The Norfolk pine is coming down.
All the lower branches are gone
the crown tuft now sprouts
off a bald stalk.
Two men stand pointing up
one makes an action with his forearm
of the tree falling.
For the first time from this window
I can see the dark snout of the island
the rusty roof of a surprising shed.
In my mouth a morning
taste of blood and garlic.
When I opened the back door the sound
was a gunshot in the silent kitchen.
The slogan for today is
Drive all blames into one.
The question for today is
Why does the cat drink from the shower tray?
Harnessed, the tree feller
hefts himself up the pine with rope
stepping up branch stubs.
He hauls and hauls, his pelvis
lifted by his biceps. The pelvis
is the heaviest part of the body
my swimming teacher said.
Keep your pelvis on the surface
you won’t sink.
I told you this in the sea one day.
I lifted your entire weight, your arms
around my neck in the waves.
Ventilate the ego, the book says.
Remember your precious human birth.
The deck outside is wet, some planks
darker brown. The casserole
dish you put out for the dog’s drink
is full of rain, the small body
of its water moves
in the gusty wind.
And now here’s a rainbow
ending right in that casserole dish
such colours on the dark grey
the seagulls so white against it
they brighten for a moment
flying past. The chainsaw starts.
Branches fall like locks of hair.
He looks straight in the window
tree feller, now he knows
on the lawn —
fat, speckled fruit.
You will be parking the car
angling the wheels just right
reaching for the long handles
of your Freeset bag. Your keys
will land in there with a treble
heavy sound. You’ll take the lift
to the fifteenth floor.
It’s not yet nine o’clock.
This room smells of toilet bowl cleaner
vanilla and spearmint
and of the balloons you
inflated with a pump for my birthday.
I dreamed the word paper
was a yoga pose
and I practised it, my knees
to one side, hands in prayer.
The rainbow is fading now
from the casserole dish up.
I picture you sitting at your window
your wide shoulders curving towards
the work you do.
There will be no loud call, no Timber!
The tree won’t fall with a crash to the ground.
The feller in his yellow rain jacket
is sawing it off in segments —
the tree will simply get shorter.
The island’s misted over.
The size it is, it’s big enough
to make its own weather.
In hours you’ll rest your back
against my knees, the window
will be running with rain and spray
the venetian blinds making their music.
Hinemoana Baker was born in Christchurch in 1968. She remembers Whakatane in the Eastern Bay of Plenty, and Nelson in the South Island as her hometowns. Her Māori ancestry connects her to Horowhenua, Taranaki, Wellington (North Island) and Otago (South Island). Her poetry, fiction and children’s stories have been published in printed and online literary journals and anthologies, including Best New Zealand Poems 2004. Two of her plays were produced for the first Te Reo Māori seasons at 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 has written and produced several radio dramas, ongoing music features and documentaries for Radio New Zealand National and Concert FM. She is also an experienced performer and producer of her own work. Since 1990, she has read and performed her poetry and music at many events in New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Indonesia and Australia. She has shared the billing with many noted writers. As the result of a shared performance in 2003 with Lord of the Rings star Viggo Mortensen, her first collection of poems mātuhi | needle (2004) was published both in New Zealand (Victoria University Press, Wellington) and in the US (Perceval Press, Santa Monica).
Baker comments: ‘This poem is set where I live in Paekakariki, on the Kapiti Coast.
‘The day I wrote it I was working in my office in the neighbour’s house. I was surprised to see a change in the scenery from their lounge window: the huge Norfolk pine that was such a feature of that view was being felled. As the procedure unfolded I found it compelling viewing, so I just kept watching.
‘It took several hours for the two men working to finally remove the tree, so I wrote the poem in real time, ranging over the events of that morning and predicting the evening to come, using the tree-felling as a keep-reading device.
‘I was delighted when, in the end, the tree didn’t fall in quite the way I expected.’