HANA PERA AOAKE

Invasive weeds, or I wish I could give you the world but I was only given mud, rot and the bones of a half-eaten fish

for my seven-week-old child

 

First swim after they cut me open. The mud tried to smother the sand
stolen from the other side of the country to build the fake beach.
There are no fish. Pipes are spurting waste water into the harbour.
Once a volcano here that erupted and shaped this body of water. I
often want to hold water in my hand, as if it was measured in weight
rather than volume. Slippery and slimy. Invasive weeds. In Europe all
the water is brown. Many bodies have floated in those waters both
alive and dead. Some were sold, some were stolen, some were just
poor, some had no other options. In summer the water drowns so
many here, as the sun gets hotter and the threat of fires loom, but the
tuna started returning to the lakes and the rivers, despite the trout
that don’t belong there taking all the food. When my waters broke
the mucus was brown and it almost choked my baby floating inside
my body. The baby didn’t want to leave and arrived in a sterile grey
factory with twenty people in blue aprons watching, while David
Bowie played. The surgeon's incision. King of the goblins please
take this baby somewhere safe. Who can blame you though for not
wanting to leave the womb? I wish I could give you the world but I
was only given mud, rot and the bones of a half-eaten fish.

Land back but not written on earrings and sold online. Sea spray.
Land back as praxis not practice. The labour required to fix it or
to not fix any of it. What are the consequences for the vulgarity
and materialism of this colonial barbarism? Or rather its dredges?
Invasive weeds. Native weeds. Native title. Hands that can never be
clean. Washing the sheets. Soaking the nappies. Land back as in for
this tiny baby. Land back as in not just the restitution of the land,
or the power to make decisions, but the water, the birds and all of
our kin. Not ownership in a 'legal' land title way. Land back as in a
rejection of corporate structures. Land back as in new knowledge
meets old knowledge and not repeating the same mistakes. Land
back as in no more mimicry. Land back as a futurity that includes
self-determination, environmental sustainability, and economic
justice. I wish I could give you the world but I was only given mud, rot
and the bones of a half-eaten fish.

Hair spreads out like lumps of seaweed smashing against the rocks.
Sea fog. Knife darts between fingers. Slime. Invasive weeds. The
sandbags are breaking. The mounds are collapsing as the water
licks the feet. Purebred dogs. The sea reclaims the shore. Breast
milk leaking. Clothes latch to the chest of salt and sweat. Let-down
reflex. My body senses babies to feed. Not my own, but all others.
Bodies and the endless cycle of hunger. Something about staying still
and never forgetting. Wetting the bed. Changing nappies. Relaxing
too much in the sauna. Becoming only liquid. It’s hard to hold
anything 'in this economy'. Sea spray. Rata flower. Ice cream scream.
FONTERR(OR) dairy products. Backbone of the nation state. Pour
animal fat down the drain. Body made of algae from the river. Viruses
are the most numerous biological entities on earth. I can’t breathe in
this mask even after seven, eight, nine booster shots. I’ll take them all
if it’ll keep you safe. When most of a continent has had only one shot
if any. Borders. Restrictions. Wanting a slice of the pie and a seat at
the table. Variants fly out old and new trade routes. Paranoia. Distrust
that’s an old open wound. Red, blue and green pills. Swallow them all.
I wish I could give you the world but I was only given mud, rot and
the bones of a half-eaten fish.

Children’s playgrounds become dog parks. No shitstains on your
white shoes. 'Upward mobility' and home ownership. Inflation. Swan
carcass in the reservoir. Invasive weeds. Protected species. Gamey
meat between two slices of white bread. Not butter but margarine.
Tomato sauce. Manaakitanga. Sucking marrow from the bones.
Suckling the hands in search of the breast. A whole lemon pushed
into every orifice. Eating the plums off of the tree. The excess rots
into the soil flowering more trees and more plums. The causality of
change. Plants grow through the concrete and around the steel. Let’s
rebuild but never erase. I wish I could give you the world but I was
only given mud, rot and the bones of a half-eaten fish.

Ruuaumoko shakes like a screaming child awake for twelve hours,
wide eyed and overtired. Squirming but still asleep on my chest.
Searching for a feed. Dreaming but what to dream of. The cathedral
is covered in plants again. All buildings reclaimed. Invasive weeds.
It’s less simple and more rapid than before. The ice melts and the
swamps become farms again and again and again. Kūmara mounds
remain. Dug into the hills by hand. Elevator up to the sky. Sea spray.
Cows over hands shitting in the volcanic soil. Productive. Fertile. Milk
production saps. Babies aren’t born anymore. They are ripped out.
Pain erupts, but my pain hides another's pain who hides another’s
pain and so forth. It’s hidden deep in my body. Buried but growing. I
wish I could give you the world but I was only given mud, rot and the
bones of a half-eaten fish.

Fossilised microorganisms. Invasive weeds. Before there were the
oceans. Deep in the biosphere in hyperthermal vents. A collective
memory. A shift. Nothing remains shut. There are no holidays,
no breaks, no pauses. No secrets can stay hidden. Every story is
remembered differently but the soil knows the truth. The past is
a scar on the land. It never completely heals, but the cut appears
superficial and closed until it opens again. I wish I could give you
the world but I was only given mud, rot and the bones of a half-
eaten fish.

writer Hana Pera Aoake

Hana Pera Aoake (Ngaati Hinerangi, Ngaati Mahuta, Ngaati Waewae, Tainui/Waikato) is an artist, writer, teacher, and mum based in Kawerau, Aotearoa. Hana is the poetry editor of the Otago Daily Times, co-organiser of Kei te pai press with Morgan Godfery, an occasional lecturer in art history, a current participant in the Creative New Zealand and Creative Australia digital fellowship and later in 2024 will undertake a curatorial residency at the Delfina Foundation in London. Hana's writing has appeared in Poetry Aotearoa Yearbook 2023, edited by Tracey Slaughter (Massey University Press); Metro magazine; The Material Kinship Reader, edited by Kris Dittel and Clementine Edwards (Onomatopee, 2022); It's Freezing in LA magazine; The New Internationalist and Granta. In 2020 Hana published their first book A bathful of kawakawa and hot water with Compound Press. 

Hana comments: 'This poem was originally the basis of an art project in Ōtautahi of the same name with Wesley John Fourie and Taarn Scott with the Physics Room in 2022. It was written as a meditation on all the anxieties I held for my newborn daughter's future on very little sleep.'  

 

​Poem source details >

 

Links

Hana Pera Aoake's Compound Press author page

 

Photographer credit: Matthew George Richard Ward