The Ko‘olau


Since we moved into Mānoa I’ve not wanted to escape
the Ko‘olau at the head of the valley
They rise as high as atua as profound as their bodies
They’ve been here since Pele fished these fecund islands
out of Her fire and gifted them the songs
of birth and lamentation

Every day I stand on our front veranda
and    on acid-free paper    try and catch their constant changing
as the sun tattoos its face across their backs

Some mornings they turn into tongue-
less mist my pencil can’t voice or map
Some afternoons they swallow the dark rain
and dare me to record that on the page

What happens to them on a still and cloudless day?
Will I be able to sight Pele Who made them?
If I reach up into the sky’s head will I be able
to pull out the Ko‘olau’s incendiary genealogy?

At night when I’m not alert they grow long limbs
and crawl down the slopes of my dreams and out
over the front veranda to the frightened stars

Yesterday Noel    our neighbour’s nine-
year-old son    came for the third day
and watched me drawing the Ko‘olau
Don’t you get bored doing that?    he asked
Not if your life depended on it!    I replied
And realised I meant it



There are other mountains in my life:
   Vaea who turned to weeping stone as he waited
for his beloved Apaula to return    and who now props
up the fading legend of Stevenson to his ‘wide and starry sky’
and reality-TV tourists hunting for treasure islands

   Mauga-o-Fetu near the Fafā at Tufutafoe
at the end of the world where meticulous priests gathered
to unravel sunsets and the flights of stars that determine
our paths to Pulotu or into the unexplored
geography of the agaga

   Taranaki Who witnessed Te Whiti’s fearless stand at Parihaka
against the settlers’ avaricious laws and guns
Who watched them being evicted and driven eventually
from their lands but not from the defiant struggle
their descendants continue today    forever until victory



The Ko‘olau watched the first people settle in the valley
The Kanaka Maoli planted their ancestor    the Kalo
in the mud of the stream and swamps
and later in the terraced lo‘i they constructed
Their ancestor fed on the valley’s black blood
They fed on the ancestor
and flourished for generations

Recently their heiau on the western slopes was restored
The restorers tried to trace the peoples’ descendants in the valley
They found none to bless the heiau’s re-opening
On a Saturday morning as immaculate as Pele’s mana
we stood in the heiau in their welcoming presence that stretched
across the valley and up into the mountains
where their kapa-wrapped bones are hidden



The Ko‘olau has seen it all
I too will go eventually
with my mountains wrapped up
in acid-free drawings that sing
of these glorious mountains
and the first Kanaka Maoli who named
and loved themforever


December 2004—January 2005

Albert Wendt CNZM is of the āiga Sa-Maualaivao of Malie, āiga Sa-Su‘a of Lefaga, āiga Sa-Patu of Vaiala and āiga Sa-Asi of Moata‘a, Sāmoa. An esteemed poet, novelist, short-story writer, playwright and painter, he is also emeritus professor of English at the University of Auckland, specialising in New Zealand and Pacific literatures and creative writing. Wendt has been an influential figure in the developments that have shaped New Zealand and Pacific literature since the 1970s and was made Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2001 for his services to literature. His co-edited collection Mauri Ola: Contemporary Polynesian Poems in English was shortlisted for the 2011 New Zealand Post Book Awards; and his most recent books are the poetry collection From Mānoa to a Ponsonby Garden (Auckland University Press, 2012) and short story collection Ancestry (Huia, 2012). In 2012 he received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Fiction.

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From Mānoa to a Ponsonby Garden at Auckland University Press