Artwork: ‘Rehua’ by Robyn Kahukiwa
E ngā mana e ngā reo e ngā karangatanga maha o ngā hau whā. Ngāmihi atu ki a tātou katoa.
Over the past few months our whānau has experienced a harrowing time regarding my fathers health. For a while there, colour and laughter disappeared and everything seemed meaningless. I found my senses couldn’t handle anything overly loud, aggressive and I was unable to render up the energy to read whole books – instead, it was lines of poems (thematically written about something unrelated) rolling around in my head, giving me comfort as we sat in white corridors and I suppressed the urge to look up all the medical terms online.
I do not ask for youth, nor for delay
in the rising of time’s irreversible river
that takes the jewelled arc of the waterfall
in which I glimpse, minute by glinting minute,
all that I have and all that I am always losing
as sunlight lights each drop fast, fast falling.
I do not dream that you, young again,
might come to me darkly in love’s green darkness
where the dust of the bracken spices the air
moss, crushed, gives out an astringent sweetness
and water holds our reflections
motionless, as if for ever.
It is enough now to come into a room
and find the kindness we have for each other
— calling it love — in eyes that are shrewd
but trustful still, face chastened by years
of careful judgement; to sit in the afternoons
in mild conversation, without nostalgia.
But when you leave me, with your jauntiness
sinewed by resolution more than strength
— suddenly then I love you with a quick
intensity, remembering that water,
however luminous and grand, falls fast
and only once to the dark pool below.
From Night burns with a white fire: the essential Lauris Edmond, eds Frances Edmond and Sue Fitchett, Steele Roberts 2017, poem originally published 1975 In Middle Air)
It’s specifically poetry by Lauris Edmond and John Donne that came.
‘Yesternight the sun went hence,
And yet is here today;’
from ‘Song; Sweetest I Do Not Go’ by John Donne
‘Minute by glinting minute’
from ‘Waterfall’ by Lauris Edmond
They may seem like random choices. But when I discovered Donne and Edmond as a teen they blew.my.mind. Nerdy much.
As things settled with Dad, the ground felt more solid instead of the instability we’d been living through and so, I found myself gradually returning to the joy of reading, starting with the pile of newly ordered poetry books (Helen Rickerby’s – How to Live and Kate OHMYGOD Tempest),ebook downloads and podcasts (The Slowdown and New Yorker: Poetry are favourites). Even as I eased back in, World News started to drown out and distract and, without even really being aware of it, I found myself reaching for and returning to the solidarity and familiarity of fellow Indigenous like the current American Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, Layli Long Soldier (Whereas), Natalie Diaz (When My Brother Was an Aztec), Ali Cobby Eckermann and because not all indigenous are print published (yet or maybe even ever – that’s another kōrero, the elitism of print publishing), Evelyn READHERNOW Araluen and; because Indigenous prose is poetic a.f – Tommy Orange (There, There), Richard Wagameese (Indian Horse, Medicine Walk), Terese Marie Mailhot (Heart Berries) and Louise Erdrich (The Round House) and the Spoken Word roopu 1491’s.
Of course, most of these writers/performers are contemporary and that’s purposeful on my part because our commonalities while based upon our shared experience of Colonial Violence is also shaped by our whakapapa to our ancestors, the richness of our respective cultures and our colonised realities. As I acknowledge, that we follow in the steps of those before us, as others follow us, I also recognise that responsibility, that underlying mihi, that humility in the work of these contemporary indigenous and, as we live through these days, I get huge comfort in that. I am comforted by Our shared survival, Our resilience and by Our ability to still be here after the most horrific intentional actions to kill us and our ability to articulate and call that out, while being in a state of constant forgiveness towards our own people because we know, we get it, we’re you as you are me.
It terrifies me as to what will happen if, this new enemy finds its way to my Iwi, to rural Māori communities, to the rural Māori community I love, to Prisons or to the many places around this country where people I love are. We won’t have a shitshow. This’ll be a modern day Scorched Earth. It’ll wipe us out. I can’t bear to think about that.
So, while knowing and feeling allathat, I do the only thing I can. I put one step in front of the other as I have these past months, walking alongside my whānau and my Dad facing what has to be faced because while terrified, the love I have for him is greater than my fear. My love is greater than my fear. Love is greater than fear.
May a vaccination be found/created. And soon.
Ngā manaakitanga na Maraea
I Give You Back
I release you, my beautiful and terrible
fear. I release you. You were my beloved
and hated twin, but now, I don’t know you
as myself. I release you with all the
pain I would know at the death of
You are not my blood anymore.
I give you back to the soldiers
who burned down my house, beheaded my children,
raped and sodomized my brothers and sisters.
I give you back to those who stole the
food from our plates when we were starving.
I release you, fear, because you hold
these scenes in front of me and I was born
with eyes that can never close.
I release you
I release you
I release you
I release you
I am not afraid to be angry.
I am not afraid to rejoice.
I am not afraid to be black.
I am not afraid to be white.
I am not afraid to be hungry.
I am not afraid to be full.
I am not afraid to be hated.
I am not afraid to be loved.
to be loved, to be loved, fear.
Oh, you have choked me, but I gave you the leash.
You have gutted me but I gave you the knife.
You have devoured me, but I laid myself across the fire.
I take myself back, fear.
You are not my shadow any longer.
I won’t hold you in my hands.
You can’t live in my eyes, my ears, my voice
my belly, or in my heart my heart
my heart my heart
But come here, fear
I am alive and you are so afraid
Published in How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems: 1975 – 2001
(W.W. Norton and Company Inc., 2002).