The HyperTexts

Mary Cresswell

Mary Cresswell is from Los Angeles and lives on New Zealand’s Kapiti Coast. Recent books include Fish Stories: Ghazals and glosas (Canterbury University Press, 2015) and Body Politic: Nature poems for nature in crisis (The Cuba Press, 2020). See also:

after William Dunbar

Timor mortis conturbat me—
The fear of death leaves me unsettled—
And keep in mind, this is not to say
It’s only me who’ll come unravelled.

You’re for it too, don’t think you’re not.
Timor mortis conturbat te.
Move where we like, X marks the spot,
Sooner or later, we’re on our way.

Here we are—at the moment we’re close
We laugh at the dark and whistle bright songs
But timor mortis conturbat nos
And the act is an act where we stand alone.

You go your way, you know that you must.
This isn’t a game that two can play—
Me to my ashes, you to your dust,
Timor mortis conturbat me.


Black mountain whiteout swallows our voices.
Earlier travellers shifted the snow poles.

A blood-red crystal is trapped in the rock face
sunlight beats through it, like a heart, like a heart.

We crunch down the slope, watching our footsteps
disappear under scoria, sealed off with dust.

Red tussock bends its tips to the gravel
preparing for gales that never arrive.

The cry of the green bird has turned to an echo
before we can guess which way it has flown.

Published in Poetry New Zealand (October 2014)


The seven seas aren’t what we thought they would be
packed to the gunnels with rum and rebellion.
Our tall ships fly home, flat tack in the wind.

We’ll alight and seek life in the tussocky rocks,
seek fewmets and footprints and niblets of spoor.
With no forest for shelter we’ll bivouac in the wind.

Tough trees lie flat; they clutch at the cliffs,
the grasses grow grasping and desperate —
nothing withstands the impact of the wind.

We grab hands and race for the deepest cave
hoping to lie in the light of our warmth
with the ghost of our hope left intact by the wind.

But gone means gone — we can’t sail back on the wind.

The black dog’s ears go flat in the wind.

Published in The Ghazal Page (2012)


Otto Jespersen describes (in Language, 1922) a reading experiment for speed and comprehension in which women overwhelmingly outperformed men. This proves, he says, that women’s minds have “vacant chambers” in which they promptly accommodate new information whereas men’s minds are already full of weighty thoughts which slow down such acquisition.

Yes, I’ve heard about the vacant chambers of my mind.
Are you here because you hope to fill the vacant chambers of my mind?

Perhaps it’s love that brings us here tonight. Destiny, perhaps,
not just a cultivated chance to fill and limber up my mind.

I’ve spoken long with Professor Freud. He knows of course the most
efficient way those pesky little chambers should be mined.

But nostalgia isn’t what it used to be. I find it handy, though,
when I wish to riddle through the embers of my mind.

Absent and alone, I read—I write—I tap my foot and listen
as sonatas and fugues still the quaking tremors of my mind.

Each dawn a raven returns from the trackless deeps
with a feather to thrill the vacant chambers of my mind.

Or must it be you alone, dear sir, you and only you to enter
and fill my vacant chambers? Did you think I wouldn’t mind?

I trill and chortle from a vacuum—I sing from unseen branches—
call it what you will, dear boy, and keep your vacant chambers.

My space is mine.

Published in Tilt-a-Whirl (2011)


I watch anemometers whirl in the westerly,
weak trees collapse across the railway line.

Waves arrive in predetermined angles
spraying curves into the blistering gale.

A feather sharp enough to write my name
spins down through pohutukawa leaves.

Clouds spew up the storm’s horrendous roar.
When your lips move, I think you are talking.

No signals come from the drowned city:
unclassified gulls shriek from all angles.


Anemometers are caught out in their cups,
spinning with delight, unwilling to stop.

Gusts spin back whenever the wind shifts.
Gulls cruise the thermals in between us.

Autumn gales occlude our light.
This time I’ll deal the cards blind side up.

The big ship lies on the rocks in the bay
spilling gold and brandy and dying slaves.

When sun strikes tiny leaves will spring
unnoticed on the tangled sharpened twigs.


I will plant anemometers in the spring.
Their swash of discovery will follow the rain.

What does it mean when you scream at the moon?
The night-booming parrots are gone from their caves.

Listen. They’re making noises now. Trees
bark and chatter. People smile back and bow.

No seagulls are liars. Their turn will come
when they swirl by the shore by the bird-catchers’ cliff.

I embrace silence embracing me.
Quiet comes quickly and turns into my skin.

Published in Talking Writing (2014)

The Group Manager Addresses Her Mirror

Shall I wear the Gucci scarf today?
It’s far more lovely and more corporate
than what sleek young managers affect
in all the offices up and down the way.
It gives an air of strength, they always say,
classic looks for classic power dressed,
Look and feel and act as though you’re best
and the rest will follow, as the night the day.

No dangly earrings!  What women call
postmenopausal zest, in other places
gives a bad impression overall.
I will notice all their airs and graces,
a quiet woman, not looking to outwit them …

I shall run the show before they know what hit them.

First printed in Tamba 23:4 (Summer 1999/2000)

Courting Equilibrium

Blowing cold, blowing hot,
will it work or will it not?

Is this the romance time forgot?
Together we just fret and fuss.

You know zip. I know squat.
Will you give in? I will not.

The way of love was ever thus:
Furor vincit omnibus.

To any Romans who read this, forgive my bad Latin! I knew the saying Amor vincit omnia (“Love conquers everything”) but decided to change it to “Rage conquers everybody”—which is probably just as true. And it sounds wise, too.

First printed in Light Quarterly 46: 29 (Autumn, 2004)

Mrs. McGillicuddy as the Tragic Muse

Sing sorrow, sorrow: but good win out in the end
--Aeschylus, chorus in Agamemnon

I have suffered a lot. Sweet Jesus, such angst!
My life is a litany of loss.
But you never listen. Nobody cares
the wheres—the whys—or the hows.
            Sing sorrow, sing sorrow, sing sorrow
            I think I have lost the great toss.

At the drop of a pin, my inner child’s in
though I never recall what she said
My parents’ wild prances and satanic dances
have rendered me useless in bed
            Sing sorrow, sing sorrow, sing sorrow
            while the ravens collect on my head.

My life has shot through—my future’s gone, too
my yang forever sans yin—
and you? You should share the burden I bear
but you smirk, you ignore me, you grin—
            Sing sorrow! sing sorrow! damn right, you sing sorrow!
            and tomorrow you’ll sing it again!

Forthcoming in Glottis 11 (2006)

The Rake's Wife's Progress

I heard when I was at my women’s group,
that Miss Cottontail has really had enough
she’s found you and the going rough
so the two of you have finally broken up.

Not that I care (as once I used to care).
My friends agree you’d never had the prudence
to keep your hands off eager students,
that you’d fall hard—sometime, somewhere.

She’ll take you to the cleaners, that’s for sure,
she’ll hang you out to dry for all to see.
Ah, well—what you entrain you must endure.
This sort of thing no longer interests me.
Plus, my shrink thinks it best if I avoid a
latent tendency to schadenfreude.

: "malicious joy in other people's misfortunes"

Portrait of a Lady

Lime green are my pelmets
chartreuse are my drapes
all my little cushions
speak of raspberries and grapes
I’m queen of the western suburbs
I’ve got what it takes.

My kitchen walls are aubergine
my bathroom floor is slate
my husband keeps me well supplied
and regrets he’s working late
I’m queen of the western suburbs
working hard—up to date.

My daughter’s boffing surgeons
my son has disappeared
the quote for hand-wove curtains
is not as bad as I had feared
I’m queen of the western suburbs
—widely revered.

I cook with Tuscan olive oil
we dine off marquetry
I once spent two weeks finding
yak-milk farmhouse brie
but sometimes I think (in the suburbs)
what’s in this for me?

When migraine knocks me senseless
I pull the curtains tight—
I’ll try not to think how I feel today—
tomorrow I’ll be right
I’m queen of the western suburbs.
I have to come right.

The Pass at Grasmere

with thanks to Mr. William Wordsworth, late of Grasmere, for the first line

I wandered lonely as a cloud
No need, no wish for company
His greeting rang out, rough and loud
And smirking, he sloped up to me.

“I saw you standing all alone
Wandering lonely as a cloud
You dear sweet thing. Now come along
We’ll go and join the happy crowd.”

So there’s him, bloody, and me, unbowed—
I knew he thought he had a hope:
I tried to wander like a cloud,
He moved in closer for a grope.

I smacked his face and left the shite.
So what if I’m well-endowed?
—every girl has got the right
To wander lonely as a cloud!

The HyperTexts