new zealand electronic poetry centre


issue 6,  september 2008


With Hone in Las Vegas


We’re home   Hone   after four years in Hawaii
but the winter cold is driving out the delicious warmth
of those islands from my bones

La’u uo   our lifelong addiction has been to gambling
not with money but with words and   though our winnings have been sparse
we’ve kept on playing
That’s probably why I thought of you when Reina and I were in Las Vegas
for the first time a few weeks back
and I recalled your winter pilgrimage many years ago with your son down
from the Head of Maui’s Ika   to Wanganui and up to Jerusalem
to farewell  ‘a tired old mate in a tent
laid out in a box
with no money in the pocket
no fancy halo, no thump left in the old
Our trip though was not to a mate’s tangi
but simply to visit a cousin and meet   the Beast that is Vegas
At Honolulu Airport   beloved friends wished us well
and sent us on our way with their aloha

In summer   America is cocooned in air-conditioning 
so when we unpacked like blind sardines out of the air-conditioned plane
and the Vegas airport terminal into the morning   the desert heat was
like raw buffalo hide tightening around us as it dried
and we blinked into thick bone-white air that smelled of dead fires and ash
Why had I expected Vegas to smell new and crisp?
And I remembered we agreed every thing is about aboutness
all our journeys   are about other journeys and through intricate layers of maps
Not just geographical/political/historical maps but those of
the moa and heart   dream maps   cinematic and literary maps
maps of pain and suffering   arrogance and deliberate erasures
maps which are the total of our cultural baggage
and in which we are imprisoned
and through which we read our elusive reflections
This trip wasn’t any different

The luscious persuasive blonde at the Avis counter offered us
a GPS system and we took it – we’d not used one before 
Out of all the maps I’d inherited of Vegas   I’d come to imagine
it a supersized civilization created by a movie special effects genius
hired by hip gangsters   or conjured up by a gambler prophet hallucinating wildly
after fasting forty days and nights in the desert wilderness
But   as our GPS with the Maureen O’Hara voice piloted us
through gigantic rows of Casino and hotel billboards
with gorgeous Colgate smiles inviting us to dance forever with chance
through supersized developments   of new homes they couldn’t sell –
the bottom had fallen out of the housing market –
through oases of grubby pawnshops and other businesses that picked
at the desperate bones of addicts
the hip maps began to vanish

When we checked into our Holiday Inn well away from the Strip
we were told our room wouldn’t be ready until mid afternoon
so   in the blistering heat   we went looking for food and found Sunset Station
and walked into all the clichés about Vegas casinos : cavernous palaces of perpetual
air-conditioned night without time   peopled by exacting machines into
which mesmerized worshippers fed their adoration
gaming tables surrounded by narrow-eyed players totally in the zone
of the spinning wheel   or the flip of the card and the throw of the dice
The huge craziness of it was enthralling
Later as we sampled the Strip’s mega megaresorts
with names straight out of Hollywood and the dream of gigantism
The Mirage
Wynn Las Vegas
The Sands
Treasure Island
The Golden Nugget
The Excalibur
The Luxor
The MGM Grand
Caesar’s Palace
The Venetian
I recognized the Beast was indeed a creature
as magnificent as the Sphinx and the pyramids born out
of the Pharaohs’ addiction to immortality
But this Beast was feeding off the insatiable American Dream
of limitless credit   choice and size
one press of the button   one spin of the wheel   one throw of the dice
and you’re out of the desert forever

Every night   the porcelain moon over the city wore the Joker’s cynical face
but a rescuing Batman wasn’t anywhere in sight
as our cousin showed us how to play the machines
He played as if he was playing the piano and we tried to copy him
as we slotted in our money and lost and lost but I didn’t care
because I kept hoping for that buzz that radiates through
my veins when I’m gambling with words that shape
fabulous beasts out of the deserts of ourselves
But   aue   Hone   the buzz never came
and I found gambling for money sadly   sadly boring
Definitely not my choice of addiction

The Tangata Whenua have been written out of Vegas’ history 
On our last night   as we and our cousin and other relatives gorged
on a lush buffet at a Japanese restaurant   they told us of Hawaiian friends
who’d just walked off a building site because three of their mates
had been killed there in terrible accidents
When they’d started bulldozing the site   one of the Hawaiians   a kahuna 
had sensed the enormous disquiet of the spirits of the tangata whenua
who   he believed   were buried there
and had asked their white bosses to stop the project
and let him perform the rituals of appeasement and cleansing
They’d refused and within three days their friends were dead

The next morning   in light as brittle as salt   Reina   my beloved tautai  
drove us out of Vegas and we headed for the Grand Canyon and Santa Fe
in the arid heart of America 
But that’s another story   Hone   for another winter day


Albert Wendt


Last updated 5 December, 2008