Vincent O’Sullivan


Once you’ve got the knack

Everyone there wore secrets.
A snow-owl was only this far -
less than - behind your best friend’s eyes.
A mouse the size of a thimble
sipped at the biggest lake, Lake Integrity
let’s call it, where the scholars’ hearts
floated their paper boats.
A heron so grey it could have been
a self-portrait, say on my throat
as it might on a wharf pile, it knew
a fish’s glint was the perfect excuse.



To nudge with my forefinger
a dead bee across the table
towards you, its hive-mates doing
overtime in the apple trees above us,
hear them? The core of summer
for the moment declaring itself
ours. He’s part of it, the bee,
no longer dead merely, as saying
to each other ‘Time isn’t so simple’,
we sit inside at another table,
look up at curdled sky through
the stark branches of August
where the bees arced their brackets
from apple to apple, and we’re
thinking, that morning in a winter
yet to come, ‘Remember that bee,
what we owe it now?’ And we
say that because we cannot
say summer, the burr of ghosts
in the dead branches, their message
getting through.


Something’s Up

She knew something was up
when the spider that dashed out
from the cracked dried soap-
shards under the bath like marble
chips from lives she had never heard of

made her want to cry.
Its furred legs, its pin-head
eyes, God who wouldn’t hate
it, want to dash down
a shoe-heel, stomp life
back to more or less OK?

She squirts spray from a tin
guaranteed to keep houses
‘free from pests of all kinds’.
It’s frightened, bunching its
corner. You can tell, really frightened.

It must have thought living was one
thing and now it’s another,
there’s a phone call for all creatures
swops when you least expect it
daylight for much less.

It’s big and ugly but Christ that’s
no reason! She can’t stop crying.
If God were a spider what would
that make her? When she curls
at the corner of the bed, against
the walls, whose sister?



Vincent O’Sullivan, who lives in Wellington, is a poet, novelist, short story writer and biographer. His collection, Poems 1998-2008, will be out early next year. The fifth and final volume of The Collected Letters of Katherine Mansfield, which he has co-edited, has just been published.