we came to visit you
at work

watched you walk
off the hill

your high-vis jacket
your waist-length dreads

and the mānuka stick
you’d been carving

with the names of
all the waterways

from Waikanae
to Paekākāriki


“it’s not carving”
you cringe

you don’t agree that
you’re an artist

“it’s just a stick”
that stands

as high as your shoulder
walks you

out of the hills
set forward

in the way
that you walk


ten hours a day
for two years

you monitor
their machinery

they use GPS
to cut the ground

but still can’t see
what’s plain in the dirt

on the days you spot
white shell in the earth

you signal
for the digging to stop

ring in
the archeologist

but there are earthworks
all over the site

you can only be
in one place at one time


it’s impressive, the way
they drill steel beams

into the bone
of the hill

fix them together
so they’ll never shift

they make this frame
for the concrete face

of a Wall that stops
the hill from falling

you’re a builder
their workmanship is moving


the workers are
wary of you

because you get paid
but don’t have to labour

with your stick
and your stoop

they keep their

a year before they let you
eat with them

but you have no beef
with the workers

you worry for them
you want them safe

many of them
are Māori

this place is
wāhi tapu

do they have
a choice?


you take part in
morning exercises

you lead them
in your own strange yoga

breathe in!
everyone say: Tuku

breathe out.
everyone say: Rākau

Tuku. Rākau
Tuku. Rākau

Tuku Rākau!
you don’t tell them

what it’s about
up to them to ask

for the name
of this place when

Wī Parata heard
change on the tide

gave ground
for the railroad

and moved
the village inland

to improve
the chance of trade


mud streams into
the Waimeha

cleanest river
on the coast

so clean the eels are
jet black

even the kōura
sixty years old

as old and slick
as your motorbike in rain

after every rain
you walk the site

you check for breaches
in the bunds

you track the silt
back to its source

you tell them how
they could fix it

though they pay others
to do this


you spy a rare grey duck
and call the ecologists

at first they humour you
but when they see it

with their own eyes
they look at you sideways

they can’t see the boy
who climbed every tree

to steal one egg
from every nest

they don’t see his
collection in the attic


you’re drinking
in the garage

one eye fixed on history
one wandering

from your can
of beer

i know why you’re drinking
i know you’re chasing

the tail of the same idea
around an inescapable maze

how can they do this?
how can we stop them?

how can they do this?
how can we stop them?

they are doing it
and you are stopping them

and you’re not
stopping them

the Wall – Te Kākākura –
protects the hill

and marks the hill
not fully protected


one man left
to clean Te Kākākura

before it’s blessed
on Saturday

same old shit
the old man says

not the Wall
he means the road

the Māori land
the wāhi tapu

the work he has to do
on their behalf

he’s over sixty, you tell me
he’s black

he has no teeth
he’s still working

for next to nothing
you witness

and experience
the insult


last week a truck
ignored the briefing

got stuck
below the bridge

turning round
in the mud

up to its bumpers!
you laugh

and tears fall
from your eyes

you laugh and laugh
and stifle your laughter

it’s late
and the baby is asleep

i think you ask
in Māori:

who shall work
for nothing?

who shall inherit
the earth?


this morning you listened
to the last of the quiet

the last weeks
for the birds

to make themselves

no karakia
no safety briefing

no morning exercises
no machinery

there’ll never again
be quiet on this hill

a four-lane

and noise
or the threat of noise


now the drive
from Mackays

Waikanae Village

and peters out
at Pekapeka

sometimes i’m surprised
to have missed Te Kākākura

perhaps i was looking
for the urupā

or the swamp where Pohe
lost her life

or the spring
where women went

to birth
their children

more likely
i missed the Wall

because i was

mind on where
we’re going

not on where
we’ve been


you did your job
and we’re proud

you are not giving them
what they want

fresh water
storm water

salt water
raupō filters it all

the tide is rising and as far
into our future

as Tuku Rākau
is into our past

the sea will reclaim
these sandhills

the road will sink
beneath the surface

even if it’s not yet


tonight you’re writing signs
for the riders

who’ll come upon
this place by surprise

every night you rewrite
your text by hand

of computers

half our table and the carpet
beneath your chair

disappears in a swamp
of paper

names, events

all turn soggy
in the peat water

everywhere around us
land is being washed away

even as the land

the drive past Waikanae
is now so fast

but where are we going
and why

Michaela Keeble is a lover of birds, fish and social justice, who publishes poetry, fiction and children's stories. A descendant of UK, Austrian and German immigrants, Michaela grew up on Wurundjeri land, and is now lucky to live in Aotearoa.

Michaela comments: 'This poem marks one of many modern-day attempts by the New Zealand government to confiscate Māori land under the Public Works Act. In this instance, the Crown wanted Māori land in Waikanae for the Kāpiti Expressway, though there were multiple other route options open to them. The poet's partner worked as a whānau monitor throughout the road's construction, and this poem is dedicated to him.'

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Michaela Keeble's website