Guest Poet Olivia McCassey

Olivia McCassey

Guest Poet  Olivia McCassey


Olivia Macassey’s poems have previously appeared in Takahē, Landfall, Poetry New Zealand, and other publications. Her second book, The Burnt Hotel, was published in 2015 by Titus. She currently edits brief, and lives in Northland. Her website is


Olivia McCassey


Imaginary Postcards



“And because the longing we feel for a place determines it as much as does its outward image, I shall say something about these postcards. And yet – was what they awakened in me longing?”

– Walter Benjamin, ‘Berlin chronicle’, 1932


“I sent you two imaginary postcards. One was of a train…”

– You, personal communication to me, early 21st century




(Vostok Station, Antarctica, December 1963)

There is our childhood of course –
our childhoods. In
one photograph you hold a small bird, the others
cluster round you in close constellation. Our long walk
down to the abandoned house, those days
that went on all day. Grass in the sun.
I have never heard your voice except in dreams.
There are the roughnesses of those years when you were
wild somehow, refusing to break; picture me
hiding under the table during incandescent nights,
timid with love. There are nights I spent under tables,
lying on floors, sliding headlong down wooden stairs,


later there are nights of looking for you in bars, there
are unfeeling dawns on cold
city fire-escapes watching stars leave the sky
There is the frozen lake. Always that, and if

(Lyttleton Harbour, New Zealand, beginning of the 21st century)



They will finish this expedition, or they will not. Disagreements

on method. All these frantic missives, the conference papers,

scientific entreaties – it was naïve to believe that

discovery itself would be enough. And yet…   and yet.


I no longer care to know what they will find.
These two post-cards; blank – imagine flowers filled with snow.


Knowing where you are and wondering where you are:
caught in two versions of the same word, in
sentences I didn’t want to finish


There was only one

letter, to which you never replied. It makes
no difference; nothing could. The cold
sky itself grows apart from


us, gathering light. You caught some for her once

in a carefully folded box, giving me only

the space it described, the way I would put photographs
in books for you to encounter, and then lose them.
There is a flight of migrating geese, dark against the sky
in which I no longer find you.




(Lake Vostok, January 2012)


And now there is our happiness. Our happinesses. A glimpse

of you through glass
laughing with your daughter in a windswept garden,
or your new wife, by a field. These images drift over us
like mirrors:

a flickering old film of a woman near
bare trees, a man moving through the quiet dacha in which
his family have not yet woken; I am glad of these things.
We are both now too old for applause, our histories
all stars and stamping feet, half-diffident in
darkening streets, transient in the derelict
architectures of the heart.


Separately   we
move   towards tablecloths, towards grace:
three apples in a bowl which
glow     in a certain light, moving foliage, a hand
brushing a cheek, these prosaic wonders
and a stranger’s beloved face.


Our nights are days.
There is the lake,
my lost and ever-present one,
the lake always frozen              and never.






A sparse room, very light,

not far from Kálvin tér.

Your helpless face,



Alone in that city I felt its

beauty like a bruise,

and leaving on the

train my heart moved

painfully with the train.


Song of Solomon Street



I have compared thee, O my love, to

a company of horses in Pharaoh’s chariots,


and sailboats moving on the sea with the speed of toys.


Of all the cars crouched in rush hour solitude yours is finest;

your skin glistens through the window, the hairs on your wrist

glint around your watch to gladden my heart.

Behold, thou art Art.


Behold, my man is beautiful; we drink beer outside

when he gets home. The beams of our house are

freshly painted; swallows dart beneath,

brisk for early mosquitoes.


I seek him whom my soul loveth: I seek

you, but I find you not. When you work late my

heart cries out over aerials and satellite

dishes; dinner is in the microwave,

love turns slowly round in the yellow light.


The others to me are nothing, are last year’s leaves

fallen from the magnolia in the yard:

and see how green I am.


Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth:

the soft light underside of my breast,

my heels firm in the small of his back.


see tears of joy burn my face, for my love is

headier than wine, sweeter than toast and marmalade,

peanut butter and honey: I have

compared thee.


Girls girls girls


Café, dairy, café…     café, café, bar

and everyone who looks at us

is thinking-how-pretty-we-are.


Walk along stalk along your hat your bag your shoes

Your hands your knees your sunglasses!


And who’s

that man trying to lick your tattoo? What’s

a nice girl like you doing

in a place like was your father a thief did he steal the stars

and so on and so forth, the adulation the hours we spent in

pool halls and cafés and bars bars bars.


A twist of lime and ankle straps, and broken hearts on ice


and everyone who looks at us is thinking how lovely your face;

I’m not a nice girl as if a nice girl

would ever be in this place! But

oh my god the fun we had when we were doing wrong.

My beer, your vodka lemonades

and the music plays, and you walk through

smoke through the crowded room and

everyone who is anyone is

looking at you –


And I remember we were dancing

but I don’t remember dancing.


Café, dress-shop, café, restaurant hotel bar

when everyone who looked at us was



Crawl along stumble on, your hat your bag your shoes;


the bruises on your neck and thighs   your pretty-flower crying eyes

fishnets corsets petticoats and gloves and scarves and winter coats;

lace and lace-ups, leaves and fires, cherry cakes, and little liars.


I swim through strangers in crowded rooms, through

dreams and mirrors looking for you

and everyone who looks at me is thinking how lonely my face.


And every night I’d find you by the time they played our song


and I remember

we were dancing


but I can’t remember dancing,

I don’t remember the dancing.




Write the sea in your heart, write the rain.
Only that. Words are a poor habit. Let

the wind slide under your ribs let the rain,
for no one will love you the way
you write to be loved,

and your name only a name – but the green
edge of a wave made knifish by light

or some hurtful winter clarity in the water:
a bright sheet of sky against the horizon as if
breathing, as if the air itself
is your own self, waiting. Only there.

And know how your heart is the green deep sea,
dark and clear and untame,

and its chambers are salt and the beating
of waves, and the waves breaking,
and the waves.