new zealand electronic poetry centre

k a   m a t e   k a   o r a  

a new zealand journal of poetry and poetics
issue 9,  march 2010

Cape Return

for Alistair Te Ariki Campbell


Carried out by tears, songs and speeches
they make offerings on their journeys—
the atua are strange, 'plant gods, tree gods,'
who'd strike them—until the familiar
path shudders down—a heavy wave

on the shining sands of the longest beach.
Spirits flying from east and west, ridging
the spine between, meet at the headland
above Tohe’s beach. At Maringi Noa
they look back, tears thundering down to join

new ones coming north. At Waingunguru
the stream mourns them. They climb another hill,
reach another stream—then a waterfall
silenced by their crossing. They continue
the last ascent, a ridge, which lifts up the cape

to Hiriki, then a sharp fall where water
lies waiting to hold them. They are expected
to drink and swallow the night, with
a chance, even then, to stay—the sentinel
there has the power to turn them back.

They continue. Desires splutter like spit
on flames. They're leaving for long Hawaiki,
to sail, dip and chant like birds forever.
The mist swarms over the last cliff, climbs off
the last piece of coast over the ocean, home.



I am indebted to the ‘Te Reinga’ entry in Margaret Orbell’s The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Maori Myth and Legend (Christchurch: Canterbury UP, 1995). The entry describes the geography of the spirits' final journey to Hawaiki, the Polynesian homeland also known as Savaiki. The poem appears in my forthcoming collection Shout Ha! to the Sky (London: Salt Publishing, 2010).


Robert Sullivan


Last updated 9 September, 2010