Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Ruby Solly’s ‘Black Swim’

Black Swim

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
yet again.

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
             a flickering
             in the black.

Ruby Solly

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 LandfallStarling 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.

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