Hearing Voices

Hearing voices 

when you are sixteen and wet with fever

when a teacher slips her hand to the small of your back and you feel

the mooned curve of her nail.

Hearing voices

and not really understanding why you hear them

balling your hands into a tight fist

while it rains indoors, under the rafters.

Hearing voices and having to explain why you hear them

to a complete stranger in front of your parents

Before you have learnt about psychiatrists 

And what people mean when they use the words ‘artful distance.’

Hearing voices and wondering at what point on the third date

do you mention that you hear them

people ask if you’ve tried chamomile tea

and yoga, or that mindfulness app CALM 

but you can’t be CALM

when you want to talk about your experience with: 

  • Antipsychotics
  • the disability benefit
  •  employment discrimination.

and you are only ever met with looks of begging silence.

Hearing voices and feeling the most profound

sense of alienation, in a room full of friends

who are happy and laughing

because they don’t know the weight you feel

how when you were younger and admittedly a bit of a cunt

you almost died.

And that date passes each year like a stranger

waving from a crowded train

Somewhere in the northern hemisphere, romanticised 

Like Berlin 




Hearing voices and having people tell you 

that what you need

is the Lord

And if they knew what your voices actually told you,

most days

they’d throw you in a bucket of holy water

Hearing voices and wondering why people think 

it’s appropriate to tell you  

you need deliverance; or that you’re

spiritually enlightened,

don’t forget: Joan of Arc, Hildegard of Bingen, Virgina Woolf.

Hearing voices and wondering why 

we’re still using the word stigma, when the definition

means to blemish: a mark of shame

where are you branded, you wonder 

and why do people keep assuming that because you hear voices

that means 

you’d like deal with that by 

killing their families

How inappropriate

I mean really, you’re quite sensitive

You’re a crying-during a-good-recipe-and-sad-backstory-on-Masterchef 


Hearing voices and wondering if they’ll ever go away

or if people like you  will have to keep fighting

the words of wilful ignorance                 forever

Which is a long time, when you think about it.

You are tired. They tell you: get some sleep

but it’s so hard to be sleeping 

when they’re whispering in your ears, all night

Not to mention 

it’s a bit rude.

Ancestral House

I was reading about the Ancestral House

Trying to fit my tongue

Around the ngā’s and pō’s and wiki

Passing through a kōruru belly

Saying, this is the house and these are the people

The tiny eyes of god, to twenty quiet faces

I ask you questions like

do you think progressing in your job matters 

When the earth is going to kill us

You tell me it’s good to be ambitious

But I hate ambition 

And I want to staple this culture 

Of self-optimisation to the door

So you have to look at it every time you come home. 

Because I have to look 

as  I slip into the expected tapestry

Of mental illness under late capitalism. 

Like dissociating in the supermarket 

and writing the wrong date on the whiteboard

Match the furies that fill up the quiet spaces

With even more silence 

That press a hand to my back in the shower. 

Some days I am so ornamental 

That I’m not myself, just the breath 

Of another person’s imaginings: an idealisation

Where they buy me outfits 

and adjust my papier-mâché skin  (always hiding

the worst layers)

To put back on the shelf when they’re done. 

Look at the wind, and it is full of words

Whakarongo, it moves of its own accord 

and when it does it will not wait politely for you.

Kei te pupuhi te hau, e hoa mā

That is silly; wishful

and there is no point pretending it won’t.


I have built the bones of my mother’s house

On the back of hurled words.

I have placed my knuckles in the rafters

And punched at nothing

Except the way we had to fight, like we are fighting now

In that artery of corridors

When answers couldn’t be drawn in the sand, so easily

When the car was an open wound

Waterlogged, and at once stale, that silver line of ocean

Peaking over the hills. 

Our house was full of shapeless valleys, once. 

Because some secrets are best kept 

Under the earth, by crabbed water, foul-and-smelling.

The way that voices love to play tricks

And disappear when you ask them questions

Because they don’t have to make amends

For their thankless absurdity

And they know all about the digs

In your personal armour, the voices do.

Like the waves are really thistles,

The water, a nervous painter,

Too much searching and no one bothering to titiro themselves. 

Because there is a silence that folds

Into the creases of things

But that is not the silence that I hear in the night

Or rather, the silence that I felt 


Always asking me to see see see 

They used to say that it was the first marks of climate change

Not the disappearance of marine life

But the appearance of too much of it

Two thousand jellyfish

Exploding down the spit like bubble wrap.

All along the edge

Of Great Ocean Road

And the speckled glare of aura

That runs across my eyes.

Because they still take longer than most

To adjust to differences. 


You said, I want to go to Northland

where rivers become oceans on hot plates of sand

and touch each other’s tentative fingertips. 

Where fish and chip shops line the shoulder

of every cabled-road, and my gnarled fingers

grab tough fistfulls of sand.

No matter how much you try to avoid it

it always has a way of catching up with you.

It is as small as a pin-hole, made ragged with age.

When the demands of grief were piling up

and the vast expanse of water

was shovelling gravel at my feet. 

You said, I think we’re going to find our way 

while I’m amazed to have made it this far,

when a hole had opened in the ground, 

and hands had appeared to grab my ankles.

These days I am happy

but still watching for fluctuations in functioning;

never able to breathe and truly mean it.

It came to a head

when I got caught in a rip, a week ago

the kind you can’t see from the shore; purposefully


I threw my weight into a paddle

as the water dragged me out,

arms fading against the pithy white scar

of tides crossing paths.

My arms were tired, and there was panic

catching in my throat, because the water was rising

above my head and I was sick with longing; longing

for the white-caps not to drag me away, this time.

So I remembered. 

Swim to the side, part the ocean’s seam

panting as my body was retched back to shore

like fishbone and spit and sea. 

I thought about the rest of my near death experiences

of which quite a few involve nearly drowning

but I’m not a mid eighteenth century poet

and I don’t want to die before I’m thirty and unsuccessful. 

I sat on the sand

as the slate waves were buffering 

and felt full of burning rage. 

The steady rise and fall of my chest; sun breathing in tandem

I almost screamed. Because ten years later

September still loves

to test me, and is it turns out, 

I am still, somehow, surviving.