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.
|Publisher:||Auckland University Press|
|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 PressCopyright © 2012 Albert Wendt
All rights reserved.
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
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
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
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.
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Table of Contents
Poems for Reina,
In Her Wake,
With Her Grandson,
I Can't Sleep,
With Hone in Las Vegas,
II A PONSONBY GARDEN,