an Aotearoa poetry journal | ISSN 2744-3248

Poems by Trish Veltman

Walking with Ghosts

Trish Veltman

Published on
page 14 of Tarot #4
(June 2022)

at Chillingham Castle, UK


Living in town, we forget how many stars the sky holds,
how shy they are of unnatural light.
I’d like to stay and name them all, but the ghost walker
moves on—
this walk is not about the scenery.

A thin tremor of torchlight
keeps our feet on the same narrow way nomad monks
trod from Chillingham to Wooler.
Some fell by the wayside—trunks of ancient yews
bleed sadness. So heavy with memory they lie prone.
This one still bears a scar, a noose so deep
you can feel the weave of rope.

I don’t believe in ghosts.
These fields are too quiet, the darkness too warm
to be a place of unrest. The only pale figures flitting
are elusive white cattle grazing.

The ghost walker leads us indoors. In the castle,
Arctic draughts, moving shadows made by candle flame.
Steps of unseen feet in this empty building.  
Small children laugh where no children are playing.
A little boy shows his face in other people’s cameras.

A little girl climbs on my lap, for comfort
the ghost walker says she never knew in life. Elinor.
Her ringlets brush my cheek. Tomorrow I’ll think
she was a dream but for tonight, I hold her
and my arms freeze.

The Lament of the Aral Sea

Trish Veltman

Published on
page 49 of Tarot #4
(June 2022)

Once I was so vast you could not see from edge
to edge, you could not sail across in a day.

Now I am a shrunken excuse of a sea, withered
and parched like a leaf on a dying tree.

Littered on my beaches are not shells but skeletal
carcasses of boats marooned in dust.

You drank me dry. You drained me for your melons
and your cotton, bartering white gold

for the lives of all the fish who swam in my waters
all the muskrats who burrowed in my wetlands
of all the birds who nested on my shores.

And now you say I’m nature’s error,
a sea without enough water to weep.
I am a casualty
of your cruelty, but you shrug your shoulders,
and rename me desert.

Wanting Blue

Trish Veltman

Published on
page 61 of Tarot #4
(June 2022)


pee in bottle
and wait

cross fingers for blue

clock hands s n  a  i  l
five minutes a desert
a continent

ears conch shells to baited breath
heart knells in tight chest
waiting for blue

in no man’s land

in limbo

mutter litany of amulets
please be blue don’t be red please be blue

last minute
sixty seconds sprint to zero
twist lid
splash wrist


on pale carpet


Painting with Sable and Fury

Trish Veltman

Published on
page 18 of Tarot #2
(June 2021)

Because you cannot stay,
I paint your memory in burnt sienna,
umber, Mediterranean ochre.
Shades of autumn suit you:
I give you gold.

You return with champagne,
hothouse roses. We drink
from one glass, toast each other
in sunlight and moonshine.

You cannot stay.
I drink the last bubbles
from your side of the glass
and paint roses in full bloom,
cardinal and scarlet and flame.
I light a fire, and candles,
place roses in crystal,
polished silver on damask.

You return with chocolate,
perfume. The scent of summer
on your pale winter skin.

I thought I could warm you.
I paint you hot white, sear blue.
My brush strokes are coarse,
palette knife too sharp—
you do not know yourself.

This morning, you are gone.

Wearing White

Trish Veltman

Published on
page 24 of Tarot #2
(June 2021)

I wear these clothes for my husband.
White, like clouds in a blue sky, and snow
on distant mountains. Like lilies,
and gentle doves flying. The colour of peace.
White, the opposite of black.

We wear white for husbands, for fathers, brothers.
White for the paper they wrote on in black ink.
On my shirt, I wear a badge
printed with my husband’s face
and a black 28.
Twenty-eight years in jail because he wrote
eight hundred anti-Castro words.
Criticism in black and white.

On the day of Black Spring, librarians, journalists,
our husbands were arrested, beaten,
jailed for speaking their thoughts.

We wear white together—wives, daughters, sisters.
White is our voice for freedom.
We gather in silent protest,
white roses blooming on green grass.

When the military beat us, our skin flowers
with colours of bruise—a vivid bouquet
of purple, red, green, yellow.
Of black and blue.

Bruises fade. Protest blooms again.
We are the Ladies in White.
We will never wear
the white of surrender.

Jellyfish Babies

Trish Veltman

Published on
page 44 of Tarot #2
(June 2021)

Sea-stripped driftwood as bleached
as bones litters the beach
and the sea is full of jellyfish.

Their bodies balloon
and tentacles trail in billowing columns
like mushrooms floating in water.

Stranded jellyfish puddle on dry sand,
so transparent you can see thin, red filaments
of veins at their heart—a starburst explosion.

The British exploded a hydrogen bomb
from this island paradise.
Thin filaments of lightning sliced the heart
of billowing dust ballooning above your home.
They called it a mushroom cloud
but you saw a giant jellyfish.

They promised there would be no harm.

Birds fell from the sky
as if it were raining stones, and on beaches,
the heat fused sand into carpets of glass.

And months later, when your babies were born,
they lay puddled on the birthing table
like stranded jellyfish—
transparent sacs
with thin red filaments of veins
like a burst heart,
and you could not even hold them.


Trish Veltman

Published on
page 59 of Tarot #2
(June 2021)

outside this hospital room
impatient strangers with empty arms
and a new name

my belly a cavern

a curled pink koru
in a plastic pod

your first breath a feather floating
a dandelion clock drifting
your first cry a bruise

empty-armed strangers waiting

my arms a cradle
a koru unfurling

my breast a refrigerator
your mouth foraging

your eyes a mirror
your scallop fists on my fingers
a manacle grip

the empty-armed strangers turn away

and inside this shell
you and me


Stones for the Shoah

Trish Veltman

Published on
page 18 of Tarot #1
(Dec 2020)

I rise for Mitzvah.
Pale March sun shimmies in a pink frock.
Street lamps still stroke curious fingers
across slow, black ripples
of the River Dragor —
gold paths bleed to the west bank.

My feet imprint winter’s last breath,
past shining rows of doors
with brass nameplates and lion heads.
Shadow trees claw red brick walls
and unlit window eyes,
speechless witnesses to spent lives.

I scoop a pocket-warmed pebble
in my left palm.
There are no graves.
No marble tombs.
No names etched in polished headstones.
Yet every Itzhak, every Leo and Misha,
every Adela and Lea, every Rivka
tattoos my survivor’s heart,
as permanent as ink on my wrist.

Snow and sorrow paves these streets.
I walk west. New offices of glass
obliterate old tenements
where three thousand people
were corralled in a hundred houses,
caged like battery hens.

Sky discards last scraps of night.
In a quiet alley, cobbles

wear scars of ghetto gates and bullets,
whisper memories of blood and bone.
With the first sound of birdsong
I place my stones.

This dawn marks the hour
the caged became cargo; driven out,
transported in cattle-cars to Treblinka
and vanished.
Gas and smoke and ashes.

This day, shalom
was silenced in the Shoah.

The Language of Maps

Trish Veltman

Published on
page 34 of Tarot #1
(Dec 2020)

Waves roll a turquoise silk swatch from this coiled wire
of road to Kāpiti Island. Beyond Kāpiti’s green pleats,
silk sea still unfolds, spreading to another piece
of this jigsaw land, that last interruption
before Antarctica.

The South Island
is so clear today I think I should see red flares
flower on pōhutukawa trees, your wet-suited arms
wheeling through distant splashes of waves,
while blue flashes of tui wings guide you to shore.

A ribbon of dust
streams silver glitter through my fingers.
My view blurs.

Some days, the South Island is an indigo suggestion,
a smudge blurring sea and sky, or a soft tumble
of clouds gathered on a distant hem of water
below snaggletooth mountains.
Other days, its shape is so sharp
I think the continental plates shifted miles closer.

Under a shade cloth of night,
I know where it lies, from spasmodic scythes
of silver light – maybe a lighthouse signal
in the Marlborough Sounds.

But on days clouds draw heavy drapes across the sky,
or rain falls in grey stripes, my only sight
of the South Island is when I open the glove-box
and unfold a neat rectangle of map
you put there before you left.

You taught me the language of maps,
a fluent lexicon of contours and coordinates.
You said all paths can be traced with a map
and compass; all landmarks found.

Because of maps,
I know some things are not lost
just because they are hidden from view.

The Boy Nikolai

Trish Veltman

Published on
page 50 of Tarot #1
(Dec 2020)

Wolves live in our cistern.
They moved in the day Mr Adams
told us a story in assembly
about that Russian boy.

Their disguise is a cascade
of blued water, like Siberian blizzards.
Their appetite as deep and impossible
as the River Volga;

Nikolai was only the start.

I know it’s true:
Mum stops tutting
when I ask her to flush,
saves herself, tooth and claw,
for Dad.

Even in daytime, the wolves
don’t rest. Nikolai was taken at noon.
Rising wind screamed like a child
in the sleigh-driver’s ears,
and falling snow buried
the smell of blood.

Running isn’t fast enough.

Wolves can’t climb, I whisper,
over and over, but I fall asleep
with my head under cover,
and lie with my legs tight-crossed
if I wake in the night.

My parents’ voices whip
like winter winds on Russian plains,
and I stay awake,
remembering the boy Nikolai.