Tuatoru from 'Wairaki'

We were voyagers once you said
as we sat by a lake that was not our own.
Others wanted to be on the water,
but we have always wanted to be underneath it.

As a child, I encouraged a friend to swim without water wings
and then was the first to notice that they were drowning.
When I went in after them they climbed on my back,

like Paikea, pushing me closer towards the edge.
The feeling of panic dissipating as I felt something deep in me
move closer towards a home that I hadn’t met yet.

Mum pulled me from the water and I felt it all.
Relief tainted with disappointment.
Shame rolling over me like a fever.

Now I voyage, searching for that feeling.
Staying under for too long, because I can.
Staying under for too long, because I can’t

Ruby Solly (Kāi Tahu, Kāti Māmoe, Waitaha) is a writer, musician, taonga pūoro practitioner and music therapist living in Pōneke. She is the author of Tōku Pāpā, published by Te Herenga Waka University Press (formerly VUP) in 2021 and longlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards in the poetry category. As a musician and composer Ruby released Pōneke, a love letter to Wellington, in 2019. Other releases include Bird Like Men with her band Tararua in 2021, and Feather Spines with her band Tāmira Pūoro in 2022, both on taonga pūoro based record label Oro Records, which she manages with friends Ariana Tikao and Alistair Fraser. She is currently completing a PhD in Public Health at Massey University focusing on the use of taonga pūoro within hauora Māori from pre-colonisation into our collective futures.

Solly comments: 'This poem is dedicated to all those in my whānau who have drowned, and to all of those who have survived.'

​Poem source details >


Te Herenga Waka University Press author page

Tōku Pāpā at Vic Books

Photographer credit: Ebony Lamb