How do I describe you in English

integrity / influence / respect / authority / none of those words / quite / reach

like the Greek word ‘entheos’ lies at the root of the word ‘enthusiastic’ / it means that / the gods are with you / creative / energetic / enthusiastic / charismatic / power / pulse

and yet mana / all of those words / fail to reveal you / although we all know / when you are gone

sometimes I imagine a personal bank / an accumulated pool of cool greenstone coins / smooth to the touch / or layer / upon layer / of fine mats / or yard / upon yard of tapa / or gift / upon gift / on an altar of altruistic offerings / good deeds / awesome feats / I.O.U.s / a golden stash / not unlike cash / unbelievably good karmic credit

and yet this fails to describe / how you are more / than money / can buy

when mana walks in the room / it’s instantly recognisable / intangible / expensive accessory / out of reach / it goes with all of your clothes / no room for cheap knock-offs / yet we all know / when we see someone / all mana / no money

mana / you are more than a precious stone on a neck / you are the space between / the performance / and the audience clapping / you are the ovation / we know it / when we see it / it ignites us / it alights us /so that the mana in me / sees the mana in you

remembering what it is to be connected / with all that we are / all we could be

and yet mana / you ebb and you flow / you come and you go / we live our lives / with / or without you

when you are with me / I am Maui who has harnessed the sun / gold burning through embered fingertips

I am all there / all energy / present / vital / awake / each cell singing an ode to being alive / woke

when you flow through my body / I know / I am caught in the current of a river / larger than the length of my own lifetime

it bends where we have all been before / same rapids / other waters / our veins / my blood

I know / I am in the flow / of something greater than my own self

all of the earth / its gravity / physics / motion / movement / all of that / is with me

here / right now / in this time and place / making space for me / to be / all / that is possible

and I am a few steps further / from the maunga / where I began as tears / one riverbank closer / to the ocean / where I will return / to saline / salt / water / all of that dream

return / to be burned by the sun / return / to be held by the clouds / return / to trickle down the stones of the mountain / return / all the way back to the river / and flow

Karlo Mila is a poet, mother, researcher, writer and the Programme Director of the Mana Moana Experience at Leadership New Zealand.  Of Tongan and Palangi descent, her creative, academic and professional work has all centred on the experiences of Pasifika peoples in Aotearoa, New Zealand.  She has two books of poetry and is widely anthologised.  She has spent the past five years researching Mana Moana – collating a canon of power words, proverbs, archetypes and narratives from across the Pacific - to be harnessed and vitalised in contemporary life. Karlo is the mother of three boys and lives in Auckland.

Karlo comments: ‘“Mana” is an Oceanic word found in 29 living languages.  This poem recognises and reflects on how words indigenous to the region are often not readily translatable in English.  I’ve spent years researching Pacific indigenous knowledge.  The English language has to be pushed hard—and almost always poetically—to gesture towards the multidimensional meanings of such words.  It is a bit like casting out a net and hoping to snare an elusive ever-moving fish.  A creature that inevitably has some supernatural qualities.  Hopefully, mana is caught alive and thrashing in this poem—or at the very least some of its slippery scales are left on the page.’

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Karlo's Book Council page