Writer and poet Tayi Tibble (Ngāti Porou/Te Whānau ā Apanui) won the Best First Book of Poetry Award at the 2019 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards for her collection of poems, Poukahangatus. In this poem, entitled Te Whānau, she ponders the sense of separation that kicked in when some of her iwi decided to close their tribal lines in response to Covid-19.
1 / It was twitter, not a tohunga dream or a tohu in the sky, that told me that my iwi would be closing their tribal lines and despite having only looked my maunga in the eye once, slept only one night beneath the spine of my tupuna, I felt isolation. Real isolation. The feeling of falling and having the wind knocked out of you.
August 30th, 2016 I remember: rising with the sunrise but wishing it away, uncles fucking up the reo they spent ages scraping together, the heartbreaking habit of looking for her laughing somewhere along the newspapered table, driving away, and in the rearview mirror, watching my heart disappear into the whenua she grew up with.
Afterwards, my uncles and cousins made forts of driftwood on the shore. I walked by myself through the town — a school and a four square — to a paddock of horses waiting for their kids like buses and felt overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the land and the ocean as far and wide and endless as the mind could even try to hold it. I stood with the Pacific all up in my irises and the breath of Whetumatarau on the back of my soul and felt isolation. Real isolation. As cold and as brilliant as gunmetal.
2 / When I was little my mother would tell me a story about the people that we were once and how, when the muscle from the north moved in — with its mechanical arms and settler fire — we moved up into the motherhood of our maunga. For months and months and months. But when the land was plucked over and her teat sucked to powder, the hunger came with a violence so violent that we traded and ate our children. Aue Aue Aue. God forgive me for I used to be so ashamed.
When I was a little girl, I cried and cried and cried in front of sixty, killing, alien eyes because my teacher told the entire class, dealt it straight like fact, that the māori killed the moas.
Now I think, fuck the moas. Six foot tall and an emu is vicious enough. Reaper talons and diamond beaks could easily pull even Rangatiras apart. But you never see pākehā on facebook typing moas killed the māoris.
3 / My killa lives in the other city. Said goodbye with an uber to the airport and a kiss on my skull. As I tried not to cry I was reminded of the first time I casually tried to slip some feelings in a text and he sent back a weak chain of xxxx’s. God I was embarrassed. Embarrassed that I could feel each x like tukutuku beneath my skin, like cuts and crops and kisses and targets. I was forced to remember that wherever I go, even if I go nowhere at all, that I am still a descendent of mountains and they are still beautiful despite everything they’ve entertained. Despite everything changing around them, they remain hearty and generous and gorgeous. And ever since they were first fished up by Maui — that sexy skux — every day, they are the first in the world to feel the sun on their face, and knowing this helps the east coast girl in me to be brave.
4 / I come from a line of wyling women. Born like aphrodite in the blood spill/east coast sea. They teach me to live life violently. I’ve always been the kind of girl too tough to be touched softly.
I come from a line of blazing women born in the red mouth of mountains that first kiss the sun. They teach me to live life for fun. I’ve always been the kind of girl too fire to be handled with care.
Lol jokes, actually I’m air just like my mother and I can’t be handled at all.
5 / I’m a libra like my mother. As a girl she kneeled in a valley of teal and let a dozen wild horses stamp a whirlpool around her while her mother screamed silently from the balcony but then gave up, and shrugged, and left her to it. In the car after the river, Te Kahurere said that in some tellings Tawhirimatea is actually a girl. Oh I said, with the kind of knowing that only girls know. Makes total sense. The bros fuming and quaking and crashing and snapping. Stepping out their father and sending him away. What’s that ancient whakatauki again? Oh yeah. Boys will be boys. But my heart goes out like an abandoned swan boat ghosting along a lake, to Miss Pretty Tawhirimatea, begging everyone to stay safe in the dark love forced upon them. But when Rangi had enough — his duffle bags in the blue Subaru — she went with him to the sky, to spend her entire life delivering his mamae to their mother, like love letters. In my city, I always forget the wind until I leave it. Until I swallow in the window of a foreign city, and realise that something is missing, but not quite what.