26 August 2013

Tuesday Poem: 'Deep water talk' by Kiri Piahana-Wong

Deep water talk

In honour of Hone Tuwhare

& no-one knows
if your eyes are
blurred red from
the wind, too
much sun, or the
tears streaking your
face that could be
tears or just lines of
dried salt, who
can tell

& you never can tell
if you are seasick,
drunk, or just
symptoms are the

& sea and sky merge
until the horizon is
nothing but an
endless blue line in
every direction, so that
you are sailing, not on
the sea, as you thought,
but in a perfectly blue,
circular bowl, never
leaving the centre

& you wonder who
is moving, you or
the clouds racing
by the mast-head

& you wonder if
those dark shapes
in the water are
sharks, shadows, or
nothing but old fears
chasing along behind

& the great mass of
land recedes, you
forget you were
a land-dweller,
feeling the pull
of ancient genes,
—in every tide, your
blood sings against
the moon

& food never tasted
so good, or water
so sweet—you've
never conserved water
by drinking wine
before—and rum;
and coke; and rum
and coke; and can
after can of cold

& your sleep is
accompanied, not
by the road of traffic
on the highway,
but by the creaks
and twangs of your
ship as she pitches
and moans through
the dark ocean,
all alone

& you wonder—
where did that bird,
the great gull perching
on the bowspit,
come from?

Kiri Piahana-Wong is a New Zealander of Māori (Ngāti Ranginui), Chinese and Pākehā (English) ancestry. She has degrees in law and English literature from the University of Auckland, and has had a varied working life, including roles as a legal editor, sailing instructor, freelance writer, event manager and publisher. Her work has appeared in many journals and anthologies, most recently in Dear Heart: 150 New Zealand Love Poems (Godwit), Mauri Ola: Contemporary Polynesian Poems in English (AUP), Trout, and Ora Nui. She is also a performance poet, poetry slam champion, and a former MC at Poetry Live, New Zealand's longest-running live poetry venue. Kiri lives at Laingholm on Auckland's west coast.

This poem is the first poem in Night Swimming, the debut collection by Kiri Piahana-Wong. It's the perfect poem to begin the collection, a good, strong poem, heavy with silence and the weight of the Pacific Ocean. I think my favourite bit of the poem is: 'you are sailing, not on / the sea, as you thought, / but in a perfectly blue, / circular bowl'. Gorgeous!

Water runs through the poems of this book in many forms - rain, tears, swimming pools, ice, rivers, clouds, fog, but especially the sea. The poems themselves have a lot of variety though, in tone and in subject matter. The gravity poems like 'Deep water talk' are balanced with more conversational, busier poems. Other favourites in this collection are 'On Commerce St' both 1 and 2, which chronicle life in an inner-city apartment, and 'Continental drift'.

Night Swimming was published by Anahera Press, a small press which focuses on poetry by Māori and Pasifika writers, which Kiri founded in 2011. If you want to buy Night Swimming, you can buy it from the Anahera Press website, from a variety a bookshops including the Women's Bookshop, or by rocking up to your local favourite bookshop and ordering it, as I did.

For more poems, check out the Tuesday Poem blog: http://tuesdaypoem.blogspot.co.nz/.