Valentine’s Featurette 2024

Poetry and prose from our archive on the theme of love and intimacy, with specially commissioned art by Rebecca Harris.

Selected by Erik Kennedy, Zoë Meager, and Andrew Paul Wood.

Dani Yourukova

Love poem asking you to come to bed with me (as a friend though haha)

I try on all your red dresses
because we have decided to pretend

we are Kate Bush in ‘Wuthering Heights’
my teeth hurt from laughing

and I am performatively furious
that none of them look as good on me as they do on you

red just isn’t my colour
or maybe my judgment is compromised

because I’m half in love with you
(just kidding)

I want to kiss the space above your collarbone
but like, platonically, I guess

I want to talk about our hypothetical future
the chickens that will scratch in our hypothetical garden

your fingers close around my wrist
like parentheses

(oh no)
so I run alongside you like a current

until the other side of 2 am
when your lashes dip below the water line

you climb into my bed
and curl around me like a question mark

I don’t need an answer
to wake up breathing your air

in a yellow parallelogram
of sunlight

Philippa Tucker

The Muster

Your husband does not know how many men you had before him. To be honest, neither do you, not a straight-up number right off the top of your head, but his indifference infuriates you. How can he be so damn sure of himself, the bastard, not to muster even the slightest bit of jealousy in lovers past? So now, before sleep, your husband’s face soft and close to your own, eyelids drawn, you tick them off to yourself one at a time, in order of precedence, recalling their names, where unknown their faces. You trace back in the dark each one, pinpoint the moment. That moment. His smile in the movie theatre, teeth unnaturally white under the projector’s beam, the dust motes caught in lazy somersaults like your stomach. His leg bumping against yours under the table as you scoot closer to let in the friends of friends who arrive unexpected. His arm out to hold the elevator door, waiting, the folder with the draft legislation neat in his hand while you brush past so close your cheek almost touches his shoulder and you have to focus on the little creases in his shirt because you can’t remember how to breathe. His chin upturned above yours while the afternoon sun tumbles across the sheets and gets tangled in his hair. You dipping your head and blushing as he suddenly leans forward to listen with his whole body but you know you have nothing really to say and realize just how much you don’t want to disappoint. His voice carried away by the music while you nod and accept the glass that you forget to drink. His smile. His teeth. His leg against yours. His waiting. Almost. Chin upturned, hair tangled, dipping, blushing, carried away. Accepting. Forgetting. Another drink. Your husband does not know.

Jane Swan

The Making of the Boy

Aunty Martha had got home at 4 am, just as first light was pulling the tab off the sky, the time when he could always think most clearly. He grinned. Job done. 

Now, 10 am and the day fully begun. He yawned. It had been a hard session at The Wayside, young Craig from Stores stag-do. 

Aunty Martha, as the guys at the foundry called him, Jim to Moira and family, slid a hand inside his singlet, scratched his hairy belly and shifted his bulky frame along the wooden porch into a patch of sunlight. He cradled a coffee cup. The warmth flowed into his work-scarred hands, grimy even though he’d scrubbed the bejesus out of them before Moira would let him pass muster. 

‘And none of your crazy stunts with Aunty Wayne,’ she’d said and he had thought how elephants and wives never forget. He’d smiled, stopped to kiss her and daughter Janine who stood with their arms folded leaning on either side of the front door jambs. Like bloody twins a generation apart!

‘Enjoy yourself, love,’ Moira called after him as he ambled out of the gate. He turned and blew her a kiss. 

This morning, seedy was the word. He coughed, his voice hoarse from the piss-up, and the weed. The first taste of Wayne’s recent harvest. Jim wasn’t much of a smoker, but hey, it was a special occasion. The sweet, musty smell of the old mara-de-hoochee still clung to him. Jim’s focus faded in and out. He leant his head against the verandah post. Bloody hell! He was sure he could hear himself snoring. 

‘Hard night, Dad?’ Janine slipped down beside him and nuzzled into her Big Bear. 

‘Sweetie. I’ve had worse.’ He patted her hand. ‘We had to give the young feller a good send-off.’

‘He’s getting married, not going to the gallows,’ the girl said. 

‘Gallows, love?’ Jim sighed. ‘I’d hang for you girls or your mother.’

Janine squeezed his arm. ‘Softie.’

They sat soaking up the sun. Saturday morning and the whole weekend to be unboxed, Jim thought, and here he was talking girly crap. He swigged down the rest of his coffee. 

‘Want another?’ Janine jumped up and held out her hand. 

She was a good ‘un. Make someone a fine wife someday, if there was still such an animal. And his Moira. Yes, no doubt about it, he was one of the lucky ones. 

Jim sat taller. The young feller getting hitched today, eh. Even though the guys at work had tried to put their oars into Craig’s spokes. Filling his head with their disgruntled views of marriage and women ever since they’d heard of the engagement. A couple of times, seeing the panic rising in the boy’s eyes, Aunty Martha had taken him aside and put him straight. Just a word here and there, like. 

But last night had been different. All that bravado and raucousness boiling up in the men as the night rolled on. It was as obvious to Jim as Sargeant Patterson’s siren. His workmates were scared. They were up against something they didn’t understand. A reverse perhaps. He sought the words. The rightness of the thing. 

Fear makes men dangerous and Jim was on high alert. There’d be no shoe polish, razors or duct tape on his watch. 

And there hadn’t been. About now Craig would be hauling himself out of bed, unmolested, squaring up to the mirror and taking a long hard look at himself. Then he’d get on with it. That’s what men did. What Aunty Martha had done twenty-odd years ago and kept doing. 

The sun had moved round again. Jim opened his eyes. Right. Get that coffee down him, then the lawns, though the thought of the racket made him wince. 

If the day stayed fine and Moy was into it, they’d pack a lunch, grab the kids and head to the lake. Then tonight he’d shout them all pizza.. 

All day though, Jim knew, he’d be thinking of the little brown church on the hill above the river and be wishing Craig and Lisa all the best. 

All the very, very best. It’d be the making of the boy.

Rebecca Harris graduated with an MFA in painting at the University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts in 2013 after previously completing a degree in Art and Craft Design at the Christchurch Polytechnic. She has exhibited painting and ceramic sculptural works throughout New Zealand. Her work is included in private collections throughout Aotearoa New Zealand and represented in the Wallace Collection and Paris Family collection. In 2014 she was a recipient of the Ethel Susan Jones Fine Art Travelling Scholarship.

Jane Swan lives in Waikouaiti, Dunedin. Her work appears in Best Small Fictions 2015, Bonsai, Flash Frontier and other online flash fiction magazines. Her short stories have been broadcast on RNZ National. Jane is a Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee. She also writes poetry and nonfiction. 

‘The Making of the Boy’ first appeared in takahē 103 (December 2021).

Philippa Tucker is a Wairarapa-based writer, editor and research assistant. Her writing has been published in Turbine | Kapohau, Blackmail Press, takahē and Flash Frontier, and nominated for Best Microfiction 2023 and Best Small Fictions 2024.

‘The Muster’ first appeared in takahē 106 (December 2022).

Dani Yourukova is ‘a queer Wellington writer with great hair and a bad personality’ who completed their MA at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington. Their work has been published in places like takahē, The Spinoff, Turbine | Kapohau and Poetry Aotearoa Yearbook. Their first book of poems, Transposium, came out in 2023 from Auckland University Press.

‘Love poem asking you to come to bed with me (as a friend though haha)’ first appeared in takahē 103 (December 2021).