Confines (poem)


today I'm at South Brighton
walking along the foaming sand
watching escalator waves
rolling in
I'm holding my camera tightly
as if you were contained
within its body
& you are

we were in the garden
& I was storing images
your rare smiles
for a single
the flurry of movement

all I have is
a dozen blurred pictures
of your embarrased 
shy smiles
trying to escape
the lens

Joanne Fisher

This poem was first published in JAAM 8.

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©️2022 Joanne Fisher

At Graeme’s (poem)

At Graeme's

the sun is here
but a cold wind blows
through the living room 
I stare out onto 
a landscape
forever falling away
tiers of corrugated rooftops
& granite buildings
to a sawdust harbour
Dunedin sprawls
like a crumpled jersey
looking down or up
there is always something
to see...

soft jazz on the stereo
& you sit tapping away
on your laptop
about climbing rocks
I am living on muesli bars
& honey nut logs
we are filling our time
with lines on pages

Joanne Fisher

This was first published in the New Zealand Poetry Society Anthology Climbing the Flame Tree

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©️2022 Joanne Fisher

Last Days (poem)

Last Days

the only artist 
that is truly
is a dead one

for there is a finite 
number of completed 
canvasses stacked in dry
cellars for the art dealers 
to handle

a live artist has too many
possibilities & versions
to try -
I have said this to Theo


I translate this world
landscapes, buildings &
with myself amongst it

see the shifting layers:
the cobalt blues, chromium yellows
emerald greens & vermilions
pressed into the canvas
the crooked churches, dark
cypresses, the sunflowers
I painted for Gauguin,
the pine trees in the asylum


every canvas is one less
variation, or piece of night sky
daubed with large white blots
of stars

I work in more & more of myself

I merge with the paints &
there is nothing left


Auvers is so real
the world is so real
but dull, unimaginative, 
lacking understanding

I write to Theo: We can
only make our pictures speak
& I am risking my life for it


I'm painting this canvas
of yellow wheatfields &
black smudges of crows
only there are pathways
leading to nowhere, no way 
to escape

the storm beckons

Joanne Fisher

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©️2022 Joanne Fisher

It Rained in Nelson (poem)

It Rained in Nelson


our caravan of tumblers,
jugglers, musicians, &

roaming players searching
for an audience

I never believed in 
the actual existence
of Nelson -
no one I knew
had ever made it 

but after journeying
through Kaikoura &

there it was


there was an intensity
of sunlight caught
at the edge of black clouds
gulls wheeling
sky-dancing before
the oncoming storm

then it clouded over
raining all day & night
just after our performance
there was sheet lightning
that lit up the entire sky
like a blue neon light
looking more like some
bad stage effect
than the real thing

even the thunder 
was unconvincing -
sounding more like 
Thunder Sound Effect No.5


what if the weather
had been better?
maybe we could have 
stumbled over the
land rises to find
the sea or some
empty field

a bonfire lit in the
remains of the night
someone strumming
everyone's favourites &
a joint being passed
from hand to hand

with a hazy head
I would have looked up
at a dark sky littered
with swollen stars
the wheeling cosmos
dancing in slow-time
with our voices

Joanne Fisher

First published in Takahe 45.

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©️2022 Joanne Fisher

The High Castle (poem)

The High Castle

now the world is silent

once a bird sang
in the branches of that dying tree

it had a name
they all had names

these days
I forget them all

the older I get the less sure I am of anything
all I see is the world falling into darkness

stomping around the empty halls
with a festering wound that will not heal

I wish I could die

I wish I could die


the world has seen
alpha & omega

life still clings to this rock
let go

let go let go let go let go let go let go
before it all

happens again


long ago I saw a vision -

a golden chalice
healing all the old wounds
of the broken earth

I do not know if it was meant for me

these days I sit beside the river
choked with dry weeds
watching the fading sun
the trees scratching the dead sky
with bony fingers

hoping one day to see
some stranger
holding aloft
a golden cup

until then, all I can do
is wait

the vortex
face the fury
& burn)

Joanne Fisher

This poem draws heavily on the Fisher-King myth and the idea of the Holy Grail bringing renewal to the earth. In this poem either one day the Grail comes and restores the world, or it doesn’t and the world continues in it’s slow decay for eternity….

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©️2022 Joanne Fisher

The Road is Winding (poem)

The Road is Winding


Kaikoura is a stop for coffee
& views of the ocean
receding away

I accidentally startle
a tern which flaps away
straight into a moving car
it is last seen descending
rapidly down a bank

I feel guilty about it
for the rest of the journey


above are screeching gulls
shredding the cerulean sky
the sea casually mumbling
the world's secrets

if we knew this language
of rocks and saltwater
kelp and shifting sands
what could we learn?

the road hugging the coast
along narrow shoulders

of rock, past beaches
& promontories,
through tunnels
scooped out 
by the tide's restless fingers

the reach of the ocean


once darkness has overcome us
we are still driving into
geographies of our ignorance
the headlights illuminating our way
the stars revolving in silence above

we have left the coast behind
who knows where the hell we are

these roads have no ending
they just go on & on
effortlessly moving us into
uncharted territory

we are lost sailors
on a sea of black roads
leading to forever
searching for the paths
that climb to the sky -

follow the stars
follow the moon

Joanne Fisher

First published in JAAM 16

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How Is It Done? (poem)

How Is It Done?

It's like there are these words
swimming around the inside
of my skull

& all I have to do
is be quick enough
to catch them before

they slip away beyond
dark swift waters

swirling cascading words -

catching rainbow trout
with a net

Joanne Fisher

First published in Spin 38

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©️2022 Joanne Fisher

Drought Rhythms (poem)

Drought Rhythms

what is this falling
from a tumultuous sky?
it must be angel's tears
only they could be this pure
if they are crying...
we work hard here
this land does not
forgive easily, yet
deep in our hearts we know
God left us a long time ago
& now the angels are crying
our arms, legs, faces
under the furnace
gnarled & knotted
the bark of bent malignant trees
saplings in this stony valley
grow into the most twisted
stunted things
nothing seems to grow right here
only the land remains unchanged
the old moon
rising above the mountains
jagged teeth
they left
& we never saw
them again
out over the mountains
searching for rumours
of the cities
I no longer believe in them
howling storms
that only appear
in this basin
splinter our shelter
& rip everything
out of the ground
you shrug &
start again

sometimes it is the land
teaching us
sometimes there is nothing
except dusty earth
beneath our feet
sometimes our footsteps
I will leave less substantial
imprints -
I walk between earth & fire
fire & shadow
the world must be so light
balancing in the ether
our short life
such short life
show me
the point
on this tinder earth
the angels
to heaven

Joanne Fisher

First published in Catalyst 3

When I was still at school I remember reading a short story set in the Australian Outback where there had been a drought for so long in the area that kids living there had never seen rain before. In the story one of the kids in the farm wakes up one morning to find it is raining and doesn’t know what it is… A few years later I found myself dwelling on this story and wondering what someone would think rain is if they had never previously seen it. This poem is set in the future where the remnants of humanity are trying to survive in an isolated valley. Any sort of faith has long since become a shamanistic worship of the land they try to survive on, though there are vestiges of others…

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©️2022 Joanne Fisher

The Stars Above (poem)

The Stars Above

I'm gobsmacked by creation -
go outside on a clear night
constellations litter
the black sky

other suns burning
billions of miles away
other suns with planets 
orbiting in the universe's 
eternal clockwork

& maybe
there are people like us
gazing into the dark
wondering if they're alone

we could all be
looking up into the light
years of void between us
watching each other

Joanne Fisher

First published in Takahe 55

I do believe there are other civilisations out there. There are around 100-400 billion stars in our galaxy alone, and our galaxy is just one in a countless number of galaxies in our immense universe. Due to the distances involved, however, I think it unlikely we could ever come into contact with them.

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©️2022 Joanne Fisher

Holy Orders (poem)

Holy Orders

at first I did not see the way
they moved their mouths
during mass, as though
they didn't know the words

their vulgar tongues
unable to grapple the

as if behind the prayers & chants
there was worship of something


sent here to these northern wastes
the vineyards & cypresses
giving way to tall angular trees
& snow

when I saw the church
they were there -
the old gods
grinning down


I see them process
out of the village
to worship one of their
wild-wood demons

they beckon to follow

I stay in my church
lose myself
in Holy Scripture


I imagine them
copulating over
some profane altar

the word of God
is not strong enough

Lord lead them from the Abyss!


a pounding comes at the church doors
until they explode
& a dark bestial god
enters my saviour's house

I grasp the brass cross
but the image of my dear lord
does not offer sanctuary
the dark one comes for me...

I awake pouring with sweat
the wind whistling
through the walls

I put on my woolen robes & pray
until the dawn


I'm sailing toward 
an unknown

the edge of the world

Joanne Fisher

This poem was first published in JAAM 22

In my first year at University I remember seeing a slideshow of northern European architecture. The lecturer commented that the gargoyles on top of the churches were actually totems of the older gods who were there just in case this new one didn’t work out. Indeed the further north you went into Europe during the Middle Ages (and even later) the more Christianity seemed a thin veneer over the older faiths. This poem explores this. The narrator is a young priest sent north…

In the Middle Ages the Mass would have been in Latin. Most of the congregation would not have understood it, especially in northern Europe. This changed after the Reformation.

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©️2022 Joanne Fisher