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Serie Barford   

All Together Now: A Digital Bridge for Auckland and Sydney             


Five poems from ‘Disrupted Narratives’


Our Time on the Island

I want to make a fala su’i for our bed
to brighten the cold side of the house

I’ll embroider the story of our time on the island
with coloured wool and the big-eyed needle
used for piercing ears and the occasional nose
when I can’t find a lemon tree with thorns
 fala su’i – pandanus mat made to fit a bed frame and decorated with designs embroidered with coloured wool (Samoan).


Arrival on the Island

when you picked me up from the airport
a customs officer intercepted our full-on smooch

you’d packed more than a welcome smile
and it wasn’t my back pack that made me sweat

we were famished for each other
and that officer – he knew it
saluted us with raised eyebrows
while we twirled round and round
like bananas broken out of umu boxes
onto a laden baggage carousel

umu – an earth oven lined with stones or contents from the oven (Samoan). Umu boxes contain and transport the cooked contents from an umu between Pacific Islands.


Every Bus Stop Tells a Story
on this island of opencast mines
decapitated hills stretch endlessly
and bus stops are graphic novels

their pages communally authored
on concrete blocks and iron sheets
assembled to showcase legends

Bob Marley  Che Guevara  Eloi Machoro
shelter with travellers from the tropical sun
and the bleeding earth when it rains

rest in peace brothers
you’re not forgotten

for you’re remembered by the rivers
where bamboo grows exceptionally tall
resembling flocks of animated parrots
with trailing emerald feathers

as well as the blackwood trees and rocks
that witnessed valleys rise up for freedom

and your names are sung by young women
coaxing horses over flooded rivers
youths and dogs panting in their wake

and spoken by elders kindling fires
with stories of your deeds

for on this colonised island
threads from disrupted narratives
weave themselves underground
like sunken streams in a desert

emerging as an oasis of counter-stories
to challenge the master narrative


The Flying Fox and Che Guevara

I’ve cared for my children like a flying fox
kept them safe under my wings
when they were small and hesitant

tipped paracetamol and antibiotics
down persistently inflamed throats
during endless nights of earache

gassed them with ventolin cocktails
when asthma stole their breath

had broken bones reset and a tongue bitten off
from a faulty landing on a trampoline
reattached in a theatre without movies

then regretted it
when that fiapoko mouth
started up again

and we’ve laughed at dinosaurs and cartoons
at Grandma crooning Buffalo Soldier
at Pa telling jokes and bills that arrived
for the ever-declining cashflow card
then there were the retreads that outlived cars
and the unexpected appearance of food
in our sprayed and wiped out cupboards

there was so much to think about
sitting barefoot in that church at Nakety
behind vividly turbaned mamas
paying their respects to Eloi Machoro
a South Pacific Che Guevara
a dead son of this island

that siege and the photo of Machoro
smashing a ballot box with an axe
immortalised him beyond the bullets
that felled a man into a crimson pool

my sons are still learning the difference
between people’s needs and wants
and how to match actions with words

but I remember they wore
their Che Guevara T-shirts
until they fell off their backs

fiapoko – cheeky (Samoan).


Heart and Sensitive Grass

our hearts are carefully accommodated
the left lung being smaller than the right
so our passions and woes can harbour
our blood beat thrr-thump thrr-thump

but shifting the universe of our heart
a paltry three hand spans to our heart
seems a journey too distant for most

even on this blatantly colonised island
where migrants have traversed oceans
and sensitive grass flourishes with passion fruit

when my mother was a school girl
she spoke her mother-tongue in class
was sent outside into the blazing sun
to weed sensitive grass as punishment

the thorns ripped her tender flesh
bestowed nettle rash and shame
and droplets of blood destined for her heart
nourished the parched field instead

oh she learnt her lesson well
for when I was small she said
the way forward’s English
that’s your father’s lingo
we live in Niu Sila
don’t speak my lingo
I don’t want you to be hurt

but when I was older
and she was stronger
she changed her mind
insisted I learn her lingo
drove me for miles after school
to language and culture classes

but by then my tongue had set
into a concrete kiwi accent

everyone laughed when I spoke her lingo
until the world I was tentatively building
collapsed under layers of well-aimed scorn

now I crouch under the blazing sun
prod sensitive grass with sticks and fingers
blow on it like gentle and harsh winds

estimate how much force it takes for a frond
to fold/unfold in response to the outside world

create strategies for dealing with thorns

calculate the distance I’ll need to travel
in order to retrieve and free my stifled tongue!


Niu Sila – New Zealand (Samoan).



©Serie Barford