From Manoa to a Ponsonby Garden

From Manoa to a Ponsonby Garden

by Albert Wendt


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From Manoa to a Ponsonby Garden by Albert Wendt

From the valleys of Hawaii to the seasons of a garden in Auckland, this extraordinary offering of poems explores a variety of themes. Though hips need replacing, poets grow older, tsunamis destroy, and friends slip away, a spirit of renewal and humor pervades the collection. Alert and full of love, this is a moving and compelling book by a celebrated Pacific writer.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781869407346
Publisher: Auckland University Press
Publication date: 01/01/2013
Pages: 80
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Albert Wendt is an emeritus professor of English at the University of Auckland. He has been an influential figure in the developments that have shaped Pacific literature since the 1970s and was made Companion of the Order of New Zealand in 2001 for his services to literature. He is the author of The Adventures of Vela—winner of the 2010 Commonwealth Writers Prize—Pouliuli, and Sons for the Return Home.

Read an Excerpt

From Manoa to a Ponsonby Garden

By Albert Wendt

Auckland Associated Press

Copyright © 2012 Albert Wendt
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-86940-734-6



    The Ko'olau


    Since we moved into Manoa I've not wanted to escape
    the Ko'olau at the head of the valley
    They rise as high as atua as profound as their bodies
    They've been here since Pele fished these fecund islands
    out of Her fire and gifted them the songs
    of birth and lamentation

    Every day I stand on our front veranda
    and on acid-free paper try and catch their constant changing
    as the sun tattoos its face across their backs

    Some mornings they turn into tongue-
    less mist my pencil can't voice or map
    Some afternoons they swallow the dark rain
    and dare me to record that on the page

    What happens to them on a still and cloudless day?
    Will I be able to sight Pele Who made them?
    If I reach up into the sky's head will I be able
    to pull out the Ko'olau's incendiary genealogy?

    At night when I'm not alert they grow long limbs
    and crawl down the slopes of my dreams and out
    over the front veranda to the frightened stars

    Yesterday Noel our neighbour's nine-
    year-old son came for the third day
    and watched me drawing the Ko'olau

    Don't you get bored doing that? he asked
    Not if your life depended on it! I replied
    And realised I meant it


    There are other mountains in my life:
      Vaea who turned to weeping stone as he waited
    for his beloved Apaula to return and who now props
    up the fading legend of Stevenson to his 'wide and starry sky'
    and reality-TV tourists hunting for treasure islands

      Mauga-o-Fetu near the Fafa at Tufutafoe
    at the end of the world where meticulous priests gathered
    to unravel sunsets and the flights of stars that determine
    our paths to Pulotu or into the unexplored
    geography of the agaga

      Taranaki Who witnessed Te Whiti's fearless stand at Parihaka
    against the settlers' avaricious laws and guns
    Who watched them being evicted and driven eventually
    from their lands but not from the defiant struggle
    their descendants continue today forever until victory


    The Ko'olau watched the first people settle in the valley
    The Kanaka Maoli planted their ancestor the Kalo
    in the mud of the stream and swamps
    and later in the terraced lo'i they constructed
    Their ancestor fed on the valley's black blood
    They fed on the ancestor
    and flourished for generations

    Recently their heiau on the western slopes was restored
    The restorers tried to trace the peoples' descendants in the valley
    They found none to bless the heiau's re-opening
    On a Saturday morning as immaculate as Pele's mana
    we stood in the heiau in their welcoming presence that stretched
    across the valley and up into the mountains
    where their kapa-wrapped bones are hidden


    The Ko'olau has seen it all
    I too will go eventually
    with my mountains wrapped up
    in acid-free drawings that sing
    of these glorious mountains
    and the first Kanaka Maoli who named
    and loved them forever

    December 2004–January 2005


    What is this centre thing that holds me to my life?
    This mauli the cool Manoa evening makes me contemplate?

    Is it like the thin sliver of light I will remember
    after the last sunset slips off the Ko'olau?
    Is it like the just-there acidy taste of anti-cholesterol
    that promises a life after death without fat?
    Is it like the owl's sonar flight in the fearless dark
    though it doesn't know it is flying?
    Is it like the desire of grass to be lush in the Manoa rains?
    or the compulsive search by water for its apt shape?

    Is it something you can crawl out off and bequeath
    to another creature which needs a shell from predators?
    Is it the memory of the sea womb out of which you surfaced
    into the despair of the light?
    Is it an invisible second skeleton of bone
    your grandchildren will wear like a uniform?
    Can you smoke it like pakalolo and talk the air
    into giving up its secret elixirs? And is it 10 dollars a joint?

    Can you smell it? And if you can what does it smell like?
    Is it the blood odour of the amniotic tide that cauled you?
    Or that of hot porridge on a freezing morning at boarding school?
    Or do you prefer it to be the smell of dead flowers?
    Frangipani? Moso'oi? Roses?
    Or fresh bread as the morning opens your house?
    What about the stench of unwashed feet?
    Or an aunt's noiseless fart as she pretends all is well with her life?

    If you can touch it what do you prefer it to feel like?
    The long slick clinging feel of the black Vaipe mud
    out of which you have eased?
    What about the whole weave of your lover's skin as you burn?
    Or the searching feel of your father's Sunday sermons at Malie
    that woke you to the mana of words?
    Or the stinging bite of your grandmother's salu on your legs?
    What about the large embrace of her arms afterwards?

    If you could taste it would it be
    like a hotdog with mustard onions and a lot of hope?
    A double cheeseburger with a lot of hope
    but without onions and mustard?
    Pork sapasui oka fa'alifu kalo palusami koko alaisa or fries?
    What about the taste of Marmite or Weet-Bix? (I bet only Kiwis know those!)
    Or the taste of hot fish'n'chips on a Friday night in Ponsonby?

    Yes this centre thing that holds even riiver stones to their shape and shine
    that holds the owl aloft in the dark as it targets the hunger in its stride
    that is the rage and sparkle in my grandchildren's eyes
    holds me true and upright to the path of my life
    I did not buy or ask for it
    It came with me and won't let me forget it
    until it runs out

    Poems for Reina

    In Her Wake

    I walk in her wake almost every morning and afternoon
    along the Manoa valley
    from home and back after work
    In her slipstream shielded from the wind and the future
    I walk in the perfume that changes from day to day
    in the mornings with our backs to the Ko'olau
    in the afternoons heading into the last light as it slithers
    across the range into the west

    She struts at a pace my bad left knee
    and inclination won't allow me to keep up with
    And when I complain she says You just hate a woman
    walking ahead of you
    No I hate talking to the back of your head

    I'm the Atua of Thunder she reminds me
    when my pretensions as a Samoan aristocrat get out of hand
    So kill my enemies for me I demand
    Okay I'll send storms and lightning
    to drown and cinderise them
    Do it now I beg
    I can't I've got too much breeding to act like that
    (How do you cure contradictions like hers?)

    She loves Bob Dylan the Prophet of Bourgeois Doom
    And this morning I swam in his lyrics as she sang:
    Sweet Melinda the peasants call her the goddess of gloom
    She speaks good English
    And she invites you up into her room
    ... she takes your voice
    And leaves you howling at the moon ...

    Yes for over a year I've cruised in her perfumed wake
    protected from threats
    She'll take the first shot or hit in an ambush
    And if a car or bike runs headlong into us
    my Atua of Thunder with the aristocratic breeding
    will sacrifice her body to save me

    Nearly always she wears her favourite red sandals
    as she like Star Trek forges boldly ahead singing Dylan songs
    and me wanting to howl at the Hawaiian moon

    With Her Grandson

    Her youngest grandson is called Tahu Potiki
    after the heroic founding father of their Kai Tahu tribe
    He arrived last Saturday to spend the school holidays with us
    He and his two brothers are in Wesley College boarding school

    Before he arrived she cleaned and ordered our apartment to suit him
    She bought an orchid lei which we took to the airport and garlanded him with
    Their little incessant quarrels started in the car on our way back
    Ever since I've known them that seems to be the way:
    she correcting the way he dresses eats slouches speaks
    and won't behave like his aristocratic namesake
    and he grunting and refusing to bend
    Since we last saw him at Xmas he has stretched into a beanpole
    with long arms and legs a baby beard and a voice that squeaks and growls
    in a language I can barely understand

    Hawai'i has an eternally warm climate and sea but he chooses to play
    violent computer games or watch fantasy adventures and quests
    And that drives her teeth out of whack
    That school doesn't teach them proper manners and etiquette
    like St Mary's in Stratford where I went she complains
    It doesn't even teach them to read and appreciate books!
    They're too bloody busy turning them
    into rugby players and raving Methodists!
    On Monday night when Tahu Robert Temuera and I sat down to watch
    an NPC match on TV she retreated into the sullen bedroom to read

    I try and keep out of their way though at times I want to shout:
    Hey guys giv'us a break from that quarrelling rap!
    But I don't because whenever they're together that's how it is
    And you can't ever doubt the aroha between them

    He flies back on Thursday and she won't have anyone to quarrel lovingly with

    She Dreams

    Nearly always she remembers her dreams vividly
    At breakfast this morning she recalled how she was flying
    through a noiseless storm across the Straits for Ruapuke and her father
    who was sitting on his grave in their whanau urupa
    wearing a cloak of raindrops
    and she looked down and back at her paddling feet
    and saw she wasn't wearing her favourite red sandals
    She stopped in mid-flight in mid-storm and called
    Alapati get me my saviours!
    Woke and didn't understand why she'd called them that

    It's been about thirteen years and that makes you the man
    I've stayed the longest with she declared unexpectedly
    as we cleared the breakfast dishes
    To her such declarations are so obvious and like raindrops
    you can flick easily off a duck's back
    but for me it will stay a nit burrowing permanently into my skin
    I won't understand why

    If I tell her that she'll probably say You love guilt too much
    You read too much into things and need someone to blame
    So shall I blame her for staying thirteen years and plus?
    For not wearing her saviours and reaching her dead father
    who would have taken off his fabulous cloak of rain and draped it around her?
    Shall I blame her for not having met me when we were young
    and we could have been together much longer?

    Or shall I as usual let it pass
    content that I am blessed to be with her
    and in her dreams one day she and I will fly together
    through the voiceless storm to Ruapuke and her waiting father?
    She will be wearing her saviours
    and we will arrive safely

    September–October 2005

    Last Night

    Last night all night a blustery wind blew from the Ko'olau
    It had no face and eyes and didn't know it had a tongue
    Last night all night on the steep slopes of the valley
    a dog barked as slippery as the pebbles of the Manoa stream
    that will never know it is alive and singing for the sea
    The touch of my mother's fingers on my eyes kept me awake

    In our house I needed to be afraid
    I needed the healing of the blue darkness
    that doesn't know it has desires
    and my mother who wants my forgiveness
    for having left fifty or so years ago
    No one will be saved I heard her say to a child
    who needed to grow a soul that wanted saving

    She also promised me the morning's dolphin light
    the skip and dance of the incoming tide
    the quick intelligence of the rain
    She promised me amazement
    enough to fill my pockets
    enough to give away and create a life with
    My pockets are almost empty now

    Last night I wanted her to peel off her face and stretch it across mine
    I wanted her to give me her tongue and eyes
    I wanted her to promise she wouldn't die again without me

    Last night all night she waited for me
    at the edge of the blue darkness

    I Can't Sleep

    It is four a.m. but my mind still refuses to blink
    in case it misses something

    I imagine tonight to be like the one before Tagaloaalagi invented
    the alphabet which allows our tongues to name and taste our pain
    and see back into the dark and map the tracks over which we have come

    Except for the whispering swish of the Manoa stream
    all the other noises have left the valley
    I know those noises can't step out of their bodies
    and recognise their sounds but
    I'll imagine them swimming at Waimanalo
    their bodies sheathed in the skins of white sharks
    I'll imagine them surfing into my grandchildren's dreams
    as Jimi Hendrix' hyper guitar laments
    as Dylan's unmelodious rants against the dark
    as Ice-T before he sold out for a cop's redemptive badge in SVU

    I make a mug of tea and sit on the lanai sipping its smooth heat
    The other apartments around me are protected by lines of security lights
    Above them the pouliuli stretches up beyond security
    to where the stars cling to their precarious shine
    What are stars without the pouliuli that allows them to show their light?
    What are they without the light that navigators gaze up at
    and read our ways across the magic ocean of life?
    What are they but readings astrologers give to our hopes?
    Ferocious pieces of the once whole light which keeps bursting outwards
    but will one day implode and be whole again?
    What are they without me seeing them tonight?
    Something that feels like a puppy's tongue licks once at my left cheek
    Again more boldly across my nose then again and longer up my face
    Yes a curious breeze has slipped down from the slopes to see who I am
    I want it to sit in my lap and with me welcome the dawn
    that is rising and we will again be amazed


    Beethoven tugged at my hearing as I spread
    liliko'i jam on my breakfast bagel
    I had a strange dream last night she sd
    Beethoven insisted on being heard
    Do you want to hear it? she demanded
    I abandoned Beethoven
    and nodded enthusiastically

    I dreamed I walked into this brand-
    new hair-dressing salon where everything hung
    down from the ceiling she sd
    When I sat down they strapped a machine
    to my head and told me they wanted to scan my brain
    (In the next room a man was weighing a baby
    who turned out to be his grandson)
    Your brain isn't human they told me
    as they showed me my scan
    But it is! I insisted
    Then I woke up

    What do you make of that? she scanned me
    You need a haircut I replied
    That day I heard her laughter
    everywhere I went

    Senior Citizens

    Reina and I are well into our sixth decade
    Yet up till two months ago I was too ashamed to use
    our status as 'senior citizens' to get cheaper movie tickets

    And I don't know why when we went to see An Unfinished Life
    we decided to use it but while watching Morgan Freeman and Robert Redford
    playing retired cowboys I realised that
    like them we are finishing off our unfinished lives

    Yesterday at senior citizens' prices we saw A History of Violence


Excerpted from From Manoa to a Ponsonby Garden by Albert Wendt. Copyright © 2012 Albert Wendt. Excerpted by permission of Auckland Associated Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


The Ko'olau,
Poems for Reina,
In Her Wake,
With Her Grandson,
She Dreams,
Last Night,
I Can't Sleep,
Senior Citizens,
With Hone in Las Vegas,
Used-by Date,

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