Tuesday Poem – Cow – by James Norcliffe

He is learning language.

He points.


The table is a cow.

The plate is a cow.

The book is a cow

with a cow on the cover.

The fridge magnet is a cow.

The fridge magnet is a picture of a cow.


And then I see I have it all wrong:


The cow is a table.

The cow is a plate.

The cow is a book.

The fridge magnet is a cow.


And he wants to tell Papa

And he wants to tell Mama

He is pointing at a table,

A plate and a book.

He is pointing at a cow

stuck on the fridge.

The cow is a fridge magnet.

The fridge magnet is a cow.


The fridge is a large white cow.

The large white cow is a fridge.

(c) James Norcliffe

As you might have guessed family is important to James. He and his wife, Joan Melvyn, have two children, Tom and Elizabeth, and three grandchildren. One aged 7 lives in Christchurch and the other two in the UK: one 5 and the other 2 and a half.  It was Sebastian, the youngest, who inspired this poem.

James says: The poem is probably self explanatory, but I might add that small children not only sometimes get intoxicated by language and individual words and that they often make us re-think the logic of things we take for granted. In this case a little like the surrealist Magritte’s painting of a pipe – The Treachery of Images – which included the words ceci n’est pas une pipe (this is not a pipe).

Magritte said: “The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it’s just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture “This is a pipe”, I’d have been lying!”

James Norcliffe was born in Greymouth. His family moved to Christchurch when he was young, and apart from periods spent in China in the late 1980s and Borneo in the 1990s, he has always lived in or near Christchurch. As well as family, he also has a great love of gardening and trees.

While James has always been a teacher, he has also been a writer and editor for many years. He has published a collection of short stories called The Chinese Interpreter, ten collections of poetry, and ten novels for young adults, including the award-winning The Assassin of Gleam and The Loblolly Boy. James has been involved with Takahe magazine and has had a long and continuing involvement with the Christchurch School for Young Writers. Currently he is an editor for the on-line journal Flash Frontier….A new children’s novel Malory, Malory or the Revenge of the Tooth Fairy will be published by Puffin this year and his first adult novel will come out from Penguin Random House. To read more go here

Thank you for sharing this previously unpublished poem with us James. I love the logic of Sebastian’s  thinking.  Children …what would we do without them?

To my readers, I hope you are doing well in lock down,wherever you are. I also hope that in NZ it goes on for longer than four weeks. I don’t see how we can get rid of the virus otherwise. Multiple blessings Be safe be well, be kind to yourselves and each other. Helen







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