A Walk With Your Father

Before you do anything else, check your lungs.
Are they the right size for you, are you the right size for them?
Are they nice and snug against your ribs and spine?
Don’t worry if they’re a bit big for you, you’ll grow into them.
They must be full, however; you don’t want them empty.
You have a long way to go.

Put your hand inside your mouth and make sure
everything’s in its place, check that all the pipes and hoses
leading from your lungs into your mouth are in position and in good nick.
You don’t want any leaks or sudden explosions
this is your air we’re talking about.
Close your mouth securely around this apparatus.

Next check your weight. If you are too heavy
or too light you won’t get anywhere. By the way
there’s no need to take a whole lot of extras with you.
Some people strap expensive knives to their legs and wear protective gloves.
There’s no real need for any of this—an ordinary old sharp knife
from the kitchen drawer will do. And just your bare hands.
You may need to signal to each other.

Now pay some attention to your skin.
It should feel secure and warm
but also allow plenty of room to move freely.
There are any number of colours available nowadays—
they all do pretty much the same job.

Your feet, are they the right size?
If they’re too large you will tire quickly,
too small and you’ll be left behind.
You’re probably looking at feet
about the same size as his.

Your eyes—spit in them.
It keeps everything clear.

That step you’re about to take
will have to be wider than you’re used to.
Don’t forget to move forwards, not backwards.
Keep your hand on your mouth so everything stays in place
when you break the surface.

Mihi to Tangaroa. Mihi to Hinemoana.
Now get in under there,
immerse yourself.

Do it now, go.
He’ll be right behind you.

Hinemoana Baker (Ngati Raukawa, Ngati Toa Rangatira, Te Ati Awa, Kai Tahu, Ngati Kiritea no Ingarangi/Tiamani) is a writer, musician and radio producer living on Wellington’s Kapiti Coast. Her literary debut, a collection of poetry called matuhi | needle, was launched on October 31, 2004 – co-published by Victoria University Press and US-based Perceval Press. At the same time, Hinemoana released her first full-length album of her own music, puawai. Hinomoana is a graduate of Victoria University, with a BA in Maori and Women’s Studies and an MA in Creative Writing.

Hinemoana’s poetry, fiction and children’s stories have been published in the literary journal Sport, the anthology of Maori writing Te Ao Marama, online literary journal TurbineThe School Journal and in Bill Manhire’s Mutes and Earthquakes. Two of her plays were produced for the ‘Te Reo Maori Season’ by Wellington’s Taki Rua Theatre in the 1990s. In 1998 she was awarded the Stout Research Centre/Reader’s Digest Writing Fellowship at Victoria University.

Hinemoana comments: ‘This poem evolved into a radio feature about a year after it was written. My father is a scuba instructor, and has been diving for nearly 40 years. For the same reasons I recently asked him, against all my sensibilities, to take me to my first rugby match, I asked him to teach me to dive. These are his passions, and he won’t be around to share them forever.

‘A few months before the course began, I spent a week doing some “before” recordings: my anxieties, the foreign language of scuba, my predictions for how I’d cope. Then in February 2003, I headed up again to Matata in the Bay of Plenty to live with Dad and his partner, Anthea, for the month.

‘I took a mini-disc with me every time we went out on the boat, and I also journalled at home about how I was feeling. I was sometimes overwhelmed just by the sheer equipment of it all – not just the tanks and the buoyancy compensation device and the regulator, but also the mini-disc (with all its batteries, bits and pieces) which were my constant companions. The 16 or so hours of raw footage I collected became a 54-minute National Radio programme called “Talking to Tangaroa”.

‘I have many memories from that time – my first dangerous creature (a disinterested stingray); my worst panic attack (when I was learning to take my mask off underwater); at last discovering a sea-sickness remedy that worked (Marzine). I was surprised by how nervous Dad seemed to be teaching me – his daughter – what he had taught countless others. It was different, he said, with his own flesh and blood.

‘The documentary was not, of course, really about the scuba-diving, but about our relationship, past and present. My most vivid realisations about this side of things, however, occurred long after the documentary – and the dive course – were finished. “Oh,” I thought, months later, staring at Kapiti Island. “So that’s why I had a big tangi after my last dive. And that’s why I hate Dad’s favourite Perry Como song.”

‘When I read “A Walk With Your Father” now, it’s interesting to me that so many of those insights are well-represented – in a poem written a year before we hit the water together.’

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