Calling the ex at seventy-nine

He’s in the hospital
in Balclutha

eighty-two now
heart trouble, etc . . .

I’m reasonable,
high blood pressure
now under control
watery eyes when I go out
in the cold
but that’s minor

Who is it he says . . .
Jean . . .
JEAN . . .
Who? Spell it! 
Louder this time . . . J E A N . . .
No! JEAN . . .

Oh! JUNE! JUNE! (delighted)
(Those names from the 1920s! But who is June, I wonder . . .
haven’t heard of that one…)



We talk for a while
as much as is possible,
he asks after the sons, the mokopuna . . .

He tires
says good-bye
but I hear no clicking off.
I hold the phone

Then I hear faintly, the quavery but
melodious voice . . .

My heart is sad and lonely, de da, de da, de daaa . . .

Jean McCormack was born in Auckland in 1925. She is a mother, grandmother, and great grandmother. Her love of literature was instilled by her parents and a good old-fashioned teacher at Takapuna Grammar School. This led to a position in a left-wing co-operative book shop in Auckland where she met Hone Tuwhare.They married in 1949.

In 1965 she attended Auckland Teachers’ College (ATC), and taught in various primary schools for the next 20 or so years. ATC inspired her to write a couple of short stories which were published in the New Zealand Listener. Compiling an extensive family history went on for about ten years of her retirement. She collected many old photos and wrote screeds of remembered stories. One and a half filing cabinets are crammed with collections for  her descendants  and she continually deplores her filing system when she rummages around for this and that.

Much time is spent reading and she has belonged to a book club for about 15 years. She has written only about a dozen poems, and one children’s story.The story was rejected by a publisher. The poems (apart from ‘Sand’ which was published by the Listener), have been copied neatly into a beautiful little book given to her by a friend. This little book is somewhere among all the other things in one of the filing cabinets.

McCormack comments: ‘Over the years, since my divorce in the 1970s, I kept in touch now and again with Hone, and this contribution could perhaps be labelled a “found” poem—found in a phone conversation. I wrote the conversation part down immediately, and then later added to it.’

Poem source details >



ka mate ka ora 6: Hone Tuwhare tribute
New Zealand Poet Laureate’s blog: the Tuwhare special, 4 December 2008