new zealand electronic poetry centre

John Puhiatau Pule



Restless Spirit  
From The Shark that Ate the Sun / Ko e M­āgo ne Kai e Lā (Penguin 1992)

The room has a self-portrait of the poet.   The walls are painted, people have often pointed out that a halo roamed above his head.   A lit candle is beside the poet’s face. The poet recites a poem at the request of the black woman.
I was born in a tiny suburb, where every street is
Bordered with state houses, the slum of New Zealand.
My early memory of childhood is being
Molested by an older woman, whose eyes, large discoloured
Rubbish bags, hovered like vultures over my penis.
It is now 1990. The sky is blue.
A bird is crying somewhere in the afternoon.
I have not heard a human voice for two years.
My mother lives in silence. It is a lovely silence.  
My father died a bitter man. Our family state house
Was burned to the ground on Easter
Weekend eighteen years ago.
The family portraits burned along with the walls and chairs.
The house looked black. For a while our lives were black.
As I wandered from house to house, borstal to jail
Digging ditches, I was like a machine.
Now I refuse to work in factories.
Because, the black man interrupted, the front of my face is
A dead man, the back of my head is a festival.
I carry my anger in a castrated horse.
My uncle died in WWII. When I last saw him, he said, don’t I look
different in this British uniform?
There is no honour in death. To kill a human being is to kill
Who are you, my lover whispered, because when you sleep I keep falling from a bridge. I am lost. I hold her close. We hold each other close. We hold the lost very close. I waited for twenty-six years until finally a dog barked, and since I lived alone I always had something to say. I am the love poet, the ugly poet, the war poet, a giant in a tiny soul. As I walk back and forth from working in a factory I stop at a party and get drunk until the moon is in my pocket and the street leads to paradise at the end of the highway. I decided to live in a phone box for the night.
I was so drunk I forgot my name, forgot the name of my country, forgot my village, my people, my sister’s children, and where I live.
Goodbye Tahiti, Te Ao Maohi. The mind is in a box. The heart in the gutter. The rain has washed love into the jaw of the dog. Whatever you do, do not vote the dog in.
Oh my soul how you suffered in the thoughts of death in this day of rain, how selfish I was to tell you nothing, nor will I demolish your house beside the heart nor will I demand you slaughter a memory and so spread a melancholy blood down the river where you live in a yellow house beside the heart. For this is the sun of hope that buries love in gold, a bird of rainbow takes your meditation through the windows of mothers, down to the islands spat upon by Americans, islanders dead by the white chemical field, oh why did I put you through these dark days?
The sky is blue. Clouds crawl slow and sure full pink and red, underneath all true sleep is endless.   I am walking proud. The coast is a stretch of rich black energy until I feel everything. I look down and I am strolling on skulls that stare up at me, who gives a damn except I am sorry and the shoreline is covered in bones.
          I stumble over a white boy, blond hair, pointed nose that curves over his top lip reddish with days of drinking wine, blue eyes, shining like stars. The white boy is very white. — Excuse, the white boy said politely, —while I compose a poem in this here black sand.
          I kneel down to read the written language of this country’s hypocrisy.
Love, how is it that I mention your name which moistens my lips and a darkness breathes at the same time that I call on your famous philosophers? Suddenly a dazzling star spirals into reality. Then why do I sleep on a bed that knows every secret? The destructive animal born from a confused cell and fed on despair, becomes fat, lazy, dormant, moving nowhere. When I say your name who else do I call up from the floor where they, some god’s restless creation, play on happily in spite of a procession meeting daily? Out of an intelligence a star that stuns the sleepy obscure hope with a nameless island for a heart, a street bordering on schizophrenic behaviour, out of this intelligence, how does the mad image stop being a teacher of darkness when the fire and soul of the human song dominates the conversation?
Love, where does your strength abide? Among these raw buildings that look like mountains of modern nature I search for your golden eyes. I know among these things I finally hold your hand, because you are one of many that I must believe in to overcome the pain that troubles my psyche.

The white boy moves further down the coast to a clearing, with no rocks around. He continues to write in the sand.
I will not move, I am a mountain, since I have known the tears of rivers. For what is the use of love at the expense of love’s philosophy, and the usual lecture? Time has seen to that, the social glitter of artificial faces, the shit of pretentious doors, the act of cars taking the road to death, and rain all on Sunday. Yet I suffer too and the words flung aimlessly into your heart now a silence occur at the edge of love’s cup.
Empty empty empty, empty except vicious nights when all we could do is fill ourselves with anxiety. Can you leave me knowing I am your soul? If my soul waits it is because there is a solitude behind every window. It is raining and a kind of yellow light mixes vehemently with the dark surface, to form, of all universal figures, the paranoid dream. What have I done, shifting memories into our lives? Suppose you should sleep without knowing the strange machine in this time, as I stand in the sun, a shadow in two minds. We are here on earth to speak the truth, to speak the truth.

The poet of the black coast stands up and talks to me.
          —It seems I am wandering in a blue mist. Birds are scattering the neighbour’s bread. The smell of rain is fresh and tastes sweet as honey.
          The road is smooth like skin, after drinking coffee in a nicotine café I walk out and hurry down the street, the smell of honey is sweet, the street is full of umbrellas. Gazing into a silvery sky I sense I am going mad, or going towards those memories photos give off. I wait. Cry to the Lord. Enter the expanding song of his love. Silver is the colour of the chalice and brown like an islander are the thorns unless I have the power to repaint the painful image of my white brother. Instead of the cross lay him down and nurse his wounds. Wrap the nails up in leaves and along with the scrolls send them to heaven.
          Rescue Ruth who waits in a cornfield.

          — Don’t get carried away, I say.
          — Carried away by what? says the poet. — The only element capable of lifting me up is my own mind, which is open at the extreme, the weight of light is very, very light. A single soul unknown to the sun is brewing a substance whose single form is seen wandering in public, down the main road, the wharf, always drunk, but never stopping, always on the move. When the mind is in a stupor from fire, the sun is not part of the system, rather it hinders the wanderer’s sight of utopia, which is not real but is made up of four-letter words and alcohol. Sometimes a church appears in the first sentence, but it is mostly four-letter words.

          — What do you mean?
          — This system despises the spirit that is free. If you are rich that is okay, says the boss, but if you are poor you must hold a shovel, dig a ditch or go and kill yourself. Goodbye, I’m leaving now, further down the coast I’ll write another poem in the black sands. Follow me after an hour or two but not now. Goodbye.
         I agree and watch him become a friend in the distance. On my right I notice gulls circling a popular path. I go along this giving myself an hour or two before I follow in the direction of the poet, as I want to read more of his verses in sand. After half an hour I come to a village. Two children in a waterhole run away, frightened. But soon their fears are gone as more and more children run to me, touch my hair and clothes. One family gives me a sack of yam, the next family gives a sack of sweet potatoes, in one hut a family of two has an umu cooking, their beds surround the umu. Across the other side of the village, built like a modern building, stands the church. The crucifix decorated in seashells, and a picture of Christ above it.
          A black man shows me to his home which is dimly lit but I can make out the guitars glittering. Six guitars lean against the thatched walls. We play You are my sunshine. I hear someone spitting. It is an old lady, the sister of the last paramount chief on the island, and when the first missionary arrived they banned the village system. The man who showed me his home is David. David Saint David. He owns all six guitars and is leader of the church choir. The old lady who is blind stands outside in the sun, and in her language talks to me. She blesses me. David shares a cig with me and offers to help carry the sacks of yam and potato to the next village. — Goodbye, he says, — write me a letter.
          I give him my tin of tobacco.
          By then the tide is so far out I can walk to other islands. I follow the footprints of my poet which are soon accompanied by another set of footprints and not long in walking side by side with the poet, trail off. The poet then is alone. After nine hours I stand on a precipice and can make out the poem written in the sand. It reads:
Last night I passed some people celebrating the discovery of Life, they did not notice as they were busy dancing, I composed a poem in honour of the word Life.
            It is through a communication
            that this miracle lives in you
            that we should live the life of a dreamer
            a labourer, a sinner, or an alcoholic
            you, the reason of my existence
            our one death while we live,
            how can this proposal to submit
            the passion’s precious mouth
            be closed when kissed?  
From there the poem ends. And nowhere was my poet, the white boy who wrote in black sand.
          Who will trust you in your world if not you?

John Pule

Last updated 25 September, 2005