16 Gems – Stones for Poetry

In People and Places, Poems and Stones: Kay McKenzie Cooke and Orepuki, I introduced the poet, Kay McKenzie Cooke, and discussed her links to her childhood home, Orepuki. I noted how stones from Gemstone Beach have figured in her life and poems. I thoroughly enjoyed reading her latest book of poems, Born To A Red-Headed Woman, so much so that I offered Kay some polished Gemstone Beach stones to acknowledge my enjoyment. And because I knew she would really appreciate and value them. 

I wanted to include a fossil worm cast stone and a hydrogrossular garnet and a banded rhyolite. I picked out a few more recently polished ones for consideration as well. In preparation for sending the stones in the mail to Kay, I photographed them and started to number them so I could include a description of them, outlining what kind of stone each one is (if I know).  I then thought about a more creative way of identifying each stone – why not link them to the lines of the poems in her book? This process resulted in 16 stones being chosen and named. As I said to Kay in an email at the time, “The stones I had polished and the poems you had written proved a very fertile ground for linkages. I really enjoyed working through the ideas, it was not at all a hard thing to do. It was interesting how much colours are used in your poems. And the colours often carry the emotional dimensions which are deep.”

The following is what I sent to Kay – lines from her poems in Born To A Red-Headed Woman are in green, with page numbers. Her poems are autobiographical and chronological, starting with her birth, going through her childhood, high school, and on into adulthood, motherhood, and being a grandmother. The sequence of stones follow the sequence of this life journey. Each poem is named after a song or lyric associated with that time or relevant to its theme.

Sometimes, below, the meaning of just a couple of lines from a poem may not be clear – you’ll have to buy the book


TumbleStone Reflections on “Born to a Red-Headed Woman: Poems by Kay McKenzie Cooke” (Otago University Press, 2014)

Sixteen Polished Stones from Gemstone Beach

Stone 1, “Moonlight”: Whiteish-yellowish-orangeish quartz stone the size of a small walnut, brought down the Waiau River and cast upon the beach on the coast

don’t let the moon break your heart

I was born in winter
to a red-headed woman
who shivered on a hard bed
under one thin blanket
in a hospital by the Waiau River
making heavy work

of its final punch through
to the coast,
the thrum of its waters
underscoring our breathing,
the beating of my heart
the size of a walnut.
(page 12)

Stone 2, “Misty”: Translucent hydrogrossular garnet, like the mist made by fingertips

The teacher draws close,
her own fingers cool,

narrow, streamlined
dragonflies that touch down
briefly where my fingertips
have begun to make mist,
What lovely moons you have, she says.
(page 15)

Stone 3, “Near Light”: Dark and light banded mudstone, the night and the light

On the night of our send-off
oblivious to what I was leaving behind:
the near light of Te Waewae Bay
(page 18)

Stone 4, “White Dresses”: Dark red stone (jasper?) with a pattern of white speckles (quartz?)

At the Riversdale Girl Guides
we practised
Scottish Country Dancing…

…we rehearsed
reels in white dresses
with tartan sashes…
(page 22)

Stone 5, “Sago Pudding”: White quartz

…Dad singing, Pass the biscuits, Miranda
as all nine of us ate mashed spuds
and Mum’s mince stew with carrots,
followed by sago pudding
(page 23)

Stone 6, “Green Sea”: Green mudstone with dark green bands

…I dip below the ridge
to follow the crack of an old creek-bed
and all around nothing but green, green.
Green. A sea of green.
(page 24)

Stone 7, “Loneliness”: Grey marble-like stone, with dark staining on one side

Released the year and month my father died,
‘Wichita Lineman’ can still bring me the valley
where we lived,
still bring me grief, the sound

of wind through wire, the loneliness
of country verges
(page 32)

Stone 8, “Wild Green”: Green quartzite stone

We’d cut through the Gardens,
where the caged kea was kept…
its keening call sounding
as if it expressed the same ache
we felt
of sudden transplantation
from wild green.
(pages 36-37)

Stone 9, “Flat”: A flat stone, igneous porphyry with light-coloured crystals

Inside a stone flat in Dunedin…
is where I gave up butter
and coal-range heat…
(page 40)

Stone 10, “Sorrow’s Green Depths”: Blue-green stone with small pink spots

The sound of a snip.
And it is done.

and sometimes there will be sorrow

Sunday in Hedgehope
in a wooden house
with a front verandah,
in the depths
of Southland’s green.
(page 43)

Stone 11, “Ancestors”: Green argillaceous mudstone containing fossil worm casts

We saw Loch Ness and travelled in sunshine
up the Great Glen. That day we were riding
the land our ancestors walked.
(page 49)

Stone 12, “Worlds”: Small grainy white and black schist stone

We wore out what was left
before middle-age, being there
for both the fragile and the strong.
Every night remnants
from the sandpit, tiny grains of sand,
whole worlds,
carried home between our toes.
(page 51)

Stone 13, “Budgie”: Whitish greenish stone with clear patches, hints of yellow and black specks

Sometimes all it is
is being on holiday stuck in a car together…
Sometimes, it’s the wind slamming a door
shut. Sometimes it’s the day the budgie dies
or the way the passage smells when it rains.
(page 54)

Stone 14, “Lara’s Theme”: Small delicate quartzite stone, with clear silica bands

Before giving her up for adoption,
I’d called my baby daughter Lara…
…We love telling people
the surprise ending.
(page 56)

Stone 15, “Black-Faced”: Predominantly black crescent-shaped stone, with faint light patterning

our son will take us into country so deep
we can only stand on the brink

looking up at that black-faced bluff
where the helicopter he was in crashed
and thank God that he survived.
(page 61)

Stone 16, “Space”: Banded rhyolite

it feels new
(for my grandchildren)

I look hard into your eyes,
see earth around a seed,
sea around an island,
space around a star.
(page 70)


Kay’s response can be found in a Post called “Gems” in her own blog “Cuttings”. I have also used Kay’s poetry in the Post Green and Black: Green Stones and Mary Black’s “The Moon and Saint Christopher”.


Author: tumblestoneblog

Retired Academic, male, living in the New Zealand countryside with his wife, two cats (Ollie and Fluffy), two horses (Dancer and Penny) and a shed half-full of stones. Email john.tumblestone@gmail.com.

8 thoughts on “16 Gems – Stones for Poetry”

  1. Kay’s deep and intimate connection with Southland is expressed so well in her poetry. She’s inspirational to me. I raided Gore Library recently and had all her books on loan. I love the way you’ve teamed up these splendid rocks with her verse, what a beautiful thing to do. You’re both awesome!

    Liked by 3 people

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