new zealand electronic poetry centre

Dinah Hawken

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To get to Parihaka
from Wellington
you pass through Paekakariki
— where I am writing this poem —
travel north to Wanganui,
Kakaramea, Mokoia, Hawera
Ohawe, Opunake, and you are
almost there. The places
of my childhood are named and
then — monumental
like Taranaki, wished extinct,
but truly active behind cloud —
there is all that is not named.

What a presence it was.
Behind everything, and spreading down
like a dark cloak underneath the whole province:
through the foothills, across the treeless farms
to the exhilarating coast. The white cliffs
at Mokoia. The mouth of the Tangahoe
where Geoffrey, diving for Mum’s legs,
split his head open on a rock.
The dramatic beach of childhood.
Light falling. Bacon and egg pie.
A small green, unforgettable, stone.

‘We need silence for the sound
that comes out of it —’
a man told me last night in a dream
‘— as the sound of the sea
needs the night.’ Listen to the low pitch
of 1950 in the bach at Opunake:
a beached child in the sling of a camp stretcher,
frightened and safe, listening to the roar.
How we loved Opunake, so close to Parihaka.
Though Parihaka was a word that wasn’t
said. That we hadn’t heard.
To get to Kakaramea
from New Plymouth in 1866
my great-grandfather Joseph,
with my great-grandmother Jane
and Ada, Ella, Nina, Mabel,
a new baby boy, and a friend,
James MacCrae, trekked for 3 weeks
on Maori coastal tracks
to take up land he’d bought
from his mates in the Rangers.
They had 5 draught horses, 2 hacks and 2 drays.

At each river mouth
as the horses struggled and dragged
at the piled-high drays,
people from the local Pa
gathered round to touch and see
the five white children. In one place,
where the Pa was inland from the coast,
and I wish I knew its name,
a woman took the baby boy
and disappeared into the steep,
flax and toi-toi covered hills.
Jane remembered Joseph wounded. Lying all night
in the sandhills at Waireka. His younger brother John
out chasing cattle, shot and tomahawked. Lightly
buried under fern. She could do nothing but wait,
twisting faith and fear in her roughened hands.
Two strands of a fraying rope.

All tracks led, in 1870, to Parihaka.
To Tohu and Te Whiti’s September meeting.
Maori from the King Country to Wairarapa.
Parris, with 700 ‘loyalists’, to bargain and bluff.
Then — on the second day — Titokowaru,
£1000 on his head, leapt out of the bush
with 80 men, faces painted, firing into the air.
Titokowaru, the chance card, the link. Able
to move from rousing feats of war to enlightened,
shrewd, courageous acts of peace.
In 1867, at Kakaramea,
Titokowaru raided Joseph’s first flock
of South Taranaki sheep.
Here at Paekakariki
in the year 2000
listening to the tremendous silence
of the sea inside myself
and its reflection outside — the primary,
thoughtless, invigorating roar
echoing up to this window —
I think of the phrase ‘all is well’
and bear for a moment
the sense and sound
of each small word
and the three linked: what they
together, monumentally, mean.

I question and examine what I have.
Days of Darkness, Ask that Mountain,
I Shall not Die, the Taranaki claims,
my great-uncle’s notebook,
my feelings, conscience, dreams. Above all
the face of Te Whiti’s great-granddaughter,
in the photograph in the Evening Post, lined
and deepened by a knowledge of pain
that is carried down to us the way
valleys carry ice and rain
down from the mountain.
Jane and Joseph, to whom I reach back,
had their hands on the backs
of the soldiers and politicians
who rolled the monstrous rock
of injustice into the resilient
village of Parihaka in 1881.
In 1866, perhaps as light began to fall,
the Maori woman brought the baby boy back.

The mountain and the sea, behind everything,
are primary. But in the cities, in the towns,
all is not well, and we, on the split level,
are not one and we are not primary. The work
of connection goes on. With fear and with faith.
In ourselves and in the changing neighbourhood.
If our children come first, a small hand
takes a large hand, urging us forward
while we link them back, an old hand
takes a young hand, to the spirit
of our grandparents. Hawera, Ohawe,
Tangahoe, Taranaki — the places
I was shown, ignorantly, how to say —
are the places I go back to and try
to name awkwardly in another way.


From Oh there you are tui! (VUP, 2001)

Dinah Hawken

Last updated 14 December, 2004