Old Scarry – from ‘People of the Water’ by Helen McKinlay

Back in the day my family

frequented Onekaka

not to photograph the bones

of the old wharf

or search for mussels

on the usually deserted beach.

But to see the rows of people

on their deck chairs

waiting for a guest appearance.


Why did she come?

Where did she go?

Trusting her dolphin body

to be touched by humans.

Swimming in the deep

with some. Floating

with the lesser swimmers

in shallow water.

Sharing kai with two young friends.

Pushing fresh caught tuna at them

again and again

till they knew it was a gift

evocative of “The Last Supper.”

Eaten with reverence

and always remembered.

There are many stories about dolphins in New Zealand befriending people. Old Scarry, spent a lot of time in Golden Bay and was much loved. My family and I shared her largesse. Named Old Scarry because of the scars on her side, she was extraordinarily tolerant.  I swam with her several times and once when I was with friends who had got to know her well and were swimming way out beyond my comfort zone…I was humbled by her coming  in to see me. Did she know I felt left out?

She really did present a very large freshly caught tuna to the  two youngsters (grownup now) in the poem.  And they in turn shared this gift with my family. To read more about her and other friendly dolphins of NZ go here.

This poem is from my collection People of the Water (Mohua Press 2020)

Yes, People of the Water is officially published!  

It is now in the process of distribution. You can ask for it at your  local bookshop, or obtain it online from the printers. The Copy Press Nelson. Price $20 NZ.