Tuesday Poem-Late Departing Pioneers

They are walking again on the hills today

dressed in black and bowler hatted.

Are they lost? They seem purposeful.


headed for a future full of sheep.

‘Past now.’



They turn

drop furled umbrellas

pull at fob chains

strung across their chests.  

‘Could it be we missed it all?’



they show the teeth not seen

in usual pioneer portraits

salute Queen Victoria

remove their carefully waxed moustaches

and throw them to the wind


where feathered by the foam

from off the waves

they fly and circle.

And at Tairoa Heads

are photographed


by anxious Americans, who

not cognisant

of the moustache birds

of late departing souls

hail them as cormorants

and sometimes albatross.

(c) Helen Mckinlay

Taiaroa Heads, Dunedin New Zealand
Taiaroa Heads, Dunedin New Zealand

This poem came out of  four months studying in Dunedin, where on days off I became a tourist. The Toitu Otago Settlers Museum  was a great place to visit…one of my favourite parts being the portrait gallery lined with paintings and photos of early settlers (pioneers). Have you noticed that early settlers usually have their mouths closed in photographs. My friend Joyce reckoned it was because they had awful teeth on account of no dentists!  Makes sense to me.  My favourite place was the Otago Peninsula, where amongst other delights the Taiaroa Heads Royal Albatross Colony is situated.  On days when the albatross don’t show and one needs a good photo there’s nothing like a moustache bird! Hence the anxious Americans in the poem.

This poem was published in Typewriter iv edited by Elizabeth Welsh.  I have made some changes since.

Please return to the Tuesday Poem Hub for an excellent choice by this week’s editor T.CLear.

One thought on “Tuesday Poem-Late Departing Pioneers”

  1. Oh, so lovely to see your poem again (with its alterations), Helen. Those teeth not seen and the throwing of waxed moustaches to the wind are such joyful, flippant touches – fabulous!

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