A life is a cycle of swimming;
we go from ahurumowai
out into the bright lights
with earthquakes and house shatters
we are born brown and breathing
The center spent on land pulls us down
as leafy things learn
to grow beyond our reach.
This whānau never had ladder
in one season we’d wait
for pecked fruit to fall
rotten at our feet,
soft speckled butter
in the mouth.
In the other season
we could fly
we could climb
we could breathe
as unripe fruit
from the highest boughs
stung our tongues.
I learnt to see my body as a house
from the way you cut down those trees to build me.
I am soft wood and hard work.
I am the family dream of four children per family
– absoloute minimum.
I am girl surrounded
by ghosts of elder dreams.
They taught me with hand games,
ring-a-ring-a-rosie showing you how many could fall
to invisible soldiers,
foreign bodies in the water,
intruders in the rivers breathing through reeds
just waiting to cut us down.
They taught me with be careful,
They taught me with be quiet
when known strangers asked us
about how we flew one season
then gifted the river a flooding the next.
Now I tell them that I come from a long line
of flood and draught.
Before you I am your young reflection,
shaped like softness,
dark eyes blue rimmed,
sitting here so far from your lands
knowing you will return only through me.
Only through your dreaming
of the dark water
that connects you to a past felt
but never seen.
Once you called me to your side to hold me
“It is my job now to dream”, you said
“It is my job to dream good dreams for you
until the dreams come and take me away”
And I knew then
that we both came from that dark water
that only we could see.
You close your eyes to me
and see me better that way;
both of our outlines
in the black.
Ruby Solly (Kāi Tahu, Waitaha, Kāti Māmoe) is a writer, musician and taonga pūoro practitioner living in Pōneke. She has been published in journals such as Landfall, Starling and Sport, among others. In 2020 she released her debut album, Pōneke, which looks at the soundscapes of Wellington’s past, present and future through the use of taonga pūoro, cello, and environmental sounds. She is currently completing a PhD in public health, focusing on the use of taonga pūoro in hauora Māori. Tōku Pāpā, published in Februrary 2021, is her first book.