The Way Out by Helen McKinlay

Once I dressed up in your age.

It smelled of mothballs

and was tight

and heavy.


This is how things are I thought

and tried to heave it off

but found myself entangled

in its skirts. 


‘There has to be a way out’ I said.

‘There is’ the devil whispered.


‘Nonsense’ I replied,

 having found at last  the zipper.


And as I flung myself

from this costume

my hands

caught in the air

and found there

trills and sharps

and tintinnabulous vibrations.


So I strung them together

and wound them round

my pale body.

And now I live life as a song

pausing only to take breath

for the high notes.


When my ‘Grandma’ books were first published and I was asked to go and read them I would dress up as Grandma. I would even arrive as Grandma. it was tremendous fun. Once, I was asked to perform at a Senior Citizen’s Christmas do. As per usual, I donned my boiler suit, grey wig etc. However, my minder for the event greeted me as a dear and very old lady, not the spirited and adventurous one I meant to portray.  I felt very deflated and had to work hard to get my character back.

This particular scenario never happened again but it was a good experience and inspired the above poem, which  I was delighted  to have selected for one of The Guardian’s poetry workshops.
I put this on Tuesday Poem about five years ago and decided to re-air it today.

Press Release From ‘Grandma’ re Grandma Joins the All Blacks

No poetry today. Grandma and I have decided to come out and celebrate!


Grandma in celebration mode

‘Grandma’ is delighted to see that she has been included in the short list of 20 books for New Zealand’s favourite bestselling NZ book title, for the last decade. She nearly fell off her chair when she found out. The booksellers made up the list and it’s all about the books booksellers love to sell most. You can read about it here. Grandma says if you go to the participating booksellers there are prizes but you have to vote for YOUR favourite book, to be in the draw. You can also vote online. Helen, that’s me, is rather overwhelmed by such an honour and had to have two tablespoons of Grandma’s curative marmalade to calm her down. However, she, that’s me, would like to say that there were a lot of people involved in the production of this book…Australian illustrator Craig Smith, Harper Collins NZ, designers, printers, the lovely booksellers who sell these books and who organised this event in celebration of Bookshop Day on the 27th October. ‘Most of all,’ adds Grandma, ‘thank you to  all of you readers out there.’ So congratulations and thank you everybody for the part you have played in it’s success. To read about the other Grandma Books go here.

This story begins with Grandma’s plans to be a ‘good grandma.’ She even takes her knitting when she goes to watch the All Blacks in training. She sits and waits and knits but where are the boys? They’re hiding in the change room. Luckily, there’s nothing wrong that a dose of Gran’s marmalade can’t fix.
Next morning however, the team refuses to get up. The coach asks Gran for help. ‘They need a break,’ she tells him. She puts her granny chores aside and leads the boys off for some fun and adventure. By Friday, their enthusiasm is restored. But on Saturday when Gran arrives at the stadium to cheer them on in the big match, disaster awaits. The captain has chicken pox. Grandma takes on yet another challenge as she dives into the fray, marmalade, boots and all.
Published by Harper Collins NZ, October 1st, 2007 and many times reprinted.

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