in the end. The events that followed left me angry, and sad for the dog. We discovered later that she had come up from the West Coast, on the back of a ute. The owners had stopped down the road, and the dog had hopped off, for a pee perhaps, and got lost.

Late one night, a month or so later, I got up and wrote the poem, in bed, in a very small notebook. Later I could hear DH Lawrence’s poem “Snake” there, for no particular reason, but considered the common undercurrents worth keeping, and a subconscious pull on his rhythms – and even some lines – and of course the empathy with killing something we rather admired, too. It is strange what undercurrents surface late at night. I had not read Lawrence in years.

I’ve since revisited the first drafts, to see if I could find the process that dictated the poem’s structure, but nothing was preconceived. Strong emotion, a series of events, and my listening for the sounds, is what drove the writing—perhaps too, my need for atonement, of sorts. Little re-working took place.’

Poem source details >



Auckland University Press: incognito
Trout 14
New Zealand Electronic Text Centre: online work
Oban 06