Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Selina Tusitala Marsh’s ‘Tualima’


Inked blue-black birds
On back of hands
Soar skies
Then land to strut
Over sands leaving
V tracks towards
The malo
The centrepiece
Diamond protector
Where two fishes kiss
Then split
Into diamonds again
Dug deep from skin
Porous mythic origin
Framed by centipedes
They follow, they lead
Along the line
Of spaces in between
The seen unseen.

Fetu mark skies 
And the insides of fale
Rafters of heaven
They number seven generations
Passed down and along
Inked songs sung of the jellyfish
Women’s own symbol
Beautiful to touch
Deadly if crushed
Tatau mark wisdom past 
Tatau are mirrors for today.

Selina Tusitala Marsh


Tualima: Tattoos placed on the back of hands, reserved for Samoan women
Malu: Diamond shape symbolising women’s ability to provide for and protect her loved ones
Fetu: Stars
Fake: Traditional open walled Samoan house

Professor Selina Tusitala Marsh is of Samoan, Tuvaluan, English and French descent. She was the first Pacific Islander to graduate with a PhD in English from The University of Auckland and is now a lecturer in the English Department, specialising in Pasifika literature. Her first collection, the bestselling Fast Talking PI, won the NZSA Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry in 2010. Marsh represented Tuvalu at the London Olympics Poetry Parnassus event in 2012; her work has been translated into Ukrainian and Spanish and has appeared in numerous forms live in schools, museums, parks, billboards, print and online literary journals. As Commonwealth Poet (2016), she composed and performed for the Queen at Westminster Abbey. She became New Zealand’s Poet Laureate in 2017. Her debut children’s book and memoir, Mophead: How Your Difference Makes a Difference, was awarded the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year – 2020 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

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