Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Sudha Rao’s ‘Manuhiri’

check layout 22/ 7

 

Manuhiri

(Visitor)

1

Her grandmother told her she was a child of Manu,

manushi, daughter of humanity, blessed

to be a visitor when she crossed the sea.

 

The wooden gate is a threshold with arms outstretched

in protection, the slow wash of green waters rhythm.

Rising notes of another tongue is the wailing of her mother tongue.

 

Her back, a billowing canvas is taking shape –

her grandmother’s tapping, tapping the geo-graphy of her

in colours of the monsoon rain.

 

She is dusk, light with all the distance around her.

She crosses the threshold and offers her grandmother’s verses,

a garland of old earth sounds for the new.

 

 

 

 

2

Blissful waters surround pain washed up over and over again.

She sits among silent voices, bodies twitching to utter

shame for carrying skin, coloured by others.

What’s a brown skinned woman to do

at the gates of a marae? The solidarity of colour

bears differentiation.

He opened to a stance defying rule, he said I am

connected to islands by water, I am connected to you

by colonisation.

The gates opened enough for her to raise her head.

 

 

 

3

Nga Mihi

Korihi Te manu, takiri mai i Te ata 

Ka ao, ka ao, ka awatea

Tihei Mauri ora

Kua tau tenei manu hei manu, hei manuhiri, hei manu hari 

Ko te takahanga waewae, ko te rere o te kupu

Ka tangi te ngakau, he roimata aroha

Ki te manawhenua, no koutou tonu te whenua nei.

He awe ko toku mama, he awe ko toku papa 

Ma te huruhuru te manu ka rere 

Ka rere i te ao, ka rere i te po, ka rere ki toku whenua ake 

Ma Te ahi ka te manu ka ora. 

Tena koutou katoa.

 

4

When the kuia holds her hand, a sacred place ignites.

You are a seed of the old banyan tree swept

from your grandmother’s lap.

Transplanted here, I see birds’ nests, singing insects and shoots bearing the weight

of you. I see strong branches making light of your path –

see how they are dropping roots –

she feels the earth quiver under her feet.

 

5

Across the table, she hears raging clouds roving

to make wave upon wave to become sea overhead. White peaks roughed up on waters

below are screeching

gulls. How can she say that she is a visitor

on a  warm beach with sand beads

sketching a canvas stretched in her head?

 

 

 

6

She is a mirror of herself.

She is not a mirror of herself.

She is a scooped grain of memory,

of a love-song for a life lived

between her worlds.

 

 

 

 

 

1  The mihi for Manuhiri was prepared for me by Matt Gifford. It is made of two parts – the first is Māori proverb, the second part of the speech is an introduction of me to the hosts at the marae. The translation is as follows:

 

Nga Mihi (speech)

Part One – Maori proverb

Korihi Te manu, takiri mai i Te ata

Ka ao, Ka ao, ka awatea

Tihei Mauri ora

The bird sings, the morning has dawned

The day has broken

Ah! There is life.

Part Two – my speech introducing myself Matt references me as bird

Kua tau tenei manu hei manu, hei manuhiri, hei manu hari

Ko te takahanga waewae, ko te rere o te kupu

Ka tangi te ngakau, he roimata aroha

Ki te manawhenua, no koutou tonu te whenua nei.

This manu (bird) has descended as a manu (bird), as a visitor, as a dancing visitor

Through its dancing feet and its flowing words

Its heart cries, the tears of love

For you the home people, this is your land.

He awe ko toku mama, He awe ko toku papa

Ma te huruhuru te manu ka rere

Ka rere i te ao, ka rere i te po, Ka rere ki toku whenua ake

Ma Te ahi ka te manu ka ora.

My mother is a feather, my father is a feather

And it’s by their feathers this manu (bird) takes flight

Taking flight to the day, and flight to the night, From its own home land

Where the home fire burns, and gives this manu (bird) life.

 

 

Originally from South India, Sudha Rao lives in Wellington and has had a long standing involvement with the arts, primarily as a dancer. In 2017, Sudha graduated with a Masters in Creative Writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters, Victoria University, Wellington. Since 2012, Sudha’s poems have appeared in various journals and anthologies. These include two editions of Blackmail Press (2012 and 2014); an anthology of New Zealand writing, Sunset at the Estuary (2015) and in the UK anthology Poets’ quest for God (2016);  Landfall, Otago University, Dunedin (2018),and an anthology of migrant voices called More of us published in March 2019. In 2014, one Sudha’s poems was on the Bridport Poetry Competition’s shortlist. Excerpts of her prose work, has appeared in Turbine (2018) which comprised part of her MA thesis Margam and other excerpts were read in two sessions on national radio RNZ (2018). Sudha is part of a collective of Wellington women poets called Meow Gurrrls, who regularly post poems on YouTube

 

 

 

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