picking up feathers

You want to make things
– sew a home-made skirt
from my green pinny, make me
a herb garden – which
you achieved on one of our more
windless autumn days
before you both left, you and my son
pushing the plants you bought
into earth  – corriander,
parsley, mint and one
you didn’t know the English word for

until we got out our English-German
Dictionary, discovered it was rocket;
in German, Rucola. You make a chain
of daisies for the van, for good luck.
You want to make feather earrings.
You want to see all
of New Zealand. You were eight
when the Wall came down.
You tell me bits
about your childhood
on the Baltic coast,

about your parents’ old car
a Trabant. A Trabant? I said,
Funny – my Grandad’s car,
the one he owned
just before he died,
I’m pretty sure was a Trabant.
What colour was your one?
Light blue, you said. I said, Same!
But they were all that colour,
you said, light-blue
and made from paper.

You walk as light as a bird,
as strong as a lion. The morning
my son and you leave in the van,
I heard your voice as if I was hearing
the voice of a daughter and yesterday
while walking, I started picking up feathers
lost by seagulls in the grass
of playing fields. Only two days
away and already
I have forgotten your voice
how it sounds. How kiwi

your German accent is becoming.
For example how you say ‘bed’
the way you hear us saying it.
“I’m off to bid now. Good-night”,
you say. Ready for you to make
into earrings, I place the feathers,
soft, grey and white,
on a windowsill where they float
weightless, full of the light
and the distance
of a home away from home.


Author Commentary on the poem

Our oldest son is married to E. from Japan. They have two children
whom they are bringing up with a knowledge of two cultures and two
languages. We have visited them twice now in Japan, and E. (as well as
her wider family and friends) have visited us here in New Zealand.

Nearly half a year ago, our son was in Colombia and met a young woman
from Germany. That young woman is now his partner. Our son recently
returned to New Zealand, bringing Jenny with him.

Consequently even more windows and doors to different cultures and
languages have been opened. Within all the families involved, the
welcoming in of these two young women from foreign countries has
helped join together and heal previous generations and their
historical memories. Our friends laughingly refer to us as ‘The United

Jenny and I have found a common bond in writing. She confessed she
couldn’t really understand poetry that was written in English. (Poetry
it seems is a little more ‘slippery’ to translate than prose).
However, she read the poem I wrote about / for her, ‘picking up
feathers’, and loved it. She said she could understand every word.

Jenny has a blog written in Deutsch which you can visit here


Kay McKenzie Cooke is a writer who lives in Dunedin. She has had two
books of poetry published: Feeding the Dogs (OUP. 2002) and Made
for Weather (OUP 2007). She is in the process of compiling her third
poetry book, called Born to a Red-headed Woman. She is also writing
a novel which is very loosely based on her family tree.

You can read her blog here and you can find ‘picking up feathers’ on her blog here.