Two poems – David Eggleton
Lychee Warriors – Jessica Le Bas
What I Now Know – Rachel Smith
Ligaw-tingin – Ivy Alvarez
The Peaceful Sea – S. R. Charters
Toetoe – Iona Winter
Two prose poems – Kerry Reed-Gilbert
One hundred illuminated frogs – Annette Edwards-Hill
Pasifika, Western Springs, 2017 – Anne Hollier Ruddy
Endgame – Serie Barford
Shipshape – Andrea Ewing
Two micros – Jac Jenkins
I’m Clairvoyant, I Tell You – Tina Barry
Seasalt – Lola Elvy
The New Zealand Death – Heather McQuillan
Murder Most Foul, Niue – Ronnie Smart
Memory – Jana Heise
The sadness of mountains – Reihana Robinson
Motherland – Chelsea Houghton
Not Your Coconut – Daren Kamali
Two poems – Hinewirangi Kohu Morgan
Haerenga (voyages) – Jeff Taylor
Scenes of Early Man – Rachel J. Fenton
Stealing the joy – Michelle Matheson
Fronting up to the Fakpeje (a nonfiction reflection) – Mere Taito
March Features – Interviews with:
Tracey Slaughter and Sue Wootton, NFFD Judges
Vaughan Rapatahana, NFFD Te Reo Māori Judge
Tim Jones and Patrick Pink, NFFD Youth Judges
Selina Tusitala Marsh, New Zealand Poet Laureate
Anton Blank, Ora Nui Editor
John Pule, Niuean Visual Artist and Poet
Featured Story: Vaughan Rapatahana – E ngaro taku ringa
We drive to King Khalid Airport. The final exit visa. I’ve had my masallamah party, said goodbyes. Walked for the last time with Pamela around our compound. Put on my abaya for the last time. Heard a final call to prayer. Seen shops pull down shutters for prayer one last time. We taxi down a runway surrounded by desert. Minarets of King Khalid’s International Airport Mosque in the distance. I open the prayer time app on my cell phone. Press delete.
By the door of my house, manuka, hebe, harakeke. Voices of Tane. Korimako tui, miromiro. Morning Karakia.
The Great Wave
There is no god but God, go mongooses in the monsoon.
The rains thrum on empty biscuit tin drums
to rattle Suva market and flick your face.
The jail’s walls are ivory; a rainbow crooks an elbow.
The old shoeshine boy begs for money
for a cup of tea and two pieces of bread.
Everybody wears jogging shoes and sneakers,
the jingle-jangle of the bangle-seller is drowned
by a radio that could walk five hundred miles,
and then go walking on the moon to a bass line by Sting.
A crimson hibiscus lei drapes the punchbowl
at the bar, where I renovate my inner temple
and wait for the night to extend my winning streak,
as hotel staff slice tops off fresh pineapples
to reach garlanded pinnacles of mirrors.
A hinge bends to lift a drift log from the surf.
Thus spake Zarathustra to the fa’afafine:
bruise me with purple shadows of evening fallen
over searched caves of eyes that lids close on.
I listen to the ocean chant words from Rotuma.
The Mariposa is a butterfly between islands.
A heatwave, fathoms green, whose light spreads
its coconut oil or ghee or thick candlenut soot,
twinkes like fireflies over plantation gloom,
and heart’s surge is the world’s deep breath.
I learn to love every move the great wave makes;
it coils you into each silken twist of foam,
blown far, all the way to salt-touched Tonga
with mango pits, wooden baler, shells awash.
My uncle, swimming from New Zealand, wades
out of the sea and wades onshore at Levuka,
where my grandmother is staring out
from her hillside grove of trees waiting for him.
The Wilder Years
Us, with our sewing, quilting, plumbing bees,
going hard yakker till the eleventh hour,
we’ll be throwing on the barbie one more sacred cow,
and tossing the hoons mallowpuffs and macaroons
to keep them bemused between beers,
then hosing it all down with tanker milk.
A clinking canticle of glasses is poured
as all Kiwiland gets on board —
in sheep’s clothing looking wolfish, a teeth-gnashing nation.
These shaky isles of geyserland porridge,
wind gusts and snow, and blinding sunshine
spread like butter on the bread of the mundane,
show all the blue, blue days of shunted livestock
are otherwise fine, so get in behind, ya mongrels.
You can, in this country, walk on water,
so long as you don’t rock the boat,
but always speak the truth and always shut the gate.
How we yearn to be lost and found on shores
of islands loveliest, loneliest, fierce and raw,
though often rent asunder by thud and blunder,
and sometimes by pillage and plunder,
running down the mountainous spine,
where greenstone’s a hollow pampered jade,
and pounamu jiggles on a piece of string.
Flag, anthem, dairy herd, rugby team identity
are carried on the narrow back of the new Hawaiki,
to the jeers of old-time mountaineers
whose core sample memories are all that remain
of a rattletrap past wrapped in its own bombast,
its own jars of extract of sticky black yeast.
Twice branded by the slash-mark of Zorro,
Enzed is machine washable and in a state of global warming.
Enzed is delirium tremens, too, a trigger warning.
Enzed is a mega uplift junket, a berm with a view,
a watchamacallit, Lotto Prize, gold-plated thrill,
a hoiho five-spot, mohua hundie, kārearea kill,
a folding koha, whio blue duck, ten dollar bill.
Jessica Le Bas
Te Ara Vari, Arorangi
Coming home under an unconscious heat, the slender end of a week of tepid rains draining a blue-water-silk lagoon, the afternoon ballooning on your brow. You lick your lips and the sweat is coconut flavoured, savoured sickly sweet and ancient.
The neighbour’s tree has a storm of its own, thrown free, from thick-thatched lawn to low cloud, with a crowd of boys swinging. There’s no telling wood from leg or bomb-shelling arm. They bully and bash, flash through the branches with hands full of fruit. A palm frond raised like a sword severs skin from trunk, the colour of cousins. They’re punch drunk, not on thieving, but a sweet-scented flesh plundered.
Fruit spent, pips spat like lead shot. Their clandestine clatter numbs the mynah birds’ chatter, drums the roosters into the shadows. The tree, pillaged and her clothes torn, her legs in the air, despairs as her fruit falls. The lawn littered with little woody wombs, glittering damask and empty.
As the Polynesian sun falls, you can almost hear her sap rise, her perennial surprise thwarted, and on hold till next season.
What I Now Know
If the new year brings a heavy fruiting of vī, the risk of a cyclone increases and your boat from the north will not be able to dock at Avatiu Wharf.
A wasp can sting at any time, even my arm that snakes around your waist as we ride, clockwise, on and on. A flower snapped from a tīpani tree oozes white sap which will not ease the swelling.
At 3am the moon lays down its silver.
The tuna I buy in thick red slabs may or may not have eaten a smaller fish whose stomach was clogged with toothbrush bristles.
A coconut that falls in the night can crack a pigs’ head right open but kuru will spill its own grey matter across the damp earth. Chickens will peck at either.
What I have yet to learn is everything.
When I hitch my pareu high and wash my fanny at the tap around the back of the house, your neighbour and I can pretend we never saw each other.
A boat can slip its moorings and leave without sound so that out past the lagoon, past the white rim of the reef, there is nothing but ocean.
Rain falls heavy when no one is watching. My sheets will smell of your damp skin for weeks.
We conduct these games covertly, an exchange of invisible coinage, a currency still unstated, the hunger in our looks unsated, so we keep carving each feature and pore, and eyelash, and more, into a certain fold in the brain. My grey matter is indelibly stained with you, a drop of dye in a glass of water, tinting everything. Every sense amplified to the level of prey, skittish, almost British, endangered, barely keeping the heart at bay from one’s throat. We stay. We try and pay attention to what our eyes say, our tongues withhold.
This poem and ‘Lumang tugtugin’ (previously published in Flash Frontier’s December 2016: Micro issue) form part of Diaspora, a projected work of multiple volumes, the first volume of which was recently accepted by a publisher.
Similarly to my previous collection, The Everyday English Dictionary, I provide my own definitions to the entries in the form of poems, although this time it is for Filipino idiomatic expressions.
The Peaceful Sea
S. R. Charters
Everyone’s from somewhere. Dies somewhere. Paradise is elsewhere. Everything changes. Meantime, keep moving.
Leni squishes the soft French stick, adds lemon-pepper tuna to the crust shell, chews, washes it down with fizzy mango. The lady’s out today. A good payer, but fussy – not too short, keep it green, she says. He smears on crazy sunblock, puts on noise muffs.
Leni goes to church, sends money home. He understands his obligations. Family. Keep moving. Day follows day. His shoulders are broad.
He does the outside edges first, all round. Big house. Big lawns. Everyone’s too scared to share. Not enough to go round. Mine or yours. Never ours. They’ve got more than us.
In autumn the grass grows fast, green and breeze-ruffled, swaying in Siva Samoa. Leni lifts the mower down and starts her up. Round and round he mows, an encroaching tide-line, circling the island.
Meanwhile, the drownings: ferries sink; seas sweep fishermen off rocks; dinghies capsize in the bone-chill harbour. A girl drowns in the backyard pool while her dad drinks beer, watching Sky. It’s a better life for the kids.
Year by year the waves are washing higher: cyclones, king tides. The fish don’t come. Cast your net wide. Go farther for your catch.
Leni circles, shark-like, over the sward till he can turn no more. He obliterates Paradise in two quick swathes, back and forth, dumb as a drowning man.
No one’s an island. Beneath the rising sea the continents migrate, chafe and clash, embrace like families.
Over the road from us men in wheelchairs beg for bus money, while their socks dangle limply in the breeze. Our pockets are always empty but we check them anyway, the poor subsidising the poor, while the rich amble by in designer shoes swinging distended bags crammed with so many unnecessary things.
Up here in the city, pōrangi people go to sleep in shop doorways during the day. Yesterday one of them screamed, ‘Let me out, for God’s sake, let me out!’
Together we watched the woman’s arms wave toetoe-like, as if in a breeze, and her wild eyes looked the same as ours used to at kapa haka practice whenever we tried to get our pūkana on.
We said ‘aroha’ under our breaths as we walked past and, by instinct, flinched when other people laid latex-gloved-hands on her body – as if a hungry swarm.
Inhaling a cigarette and our musty clothes, I prayed for silence, to welcome back all the fractured pieces of me; like listening to a band blindfolded, my other senses come alive. Nights in White Satin was playing on a radio somewhere, interwoven with police sirens.
’Cos I love you, yes I love you, oh oh how I love you…
My man pulled me into his shoulder and whispered, “Maybe she is one of those people who can see how lost we’ve become.”
And then we laughed, to make light of our own dark places without doorways to shelter in.
Two prose poems
The true story – word warriors
The pen is mightier than the sword, as truth and justice survive the lies
Deceptions of white historians and men in black cloaks and white wigs,
Of policemen dressed in outfits of blue and guns swinging side to side
Warrior men and women, too many to name, fighting a war a battle with no end
Aboriginal resistance truth and justice the legends will be told
Our word warriors who use the words of the invaders to tell the stories
they are the story tellers, the poets, the singers, the writers of words
Writing the true history of Australia
The sound of laughter dances through the air amongst the happiness music abound. Smiling
faces young and old surround me dressed in t-shirts and jeans occasionally there’s someone
dressed in their Sunday best. Feet decked out in Reeboks and Nike’s miles off a blister here
or there leave many limping.
They’re up there on stage the Warumpi band and their singing loud and proud. Blackfella,
whitefella. It doesn’t matter, what your colour. As long as you, true fella……. Everyone’s
rocking and rolling. The Hippies under the trees are playing their air guitars. Big people, little
people having a great time. The noise is deafening as they all sing united as one. Colours of
the world fly high today united with the red, black and yellow.
Today the world celebrates the survival as the oldest culture in the world. A new day
dawning for this land now called Australia.
One hundred illuminated frogs
I walk across the tarmac, the engines blowing hot air at me. The heat follows me into the terminal.
Mary waves at me and says my skirt is too short. My neck burns. I wore this to Grandma’s funeral, I say. Mary pulls on the hem and says, you were a foot shorter then.
I buy a sulu from a shop in the arrivals area. It’s pink with orange flowers. I tie it around my waist.
Mary drives and I watch the sun drop suddenly over a wide muddy river. When we arrive it is dark and the village is a scene of shadowy shapes and fire.
I follow Mary into a circle and sit cross-legged. I clap and a bowl is passed to me. The drink is brown and muddy, sharp in my mouth. The man next to me points to my bare knees. Cover yourself.
I walk to my bed for the night, stepping over hundreds of tiny frogs illuminated in the moonlight.
After breakfast I wash under a spill of cool water that gushes from a pipe onto hard dirt. We start our walk, my wet hair is like steam. At the top of the hill I find my grandfather. His name painted in red letters on white stone. There is a salusalu of wilted flowers. I kneel on the dry earth.
Years later I search Google maps for the village. I get lost in the unfamiliar flat areas of green and indents of blue.
Pasifika, Western Springs, 2017
Anne Hollier Ruddy
This time it’s different. I ignore eels slithering in the lake, to admire black swans in royal progress and a white clot of geese under a tree. Where before I’d shrunk from youths stone-faced behind sunnies and arrogant with gang strut, today I smile as children wave bright balloons. They blow iridescence from plastic wands – the world seems young and fresh.
It’s Sunday. A Fijian church choir sings of foreign faith while their minister urges us to stand up and receive the Spirit. We hesitate. He comes down into our midst to press the flesh. In his dusty black jacket, tie and sandals, he looks hot but smiles with attitude. I remember my dead mother’s rages at this land’s cold shoulder, and wish someone like him had comforted her. I buy palusami with taro and eat it, thinking of her.
At another village stage, oiled limbs pulsate to drums. Their compere mouths ribaldry, making grannies laugh like brown blancmanges. The sun beats down on our straw hats, onto stalls where deft fingers weave mats. It is an atmosphere both tropical and carefree.
I sit on a plastic chair under a tree, welcoming its shade. A ceaseless ribbon of humanity streams past. I marvel at the palette of skin colour. Twenty-five years ago, the faces reminded me of their poverty or social ills. Today, they resemble threads woven into a fabric uniquely Pacific.
I’m informed by ngā tohu so took note when a trapped pīwakawaka zoned in on me at my local supermarket. It was desperate to escape. Was painfully ricocheting off windows.
People tried to help. They cooed reassurance and stood on the pressure pad to part the automatic door.
The pīwakawaka parried their kind intentions. Hyperventilated and fanned itself with its tail. When our eyes locked I saw the dreamlike image of a man trying to fly beyond the orbit of wailing women.
The shop manager interrupted our kōrero. “Don’t worry about that poor little bugger. I’ve called for help. It’s a native. We can’t kill it.”
I left without buying groceries. Drove down the hill through the aftermath of a cyclone to an alternative supermarket in a mall.
The mall’s automatic doors scissored together and apart as people ran in and out of the rain. I was thinking, “Great weather for ducks,” when a bird flew over my shoulder. Only it wasn’t a duck. It was a pīwakawaka heading west through the doors.
The pīwakawaka perched on the escalator. It was full of mirth, like the one that laughed and danced when Māui crawled into Hine-nui-te-pō. Māui had been close to securing immortality but carked it when the goddess’s thighs snapped shut. And there was only one person I knew who wanted to live forever…
Then my phone rang. “Arohamai e hoa. Sad news…”
It’s beautiful, rolling into the bay on a cloud-flecked sea: its white sails luminous as frangipani in the rising dusk. Its white sailors, too. Everything is shipshape: the lapels on the captain’s shirt, the ropes on deck coiled like serpents.
Your island sits waiting. Its green flanks rustle welcome. And its dark crew waits too, for what else but great fortune could be berthed in that blonde wood hull? From the beach, people grin in awe; an elder chants prayers. Somewhere a neon bird cries out.
All night you dream of what you can offer, what you might receive.
At dawn a notched plank is rolled down. A pale man in feathered hat stands on the sand, waves everyone aboard. At first, unease; but then a sailor gives the first man a glinting necklace for his cowrie shell. After that, a stampede.
The sailors slam the hatches. There is panic in the dark.
The anchor rises dripping on its chain. The plank retracts, sails flutter down. With her precious cargo safely on board, she sets sail: from lonely beach to blue horizon.
Years before, some explorer – stitching together continents – saw this same ocean and gave it a name. He saw light sea breezes, an uncluttered frontier; mare nullius. Your ancestor’s outriggers sank from sight, translucent as ghosts. Their criss-crossed travels were wiped from his map.
He named it Pacific – peaceful. In other words, an easy target; a flat slick of wealth just waiting to be reaped.
This tōtara tree is ornamented with tiny berries – gifts are quiet here, although if I hold my breath I hear the sap complaining at my pluck of fruit. Tōtara here are like weeds, I whisper back. This fertile earth won’t miss a seed or two.
A thin trail of flattened grass leads to my feet. I watch bees move in to fill the space left by my passage through the paddock’s clover flowers. Tōtara berries taste like guava. That’s not what it says in the book of edible New Zealand plants.
I asked your father before the hush, could we make wine? and here I am now, offering vinegar – redness splashing on the tōtara’s spreading roots.
I don’t believe in ghosts. That plosive stutter was simply a pheasant’s urgent flight. If it were you, you’d be the sound of a small plump berry falling.
Our quad bike rumbles along the race below me.
He mates her like an octopus, as far as possible from her mouth
and afterwards he runs away. To avoid being eaten.
But the Larger Pacific Striped Octopus mates beak-to-beak and cohabits,
mating daily and sharing meals in an unusual position.
I’m Clairvoyant, I Tell You
When I Hold a Finger to My Ear
I hear your call, brined in salt yet distinct. You challenge me to a duel of rhymes, but I’ve sparred with you before. Can you smell my longing through the rivets of your palm? Hear the rain pummel my coat?
Your Fate Line is my Fate Line
Why pretend otherwise? A tortoise raises its head, admires the shadow of its profile on the ocean. Shoals of your skin bob and cool. I warn the children not to swim there.
I Picture a Raft in Your Future
Tattoo my back with seaweed, conch shells, anchors and Apollo’s lyre. Think of me as a new ocean to voyage. The sun line deepens heading south.
All Lines Lead to Impatience
I’ve conjured a route with Mercury to guide me. Mussels shiver in nets. Buoys bounce. The hull is below, resplendent in its weather. Take me there. Even the boat creaks with complaint. It’s traveled too far for romance.
Silence. The sun is gone now, hiding behind the shallow clouds that hang like curtains above our heads, offering us the illusion of belief, the religion of Infinity. Rest in the safety of the nighttime dark, the shade beneath the evergreens, their leaves heavy with the snow that we have never seen. There is rhythm here; you can feel the moon’s pulse quicken and slow as it dilates against the dawn, as it pulls, gently, evocatively, at the swelling tides, its touch soothing their urge to break with the sky when morning comes. This is the breath of the earth, when the wind brushes across the sifting sands, bone-dry, sure and inconstant, and we cannot understand its meaning, running deeper than our marrow, faster than our hearts can even beat our burning blood, but still, we try, because we can do nothing else but try. And we think about this, together in our disparate individuality, your hand wrapped tightly around mine, the stars limited as they fade above us, the rain pure as it starts to fall, washing the soft kiss of seasalt from your skin.
The New Zealand Death
The kids stand in black jeans as if they fell and landed that way. They wear their caps at angles while their thin, tattoo-sprinkled arms scorch under the sun. They seem baffled at how, on such a day when they should be sitting with cold beers and complaining of the heat, they are at the beach and not swimming – but a rāhui is the sort of respect they can respect back.
A policeman stands with them, his hand on the walkie-talkie clipped to his vest, so they delete some fucks and any conversation stutters. When he walks away to give them space, they fall silent. A light plane sweeps the same portion of sky and sea.
The smooth surface makes a lie of what they’ve been told about rowdy surf whipped by the cyclone’s tail and how he skived off early, the sweltering heat driving him, laughing, diving into the rip. They are here to look but hope they won’t see his body. It will be bloated, the skin macerated blue-white. A week ago the macabre photos they’ve found online would’ve aroused crass jokes. Bravado was for before.
They stand on the rocks to scan the sea, thin arms clasped at chests or wrapped around a girl who leans in. They hold her but do not look because her tears are too much salt for one day.
The sun is sharp in their eyes. They look to the horizon’s straight line, certain they would have swum ashore.
Murder Most Foul, Niue
They ranged freely on the island, crowing the crack of dawn at every minute. They fluttered to the lower branches to peck the papaya.
No one would miss one. Together we made the decision – my wife, her mum, our daughter and I. We put down the ripe orange fruit as bait, and used a rope to slam the laundry door shut.
When the door opened, I walked out, gripping the scaly feet tight, with a towel about its wings. My wife waited, holding a knife.
Our daughter had withdrawn her support.
From where she ran, she didn’t see its blood streaming into the pan, though perhaps heard the fluttering, which slowed with its heartbeat.
She made a shrine of black feathers and island flowers, sticking the feathers into the grass till they touched rock.
The cooked meat was tough and tasteless.
For dinner we all ate a large uga we caught crossing the road. Its flesh tasted of the coconut it ate. Afraid of its claws, I held the lid down till the steam stilled its clattering. Outside, I saw grounded feathers flutter in the grass.
Black ink on tanned skin. A labyrinth of twists and swirls. A story written across your forearm. Is it ours? In my mind light still ricochets off glittering water, piercing your eye and bouncing back at me that much warmer. Tell me, is it warm where you’ve gone? Is there light? I hope you’re dancing with the gods in the way you were always meant to. Sing my name or forget me. I will remember enough for the both of us.
The sadness of mountains
The morning with its complications sifts in from the dark
long unquiet night. The morning opens and drifting rain wafts over hills, pours whiteness over the land
A gentle breeze finds harakeke waving
Yes this is the time of farewell. Yes the hills are weeping
Moehau is weeping
Piwakawaka you merry bird, flash light and dark at the window
get up get up
we have work to do
to carry on
The colours are wild tangles of vivid green, bright blue and grey above, white, brown and black by the shore, deep red inland. The smell in the air is fruity, fermented, smoky and moist.
You hear chickens; mixed size cartoon roosters with vicious spurs and large red combs, accompanied by weedy looking hens. You are woken by dogs who walk the streets with stumpy legs or strange features. Goats and pigs walk the roads near the taro fields. Waves fizzle in after they crash on the reef, words surround you in a language that is familiar but distant. There is the intermittent whine of scooters, bikes, cars and small trucks.
Small lizards climb the walls inside your house. Coconut trees are far taller than you could have imagined. Houses seem like upper market sheds.
You buy fruit, fish, taro and bread from roadsides, and stores that are houses. $1, $2, $4 a bag. There are no fences or letterboxes, but many puddled potholes.
The rain is all-encompassing, stopping and starting, and the clouds that stretch across the sky give you an existential crisis as you realise how small you are in this wide ocean of a world.
These are the things that you are never told about in the stories. The stories are blurred imaginings when you’ve never seen your family’s birthplace. One day you will travel there and wonder why it is has taken you a lifetime. You will wish you could listen to the stories over again.
Not Your Coconut
Never was Duna’s head
Supposed to be buried
In Sina’s sand –
Never in love with Sina –
The fantasy of it
He told her
Twice before –
Smitten by silver tongue
and pearly whites –
Blinded by the notion of –
Third time –
A little coconut
Grows in her belly
Listened not to her heart –
Father of the tropics
Welcomes great news
With not so great –
Requesting his head –
Be removed and buried
In white sand –
Outside Sina’s fale
He watches –
His seed grow
Little coconut grew
Fine young Niu
Seas between them
Is their coconut
He grew –
Firm – tall
As a man
In the house of his mother
The greatest lesson of all
Young coconuts sometimes fall
They roll across the sand –
Into the wide open wasawasa
So vast my son
That hurricane’s do blow coconut trees
From side to side
But never to the ground
Beware of falling coconuts
Coconuts fall when they’re old
Floating from Isle to atoll to island
Replanting themselves on every
Isle – Atoll – Island
Finally they settle –
On an island
They call home
This is the story of –
Sina and Duna –
Hinewirangi Kohu Morgan
The indigenous worlds
sit at the edge
of a colonized world
protecting mother earth
hell bent on destruction
our natural worlds.
The indigenous worlds
Hawaiki nui, Hawaiki roa,
pipelines, destroying our water
by western barbaric
fruit bowl of Aotearoa,
maori people dying of cancers,
as a result of insecticides, pesticides
their island a nuclear dumping site.
North American Treaties never
ancient homes gone forever
men buying children
raped, incest, violence’s, murdered.
you took my ability
to deal with anger away
anger is bad
yet everything you do
tells me you
are violence itself.
My traditions of anger
gave me grace to know peace.
levels of Hara
hara to harawene
harawene to riri
riri to pukuriri
pukuriri to Nguha.
I could measure
I worked through these angers
I get stuck in
Meaning – go for the jugular
End of story.
“What’s about this mountain again, Gran?”
“It’s called Monte Cassino, Tama. You’re only seven so it won’t mean much to you right now, but this is an important place for our whakapapa. My father, your great grandpa, was killed here seventy years ago, and we’ll likely never come this way again. He was in the Maori Battalion, and they were mighty warriors. They came from our country at the bottom of the world like we have, but they came to fight for the empire.”
“What’s the empire? Is that like in Star Wars?”
“No, the British Empire.”
“Did they fly Emirates too?”
“No, no. They came on boats. Their wakas were called troop ships, but lots bigger than the ones our people came to Aotearoa in from the Pacific Ocean hundreds of year ago. The enemy were up the top, shooting down at your tupuna tane.”
“Rifles and great big guns as well. And planes were dropping bombs all over the place.”
“Didn’t Grandpa have a laser gun, Gran?”
“No. Nothing like that. Just a rifle like your dad had to shoot rabbits.”
“Wish Dad coulda come, eh.”
“Well, he can’t leave the hospital, and he needs your mum there. So it’s just me and you. Thanks to the whanau for raising the money, eh.”
“I want a gun one day. I’m gonna shoot things too when I’m growed up.”
“Maybe, boy. Maybe.”
“This is so boring, Gran. When do we get to the Disneyland place in Paris?”
Scenes of Early Man
Rachel J. Fenton
My son was hunched at the back of the classroom at a desk shaped like a British fifty pence coin, the most difficult to roll on its side, from memory. Open like a dead kahu in front of him, a book. Depicting men with arrows hunting moa, women feeding children around a fire and making clothes from fur, the book looked out-of-date; printed around the same time his teacher was born, I guessed, though maths has never been my strong point.
When I was my son’s age, my school’s Head kept me behind one lunch time to teach me division, picked me up by my collar bones and threw me to one side: remainder one. I lost interest after that.
But my son’s teacher was insistent: “He has to learn. The school has strict rules. This is not an isolated incident.” She didn’t mention the red tallies on his skin, the half-dozen kids who every playtime chased my son with sticks. Above her, strung like washing across the classroom, lowest just above my son, were paintings: shields with straight limbs speared at twenty-minute intervals, broad-brushed smiles grazed armpit to armpit in their head-bodies; self-portraits. She pointed to my son’s art, on the floor. “His can’t go up until it’s finished.” His is an island. Then, looking at my son, the teacher said, “He cried the whole school out. That’s not acceptable behaviour for a boy his age.” That’s when he flipped.
Stealing the joy
I am aware of every movement, every muscle. This ancient art brings both longevity and serenity. It speaks to a warrior’s heart. Every weekday morning, I come here to the shore of my new country. There is a void that yawns within me.
My hands move slowly, nostalgia evoking paper lanterns in the air. I am aware that I am a curiosity to my neighbours as they powerwalk along the foreshore, or throw driftwood to their dogs. The same ocean breeze licks our skin, but only one of us feels the salt on our cheeks and recognises that the taste of the sea is also the taste of loneliness.
I yearn for sunny weekend mornings. Eagerly I await the travel cade of cars, and minivans. From my porch I watch an unfurling of colour as tents, and shade screens and sun umbrellas go up. The air is scented with food, barbecuing meat and happiness.
Old people are settled throne-like into beach chairs. Children run in and out of the sea. Young men play touch, their tattoos alive in the afternoon sun; a testimony to family, to culture, to heritage. Behind their hands, teenage girls avert their eyes and giggle. My pores open to absorb it all, stealing their joy for myself.
And already I know that tomorrow my middle-class neighbours will be posting their outrage about the noise, the cars and scents; about the very life that I am breathing in.
Fronting up to the Fakpeje (a nonfiction reflection)
A Fakpeje shuts me up and shames me. If it walked into a room, I would cower, get on my knees and avoid its condescending gaze. Hmph. You call yourself a poet? Can you write a Fakpeje? No? Bullshit poet. That’s what you are. Whose child are you anyway? Ka’äe le’ on sei?
A Fakpeje is Rotuman language verse traditionally written or composed to either mark or recall a milestone in a person’s life. The imagery that lives within this poetic form is filthy rich. The variety of Rotuman language used strikes at many places, especially the skin where goosebumps lie waiting. A Fakpeje is best read as if it were a proverb from the Old Testament. There is idiomatic magic if you linger. However, if a Fakpeje offers a metaphor that is too cryptic and layered, you will find me making the 15-minute ride to my father’s home. I need his Rotuman-thinking brain to unbraid lines and comb out meaning. My father would often laugh and then dish out gentle criticism. The trouble with you poetry-applied-linguistics-people, good in English but hopeless in Rotuman. What’s the use?
What’s the use, indeed? For all my advanced training in applied linguistics, I cannot write a Fakpeje to save my life. This awareness feasts on my conscience and upsets me more than I care to admit. The truth is, I am a far better speaker and reader of Rotuman than I am a writer. In ‘The Light and Dark in Our Stuff’, a recently self-published chapbook of ten poems, I have used a total of three Rotuman words:
tefui (n) pg. 13 hefạu (n) pg. 13 tähroro (n) pg 27
On a Fakpeje-ness scale, this is extreme safe-playing. Nevertheless, I laboured over each word. I called my father and Facebook-messaged my good friend and Rotuman language guru, Sarote Erasito, to double-check spelling, translations, parts of speech and the placement of diacritics. Three Rotuman words have the power to push me into a place of anxiety and paranoia. English words don’t usually have this effect on me. Misspelt English words? Subjects and verbs don’t agree? Meh. Nobody die. With Rotuman, everybody die. So I pay attention. Devour all I can like an obsessed student.
Sometimes this obsession gives me the courage to write my mother in Rotuman – in phone text messages, email and snail mail format. She beamed with pride when she received my poetry books and my explanatory note in Rotuman. I suspect that it was my note that impressed her the most.
So whose child am I anyway?
Ka’gou le’ on sei?
I am Mua Taito and Tarusila Fui’s child.
Gou le’ on Mua Taito ma Tarusila Fui.
I cannot write a Fakpeje to save my life but I sure as hell can try.
Starting with the sprinkling of Rotuman words in the poems I write in English. And letters to my mother. The latter always means that she will call from Sacramento to gush over how much my written Rotuman has improved.