Pulotu Wings

Sun rays down
no one could predict
the colours of that sunset

blushing pink papaya
sliced into perfect
watermelon halves

from the underworld
upwards to the sacred south

strength of Hercules
fleeting wings beating
impossible orange on beautiful black

six nights
by candlelight
a monarch is buried

an insomniac dreams
a black butterfly
midnight flight

mouthfuls of mango skin
shoulders lipped
oystered tongue

dark pearl seeds strung
on ripe peach flesh
she touches the iridescent misshapen teeth

each flawed pearl tear drop
carries a story more enchanting
than anonymous orbed white

of clean slate cream
fallen marbles from a child’s hand

papaya seeds scattered at her throat
she flies back to the underworld
black wings, pearl strings, bent, beautiful

for at the heart of this passionfruit
lies a cavern
of gleaming dark tears

an oyster child is curled in her lap
goodness sleeping in the pale
milk of his glowing skin

Karlo Mila is a New Zealand-born poet of Tongan and Pakeha descent. She lives in Auckland with her husband and two young sons and currently holds a scholarship to do her PhD which will explore health issues for young Pacific women raised in New Zealand.

Mila’s poetry has been published in Best New Zealand Poems 2003 and 2005. Her work appears in a number of anthologies, including 2004 Montana New Zealand Book Award-winning anthology Whetu Moana and more recently Niu Voices: Contemporary Pacific Writing 1.

In 2006, her first published collection, Dream Fish Floating, won the Jessie MacKay Best First Book Award for Poetry at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards. The judges commented: ‘Karlo Mila writes with flair, energy and passion, creating a direct, accessible poetry.’

Mila recently wrote a short story titled ‘One Girl Dreaming’ which appears in the anthology Myth of the 21st Century edited by Jack Ross and Tina Shaw. She is currently collaborating with artist Delicia Sampero to produce her second book of poetry.

Mila comments: ‘This poem was inspired by my time in Tonga during the funeral of His Majesty King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV. I was a member of the team asked to write about the Royal Funeral for the official Palace Office website. We flew across to Tonga at the same time as the Hercules plane that held the late Monarch. I was very privileged to have many of the ancient ceremonies and rituals described to me, so that I could write about them for others. This was an incredible time to be in Tonga. The mourning consumed the country. The evening vigils and fires of the “Takipo” that lined the streets made Tonga feel like Pulotu (the underworld) on earth.

‘It also made me (the odd outsider/insider) reflect on my place in Tongan society, especially as a young New Zealand-born woman and the choices I’d made (which both excluded and included me in different sorts of ways). It was a magical time, perfect for inspiring poetry like this, which partly involves also exploring the “underworld” within — and making that both safe and spoken via heliaki (metaphor) and poetry.’

Poem source details >



Blackmail Press
Palace Office website of the Kingdom of Tonga
nzepc — New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre: interview and links
Karlo Mila's Book Council page