Poetry Shelf classic poem: Jordan Hamel picks Ria Masae’s ‘Jack Didn’t Build Here’

 

Jack Didn’t Build Here

 

This is the house that Dad built.

Foundation laid with stories

from sitting under the ulu tree

to learnings from palagi scholarship:

for wife, for offspring, for aiga.

Sunday School teachings echo in his mother-tongue

dotted with Oxford Dictionary words.

 

This is the house that Lange built.

Southside Prime Minister. The only home

in the hood with a pool. He invited the locals

– his Mangere locals – over to swim

and understood the pressures of fa’alavelave,

cos he brown on the inside like that.

 

This is the house that Mum built.

Chandelier hangs over the heads of churchy

poker players, cheating and laughing on

the woven fala. Celebration trestle tables

laden with islands of sapasui, oka,

fa’alifu taro, palusami, and umu pork

surrounding a pavlova cheesecake.

 

This is the house that Key built.

Double-glazed windows within a security code gate.

His pool stretches across his Parnell palace

where riff raff are never invited to take a dip,

instead he swims regular laps to drown the reality

of midnight figures huddled inside torn sleeping bags

outside glaring high-fashion mannequin stores.

 

This is the house that I built.

Now in State House central. Wallpaper designed with parents’ language

smudged into Samoglish. One post carved from

the ancient va’a of bloodline ocean wayfarers.

Other post, a mighty kauri etched with Hans fairytales,

and Chinese script I feel but I can’t translate.

 

What house will Jacinda build?

Will her house accommodate the next generation?

Will it enable my daughters to build their own homes

of tangata whenua foundations and fa’a Samoa roofs

in this palagified City of Sales?

 

Ria Masae, originally appeared in Landfall

 

 

poem appeared in latest Landfall 237

 

Note from Jordan:

I was lucky enough to see Ria Masae perform poetry last year and I’ve been a fanboy ever since.  I fell in with love this poem when I read it in Landfall instantly because of how it delineates the relationship between the personal and political. While those with power have the ability to create structures and systems that shield them from one or the other, the two spheres of experience are inherently and inevitably reciprocal.

Ria shows us the house as a place of learning, eating, sharing, a place to nurture Whanaungatanga. But she also shows us the house as something unattainable, surrounded by barriers and surveillance, somewhere that can spread fear, otherness or indifference. We spend our whole lives as house guests: we consciously and subconsciously pick and choose experiences and lessons as we build our own, deciding who to invite in, how we speak inside, what wallpaper to put up. Ria has built a house that is a sum of her, her knowledge, her language, her whakapapa, her space within a nation, where the treatment of its guests fluctuates with the whims of those sitting at the head of the table. Ria ends with a question:

What house will Jacinda build? Will it enable my daughters to build their own houses/of tangata whenua foundations and fa’a Samoa roofs/in the palangified City of Sales?

This ending resonates in a time where Aotearoa is asking more of it’s leaders, asking how they will allow rangatiratanga to flourish, how they will create a sustainable future and undo the harms of colonialism and capitalism, how they will celebrate and protect the unique experiences and histories of all its guests, how they will rectify their positions of power and privilege with the whenua they stand on. Ria will have an answer to her question sooner or later. In the meantime, I’m getting a grappling hook, a balaclava, a bottle of whisky and going for a midnight skinny dip in John Key’s forbidden pool, who’s coming with me?

 

Jordan Hamel is a Pōneke-based poet and performer. He was raised in Timaru on a diet of Catholicism and masculine emotional repression. He is the current New Zealand Poetry Slam champion and has words published or forthcoming in Takahē, Poetry NZ, Mimicry, Sweet Mammalian, Glass Poetry, Queen Mob’s Teahouse and elsewhere.

Ria Masae is a writer, poet and a spoken word artist. Her work has appeared in various writing outlets such as, Landfall, Circulo de Poesia / Circle of Poets (Mexico), and Best NZ Poems 2017. She is a member of the South Auckland Poets’ Collective.

This year Ria was accepted for the 2019 New Zealand Society of Authors Mentorship Programme in which she is working on new material for her sole poetry collection. She is also compiling poetry to be published by Auckland University Press, alongside two other emerging poets in a book series, New Poets #6. This is due to be released next year.

 

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Landfall page

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