Love in the Time of COVID

A Chronicle of a Pandemic

Poetry, Video

A Recital of Poems – John Allison, Cynthia Cheung, Jenny Powell, Lucy Barge, Todd Matson & Sarah McDougall

it can be lost just when you notice it by John Allison

(after Calvin and Hobbes)


one afternoon, squatted by a creek

with Martha, turning over the stones

to find crabs, snails, the insistent

suck of mud calling everything back


I look up to see the heron stalking

though russet estuary reeds, spearing

wind-quilted water, a quick twist

of light plucked like a loose thread




at night, the stars shoal the deeps

overhead, that flick of fin and flank

drawing my vigilant eye just as

surely as the heron’s was drawn


surely as these skeins of cirrus

run like fleet minnows down the sky

to the wide horizon, where they

founder in the tidal pool of day




sometimes, I simply long to slip

out of my skin and splash among

the stars, or dive into the creek

and shelter underneath those stones

to feel how close the darkness

close this garment of slubby mud

how still the blue heron stands

sentinel, commanding attention


Note: ‘If people sat outside and looked up at the stars each night I bet they’d live a lot differently.’ … ‘How so?’ … ‘Well, when you look into infinity, you realise that there are more important things than what people do all day.’ … ‘We spent our day looking under rocks in the creek.’ … ‘I mean other people.’ (Cartoon dialogue between Calvin and Hobbes)


Song by Cynthia Cheung

How easily you dug little clams that afternoon,
your schoolgirlish figure dipping at the waterline
to bring up palmfuls of shells, smooth
oblongs of lime, gold, pink stripes.
As they tried to burrow in the bucket’s bottom,
you touched, with a driftwood stick,
their translucent flesh, a foot or a siphon,
then watched them withdraw. Child, I couldn’t
help but love you when the sun rode high
and the bucket grew too warm, because
already you’d made your return to the surf,
your hand pressing those beautiful shells
one by one back into the sand.


Joy Leads Us by Jenny Powell


Joy leads us
to Akatore
on a date with Holocene history.
southern harbour of Oyster Catchers,
trembling on a fault line.

Joy leads us
to riverlet gouges,
navigational nightmares.
Rough pasture unfenced,
green swings of paddock
drowning in fathoms of gorse.

Joy leads us
to schist upheavals
hefting pods of pink manganese.
Pale pink of denim and well-fed
flamingos, wedged in geology.

Joy leads us
to beach pockets picked by sea
for deposits of kelp. Banks of time
cropped and catalogued,
stranded on rocky erosions.
Ahead, the eye strain of sea.
Waves roll through ocean’s press,
impressions releasing
headland seduction.

Beneath our sight
subways of channels,
tunnels empty of phases,
deep chasms of chronology.

Around us, ripples on sand
from incoming tide.
Skylight erased,
loss of horizon ignored.

Joy pauses
surveying the vanishing points,
marking the pace of change
in pressure of air,
before leading us back uphill,
diving into a storm.


away with us by Lucy Barge

she is calm as she drives
away with us
talking cheerfully as
if the last six months dissolved
into the lake we watch
through the windows
wishing if only
our thoughts could drown there too

‘how are you two feeling?’
like water in a dam just burst
flowing waters
free from my mind
free from her mind

we might shatter off the hills before we get there
i don’t mind
alluvial particles of flesh
washing up before
shoots us away with sluices forever —
we don’t mind if we don’t make it

‘come on you two, what are you thinking?’
you don’t want to know
St Bathans is calling us
to join the baby

‘isn’t this nice – spending time with my beautiful daughters?’
beautiful like the gorge? or beautiful like the sunset?
the sun sinks deeper than
you think
but the gorge flows on
and on

she wants me to flow on

and on

i am thinking
why can we not be
this calm?

— the eponymous poem from Away With Us by Lucy Barge (Pūkeko Publications, 2021); an earlier version of this poem was first published in the 2020 NZ Poetry Society Anthology titled Stay Well Here, when it won the Junior Section of the 2020 NZPS International Competition.


Some Angels by Todd Matson

Some angels come as warriors,
in legions,
in chariots of fire,
with the power of God
to vanquish evil.

Some angels come as guardians,
stand in the gap
between lions and lambs,
life and death.

Some angels come as messengers,
bring good news
of great joy,
light up the darkness,
eclipse despair with hope.

Some angels come with healing
in their wings,
stop the bleeding,
inhale diseases,
exhale life.

Some angels come as guides
through celestial wormholes,
reorient the disoriented,
remove cataracts clouding
eyes of the heart.

Some angels come dancing
with such beauty and grace
to pierce the heart,
bend the knees,
render speechless.

I was caught
by just such an angel.


Same boat by Sarah McDougall

Painting by Ewan McDougall

From Oamaru
To Timbuktu
All of us
On the same sea
On the same boat
It may be flat
For you for me
For those I like
And those I don’t
Life goes on
Midst this song
Of plagues, Black death
Spanish Flu, Covid
And no vax
Means you’re
Even the freedumb
But some can afford
To declare their love
Have babies
And lockdown
In a cosy home
Shop online
Reach to the sky
Wave as waves rage
Round and round
As people sink
And homeless whānau
Live in a car
For richer for poorer
The only air
The only sky
Our only Earth
The thin red line
Touches every nation’s
Young and bold
Sick and old
This era’s plague
Is yet untold



JohnAllison‘s fifth collection of poetry, A Place to Return To, was published by Cold Hub Press in August 2019. A chapbook, Near Distance, came out from the same publisher in October 2020. His poem ‘Father’s Axe, Grandfather’s Machete’ was selected as one of 25 Best New Zealand Poems 2020. His poem-sequence ‘The Poetics of Water’ has been set to music by Pieta Hextall for a chamber ensemble (flute, clarinet, harp, and string quartet) and will be premiered in concert in The Piano Recital Centre on the 7th October 2021. He is currently gathering together a volume of Collected Poems. 


Lucy Barge is a 18-year-old Timaru-based piano tutor and writer of contemporary poetry. She has followed her love of writing from a young age, winning national poetry awards and holding on to the hope that her work will inspire and resonate with others. Away With Us (Pūkeko Publications, 2021) is her first book of poetry. Find her @lucybpoetry. 







Cynthia Cheung is an American physician whose writing has appeared or is forthcoming inDialogist, Palette Poetry, RHINO, Salamander, Sugar House Review,Zócalo Public Square and others.


Todd Matson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.  He poetry has been published in The Journal of Pastoral Care and Counseling and his short stories have been published in Ariel Chart International Literary Journal and Vital Christianity.  He has also written lyrics for songs recorded by a number of contemporary Christian music artists, including Brent Lamb, Connie Scott and the Gaither Vocal Band.



Ewan McDougall is a Dunedin painter who has been exhibiting for 30 years. He has had 100 solo exhibitions, has shown in five NZ Public Galleries and also exhibited in London, NYC, Sydney, St Ives, Cremona and Valencia. He is a prize winner or Finalist in prominent NZ Art Awards and has paintings in many Public Collections. He prizes spontaneity, colour, vibrant primitive figures and a lashings of irony.

Sarah McDougall, M.F.A. is a poet and playwright. Five of her plays have been produced, and Up the Duff was awarded Best New Writing at the Edinburgh Fringe. She has had poems published in various journals, and over the past two years of Covid she has  completed Ruth’s Family, a novel that has been longlisted in the Michael Gaskin Competition.











Jenny Powell lives in Dunedin, New Zealand. Eight individual and two collaborative collections of poems have been published. Her non-fiction book The Case of the Missing Body (2016), was Read NZ Book of the Month and was recorded for the NZ Blind Foundation.  Powell’s two multi-media collaborative performance pieces have had successful debut seasons and she has worked with New Zealand composers Kerian Varaine and Anthony Ritchie. She was the 2020 New Zealand RAK Mason Writing Fellow. Her latest poetry collection, Meeting Rita, (2021) has been published by Cold Hub Press.





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