Sacred Pulu

let me rip off
your images
and write about the bleeding beetroot pink purity
of Cook Islands potato salad
melting into subtropical mango horizons,
let me crap on poetically papaya
inhaling the bottle blonde fragrance of gardenia
let me pop some pods of vanilla
and talk dried banana bullshit

let me write about
the mountains of Manu’a
from the flats of Mangere town centre
let me shower you
with falling frangipani fakeness
$2 a lei from a Chinese shop in Otahu
let me keep it real
with the bitterness of lime from Foodtown $15.99 a kg
for raw fish ota ika perfection

let me bowl you a type of stereo
that sings lotto-ad-styles
hula hip hop
wop de fob
fresh fresh fresh
out of the deep freeze

let me scream a Niuean chant
like Xena
and slap my chest ma’ulu’ulu style
till my Wonderbra sings like a coconut
let me siva you away like Sosefina
last song, feeling up the dancefloor

let me romanticise us
away from
the grubby white sneaker existence
stuck to chewing gum of Otara markets
carried into the CBD of Saturday night
the fruit is so bright
we need shades
electric windowed over blood burst eyes
still leaking with the ecstasy of last night

let me write about
doing the do
that hasn’ t been done
to death
quite yet
with a little help from high street friends
black grace on white powder
so nesian mystical

yes, look up from your pokey poverty
and get angry about this poem
you’re always a gold coin koha
away from winning lotto
one lotu away
from the salvation day
and yes
we’re halfway between
buttnaked and never-never land
it’s a trip
I’ve never been able to save for
I tell you
stuck in rainy days all the time
so far a lave lave away
from us all

Karlo Mila is a performance poet of Tongan, Palangi and Samoan descent who was recently described as one of this country’s most original young writers. She was born in Rotorua, grew up in Palmerston North and now lives and works in Auckland.

Karlo attended Massey University where she completed a BA in Sociology and Social Anthropology and a Masters in Social Work (Applied). In addition, during this time she completed Auckland University’s Creative Writing course taught by Albert Wendt. Karlo also worked for three years as the Pacific Health Research Manager for the Health Research Council. She says that she has been writing poetry since she was in standard three.

She currently holds a scholarship to do her PhD which will examine policy and planning for the New Zealand born Pacific population.

Mila’s poetry has been published in Best New Zealand Poems 2003Short Fuse: The Global Anthology of Fusion PoetryThe New Zealand Listener and Coffee and Coconuts. Several of her poems also feature in the 2004 Montana New Zealand Book Award-winning anthology Whetu MoanaDream Fish Floatingis her first published collection.

‘Like other Pacific authors Karlo draws wisdom and compassion from her
ancestral cultures but is not constrained by them. Honest and unafraid,
she has spread her net wide in order to capture the many concerns that
many people are grappling with as they face the realities of a
globalised and impersonal world.’
– Professor Konai Helu Therman, University of the South Pacific

Mila comments: ‘This poem was inspired by a friend of mine, Teresa Brown and her circle of friends. They break all the “fobby” stereotypes of what Pacific people in this country are supposed to be like. They don’t wear mumus or tupenu to their ankles. They are extremely well educated, ultra-urban, with sophisticated palates, good politics and basically they’re downright fabulous. They’re not afraid of who they are and they’re not having cultural identity crises even though they don’t fit the traditional Pacific “mould”…

One of Teresa’s friends, Victor Rodger, is a Pacific writer breaking down the stereotypes of who we Pacific people are supposed to be and what kind of box we are supposed to fit into to. I do have some concern about our art-forms sometimes, in that they (subconsciously or super-consciously) embellish the stereotypes that abound. Such as bunging a tapa pattern on a canvas or making references to hibiscus in a poem and somehow considering that to be “Pacific”…

But essentially what this poem is also about – and what concerns me more – is the practice of deciding “what is not Pacific”. I have come across so many cultural gatekeepers who try and control who we collectively are (e.g. Pacific academics, the highly visible community leaders and professionals etc). They often seem to have a very conservative and limited sense of “what” you must be and “how” you must be to be a “real” Tongan or Samoan etc. It is a bit of an “in” and “out” game, as subjective as those “what’s hot” and “what’s not” lists you see in magazines – except these are cultural scripts and tick-boxes.

There is often such a disempowering sense of disapproval associated with “changing” and deviating from the imagined and “authentic” pathways of Polynesian identity and representation. Sadly for all us, these ideas of what constitutes authenticity can be far from actual Pacific realities in New Zealand. This poem was written as an in-your-face rant, basically… A bit of a backlash about these mean-spirited things we do to ourselves as a community.

Fob: Fresh Off the Boat

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