ARIHIA LATHAM

Te Whē

(i) Rui ruia

Should I feel discomfort here // Te Rauparaha battled
my tīpuna for a decade // It is very hard when the
tangata whenua are smiling and singing // When the
kai is glazed carrots and cream lamingtons // Am I
a lazy descendant, where is my fight // My nervous
system ticks over // I recline on the mattresses beneath
another Arihia, surely that's a sign // A sparrow flies
inside the wharekai and my heart flaps // A sign //
Does it matter that it’s the wrong bird // It was the
colonisers that brought the muskets // Perhaps the
thing to lay to rest is this genealogical trauma, to notice
the elepha...sparrow in the room // After all it’s not a
pīwaiwaka bringing a tohu of the past or the future //
Is time linear and do birds care // My cousin Ruby is a
songbird, we are sparrow and pīwaiwaka // Why can’t
I sing like her // She flings her arms and the sparrow
finds the window // I am carried by the current of
wānanga // I wonder how the awa can keep cleansing us
// How does it keep on flowing to sea // I am eddying
// The karaka berries make the air sweet and fragrant //
The poison is in the seed // Our poison was in the seed
// If you know how, the river can wash it away // Dusk
// Women gather at the awa // To cleanse the poisoned
kernels of colonisation, of the patriarchy // I miss the
swim waiting for my baby // Mokemoke māna // He
kākano, he kākano // These last precious moments
with my thoughts going to seed // Wanting, waiting,
eddying // The night curled like fruit to her seed // I
hold my baby as the whare begins to shake // Ru rui
ruia // The young ones out front with blankets said
lightning came first // Whaitiri conducting Rūaumoko,
she flings her arms // The windows rattle // Seriously
did we need another sign // I pick figs at Tukorehe
// Their flesh spongy beneath my fingers // We pull
them open and they are full of pollen // More flower
than fruit, stillborn // Is it a sign of my impatience //
Genealogical friction // These fruits have no scent //
The smell of the karaka wafts // Tempting our female
senses // Forever the putiputi and the poison fruit //

 

(ii) Kapakapa

I see the poisonous teeth of ongaonga
         and I want to clutch them
                 swelling my fingers to a throb
                          to drown my feeling of failure
                                  to know how to be
                          Am I angry or resigned
                 Am I a peacemaker
         or a warrior
Clearly a fucking Libran laughs the group
When I leave the marae
         I feel woven into something intricate
                 in a way only a wānanga can
                          and on return I can feel he is extracting himself
                                  cutting ties, severing the muka
                                          packing belongings in bags
                                  silently, tāna ongaonga
                          If I try to speak to him
                 the sting would swell
         my lips closed

I ask him to take our daughter
                 because my son is in trouble
                                  He says is trouble
                                          So I take my poisoned love
                                  the fragrant kernel sits on my tongue
                         pecked at by pīwaiwaka and sparrows
                who could die by fruit or pane of glass
         bringing messages of the past, of the future
Where is the window, where is the river

 

(iii) Tui tuia

The ambulance didn’t come
My foot kisses the accelerator
This is too close to frantic
Wings vibrating at the window
I will not let this be the tohu

Moving through mist
my mind feels anaesthetised
A coping mechanism
fight or flight
fucking flight
Wing me away
but I am drawn back because
ED is full of rhythm
The metronome of
electrolytes
reviving
my son’s sunken cheeks
The hum of insulin
alkalising his blood

The space between his brow and hairline
is the same as when he was
a tiny baby and my hand could cup his skull, birdlike
Now this body spills
off the hospital bed
Limbs like vines
searching for a better host
Everyone says time
is the most deceptive thing
I know deception and its poisoned fruit
but my son looking like a man
smelling of sweat and cigarettes
instead of baby’s milk and honey
or child’s dirt and spit
This metamorphosis is blinding
distressing, I flap
I still feel a novice
I fling myself at the window
holding tight
but also unlatched, set free
letting him go

Watching his eyes flicker
lightning on the hills
his heart zigzagging on the screen
Steadying my own
coaxing it down from my mouth
to the bony cage where it belongs
I want to lock him up, keep him safe
His wings are beating in here
I want to set him free
watch his debut into the world
Rere atu rere mai
Perhaps we could settle on a tether,
a muka string on my wrist
Above, a bird
my tohu
darting freely

My middle child is flying
literally, en route to the airport
she glides into the hospital
whispering to her brother
things he will not remember
Her mind is sure
ready to fight for us all
Her stance is poised, calming
She has always
steadied her siblings with
unwavering navigation
Did she get this way
from being after and before
the past and the future
Did I even have a hand in it
Or was she thrown
from Rangiātea
Not confused or lost
Fight and flight
Sparrow and pīwaiwaka
Warrior and peacemaker
And together, my children
Rui ruia, kapakapa
Tui, tuia
tug at the muka
from before and beyond us
The fine plaits in my fingers hum
bind, release,
Release.

 

author photo Arihia Latham

Arihia Latham (Kāi Tahu, Kāti Māmoe, Waitaha) is a writer, creative, and rongoā practitioner. Her poetry collection Birdspeak (2023) is published by Anahera Press and her short stories, essays and poetry have been published and anthologised widely. She lives with her whānau in Te Whanganui a Tara.

Arihia comments: 'This poem "Te Whē" was written as a response to a wānanga at Tūkorehe marae focussing on the whakatauki "E kore au e ngaro, he kākano i ruia mai i Rangiātea." I will not be lost, I am a seed descended from Rangiātea. It unpacks the discomfort of separation from whakapapa, from relationships and from self and calls us to read the signs of connection, to find the future in our past and to hold tight when all feels lost.'

 

​Poem source details >

 

Links

Arihia Latham's Anahera Press webpage

 

Photographer credit: Amber-Jayne Bain