Here are samples of Michael O’Leary’s poetry:

Hone Tuwhare: a personal memoir

E hoa, you have gone to the place beyond
that tug-of-war which was your life: that
struggle between North and South which
even continued after you were laid to rest.

But it was always like that with you: they
wanted you there while you were elsewhere.
Both of us, we were different kinds of poets,
Railway Workers first, comrades, drinkers

This koha o nga kupu ki aroha is from
the centre: where the break in the rail
lies. And in the old days when we locked

Our horns together in a hongi like bulls, we
who hear the magic whispers of sensual
kai-words, knowing it is ata-kahurangi in flight

Paekakariki, Waitangi Day, 2008

Nigel Cox’s Body Becomes Its Own Holocaust Museum

(May perpetual light shine upon him)

Making plans for Nigel was easy
All he had to do was live long enough
For the deadly forces of dis-Unity
To initiate their wanton stuff

The mortal notes of ‘e papa’
Gave rise to what would set him free
His last work, dirty yet proper
Relieved him of earthly responsibility

By then his battle had shifted
From inner to outer manifestation
Personified by a cancer malign

In and out of consciousness he drifted
His millions of life-cells in the Concentration
Camp of life’s ultimate design

The Imaginin’ of Megan

(For Megan Collins)

Did Jesus play His guitar, gently weeping
For the world He had come to save?
Did His Moroccan musical instrument
Tunefully lament the captive slave?

Did the Son of God (the son of Man)
The son of a virgin woman too
Rock and roll with His troubled times
Singing ‘Doowop, doowop, deedo?

Did He pick up David’s lyre and sing
With the merry Magdalene at the tavern?
Did He rave on the same old song
Like the Likely Lads at the Cavern?
You’re a long time dead, at least until eternity
So sing and relax, just, Let it be, yeah, Let it be

Make Love and War

To Ani


The last train is about to leave
In fact, has left . . .
The cradle of Western Civilization
Is under siege
As the Euphrates burns, a river of flames
Set alight this past decade
By the twin towers of a double burning bush
The new manifestation of Western Civilization
Is engulfing and eating its own parents
USA, teenager of the world
New kid on the old block
With raging hormones of revenge . . .
The last train has pulled out
From the stations of My Lai and Lidice and Fallujah
It doesn’t matter who’s killing ya
If you’re being killed –
Talking to someone who fought in Vietnam
Who witnessed the murder of women and children
He claims the SS troops were more honest
Than the Black Hawks up . . .


My love comes to me
And baring her beautiful breasts
Before my loving gaze
And soft caress
She gives me the gift
Only a young woman
Can bestow on an older man . . .
The strange healing, and holding up of a mirror
The touch of the goddess . . .
And no matter how humble
His or her beginnings have been
That gift of love, of aroha
Although tainted by temporal concerns
Cannot be lost, as the flow
Of life loosens itself
From its strictures . . .


The doors after perception, open
As does the grave
The tomb beckons to . . .
     The Hikoi of For Sure
     The Procession of Enough
     The Long Line to the Unknown Soldier
Wending its way through the Wellington streets
Like a river of remembrance . . .
When it’s all over
The soldiers remind me of death
My young love reminds me of life
But now she is gone
And who will say
     “Did you miss me?”

Tsunami Sonnet

Such devastation on such an enormous scale
Is almost too difficult to comprehend: almost

But we have seen it all before. The piles of corpses
The twisted, gnarled limbs reaching heavenward

Hands and feet and half rotted heads, eyes bulging
In the tropical-paradiso sunshine, the light

And the heat makes even disaster sparkle
And shine across the Asian playgrounds

My friend, whose name is the sea, sits crying at
Television images bursting through the safety of the lounge

While I sit unanimated and stony-faced, stunned
And stunted before the spectre of human tragedy

But, whether by the random acts of nature, or
Premeditated human deeds, we have seen it all before

Sonnet for a child

Such small hands, ten small fingers, I can’t see
As they fold like night flowers over my eyes
Covering my view of already dark Dunedin skies
We walk along the city streets your mother, you and me

Up on my shoulders you’re higher than the tall
You say that you can see more than all of us
“Look Mum!” you cry, “a train! a truck! a bus!”
Safe with my strength you know you will not fall

Amelia, I know you love me dearly
And I love you who have given me so much
A smile from you has often eased my heavy mind

Such pleasures I have felt with you, I have felt rarely
For I have been long alone, thus out of touch
With simple love: I’d forgotten what I set out to find

I am a stone

I am a poet
I am a stone
The hard rock I am made of
Does not permit growth
The rain falls on me
The wind scours my surface
But I am resolute
Words fly from my weather-worn exterior
Write about it – I can write about it
I am a poet
I am a stone
People come to study what I am made of
And in the past, and in the present
Their conclusions are the same
I remember dancing and . . .
I remember singing
But I can never remember moving
After all, life is movement
Even bacteria moves
   and I can’t remember moving
I am a stone

Poems © Michael O’Leary


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