Mary Cresswell: Three Poems


Earthquakes are always a surprise. First, a jolt—but the garden wall’s undamaged, concrete blocks at their normal tilt. Sparrows swoop back and rummage on the drive. They ignore it all, and I am surprised there are so many of them.

I think it is vertigo, but then the footpath tries to buck me off.

I crawl down the path along a splinter fault, tracing it to where it runs out beside the tomatoes. The foundations might be solid. Can we tell? Today, they support a rubblestone heap where lizards freeze in the sun, blue tongues flicking in and out, set to run from the next assault.

Do lizards hear the still small voice?

The flowerheads are motionless now. Rosemary dangles over the side of the wall. Stay still, wall, I say, stay still. There is no wind, no more shaking. The only sound is the heartbeat of waiting while the sky hangs blue and (maybe) still.

Don’t move. Don’t move.


skittish lizard


Unfinished Business

to open the last ream of paper
to count grains of rice when the tsunami pulls back
to sweep sand from the teeth of the gale

to clean the windows on both sides
to tell my children what really happened
to walk past the woodshed without looking in

to hear the cats fighting in the yard
to know where the buses go at night
to wish I had written down the recipe

to count to infinity by twos
to unroll a bolt of black velvet off the balcony
to have the last word on the tip of my tongue

to spit on the flames of a wildfire
to ask my parents what really happened
to guess the punch line

to label the stars once more in Greek
to know that total silence means the wind is changing
to count the times I suspected otherwise


beach sea water



Finish Line

To end
it, we need
more dying falls, a choice
of tunes to recall the urge
that dragged us here to
begin with. Let’s start with elegy—
an ache that clings to brick walls with sticky feet
the rare green hawk that will not sing
young men’s swollen lips picked out in gold
the weight of mercury during the dance
the metallic taste of blood.
It dozes by the burning water
breaks to bits if you press down too hard
crosses the bar and goes back to sleep.
Now add the hollers and the blues
monodies and threnodies
dirges and lamentations.
We begin to hear them
all the calling voices
laid end to end
to end.


Art Information

  • “Skittish” © Matt Reinbold; Creative Commons license
  • “Beach Sea Water” © Mike P; stock image


Mary CresswellMary Cresswell is from Los Angeles and lives on New Zealand's Kapiti Coast. She is a retired copy editor and took up writing poetry about a dozen years ago. Her third book, Trace Fossils, was published in early 2011. For more information, please see her profile on the New Zealand Book Council website.

“How much memory can you sell me? I want it all, asleep and awake, at the light touch of a finger.” — "Gigabyte"



Thank you for bringing Mary Cresswell's brilliantly conceived, deftly executed, and fully realized poems to our attention. I look forward to reading more.

Add new comment

More Like This

Jan 3, 2011 | Featured Poetry
Nov 1, 2010 | About Poetry, Featured Interview
Nov 7, 2011 | Featured Poetry