Food to Song

ご飯 Rice


White moonlight,
with an undershirt of calcium,
held aloft in two wooden fingertips
the trail of seeds to Jomon.

Old people,
Koshihikari, the taste of the shakuhachi,
a singular stream of air,
with toes in white waterways of phosphorus.

Dusty bones,
draped in a cloth of translucent starch,
a pearl in soma,
swell the iron-rich children of grass.

Copper pot,
under the pirouette of watery ghosts,
in a cot over white ash,
the lively chatter of 10,000 seagulls.

A shed husk,
scented of one grain,
this white cloak was a shelter
to one universe that withheld the map to god.



Sweet Potato,

a voyage to Polynesia east,
an offering of kūmara
brings tears to the eyes of Toroa.

behold the eyes of god,
clear and bright this constellation of stars,
a pathway of light to harvest.

the blessings of Rongomātāne
rest at the toes of spring,
tapu mounds of soil scatter the hillsides.

a bed of hot river stones,
under the earthen blanket,
steam rises, the buttery smell of pork belly.

creamy fingers to open mouth,
mīeremīere, oh mīere
upon a honeyed tongue, spirited tīpuna sing.


お茶 O-Cha

Green tea,

A leaf,
susurrates amid the voices of millions,
the soul of Zen priest Eisai
in an ancient garden of luminous green sunlight.

House chashitsu,
under branches, the antiquated maple,
a square box with wooded bones,
shoji eyes and tatami feet.

tranquility, in green shadows
harmony, quintessence of the tea flower
from Chawan to lip, purity and respect.

Suffuse Manganese,
with supple verve, a warrior
his serene shoulders, shokayku
observes the halcyon view of his inner self.

Emperor Saga,
the path to Bonshaku temple,
with bamboo growing perpendicular to the sky,
a legacy of macha, swaddled in steam.



The wood pigeon,

Bush floor,
spindles, green then gold sunlight,
water tinkles over rocks,
in feathered cloak, Rupe descends the underworld.

In treetops,
Taranga’s white apron,
iridescent copper and green wings,
roosting, in the wooded forearms of Tānemahuta.

At sunrise,
Haumia-tiketike’s hands,
with nectar and wild berries,
her bounty, sweetening the flesh of the kukupa.

The hunter,
with snares tied to the Karaka branches,
pours water into a trough,
the flax noose awaits a fattened neck to break.

Umu stone,
hoven in supple mauri arms,
riverbed to under earth, as steam rises,
awaiting the warm oils of flesh to Aunty Heni’s lip.

45-year old Gisborne-born Ben Kemp currently writes, works and lives in Papua New Guinea. Kemp arrived in the Pacific via six years in Australia and ten years in Japan. Tokyo was where he absorbed traditional art and culture, and discovered his passion for kabuki theatre and Japanese film and literature. Kemp is also a recording artist who has toured with his Japanese band Uminari and released three studio albums in Australia, New Zealand and Japan. His artistic work often explores the nexus between Japanese and Māori/Polynesian culture. Kemp developed a close mentor-student relationship in the late 1990s with Rowley Habib, one of New Zealand’s pre-eminent Māori writers. Habib inspired Kemp with his disciplined approach to being an artist, often citing ‘the credence required’ of a writer. Now, as a father of three and schoolteacher, Kemp’s latest inspiration is drawn from both the ordinariness and exoticism of his new life in Melanesia.

Ben comments: ‘As a writer, I am in constant search of the singular source. I endeavour to pull away any superfluous layers and reveal the subject in its purest form. The “Food to Song” series explores both Māori and Japanese food culture, a key cornerstone of any cultural experience. I viewed traditional food sources through various lenses, including science, history, farming, hunting, preparation and eating, then wove elements of each viewpoint together. These four short poems are also a celebration of my affection for minimalism and mysticism combined.’

Poem source details >


Ben's website
Ben on YouTube
Ben Kemp and Uminari on iTunes