Wednesday, July 14, 2010

He Waiata mo Te Kare

In his later years, Baxter became very taken up with the injustices and spiritual dislocation of Maori people. Eventually he started a commune at a place called Jerusalem, on the Wanganui river, not far from the Catholic mission started by Mother Mary Aubert. His much-tried ex-wife stayed behind in Wellington. Alcoholism affected his health, and he was then moved to a commune in Auckland. He died there at 46.

He Waiata mo Te Kare


Up here at the wharepuni
That star at the kitchen window
Mentions your name to me.

Clear and bright like running water
It glitters above the rim of the range,
You in Wellington,
I in Jerusalem,

Woman, it is my wish
Our bodies should be buried in the same grave.


To others my love is a plaited kono
Full or empty,
With chunks of riwai,
Meat that stuck to the stones.

To you my love is a pendant
Of inanga greenstone,
Too hard to bite,
Cut from a boulder underground.

You can put it in a box
Or wear it over your heart.

One day it will grow warm.
One day it will tremble like a bed of rushes
and say to you with a man's tongue,
"Taku ngakau ki a koe!"


I have seen at evening
Two ducks fly down
To a pond together.

The whirring of their wings
Reminded me of you.


At the end of our lives
Te Atua will take pity
On the two whom he divided.

To the tribe he will give
Much talking, te pia and a loaded hangi.

To you and me he will give
A whare by the seashore
Where you can look for crabs and kina
And I can watch the waves
And from time to time see your face
With no sadness,
Te Kare o Nga Wai.


No rafter paintings,
No grass-stalk panels,
no Maori mass,

Christ and his Mother
Are lively Italians
Leaning forward to bless,

No taniko band on her head,
No feather cloak on his shoulder,

No stairway to heaven,
No tears of the albatross.

Here at Jerusalem
After ninety years
Of bungled opportunities,
I prefer not to invite you
Into the pakeha church.


Waves wash on the beaches.
They leave a mark for only a minute,
Each grey hair in my beard
Is there because of a sin,

The mirror shows me
An old tuatara,
He porangi, he tutua,
Standing in his dusty coat,

I do not think you wanted
Some other man.
I have walked barefoot from the tail of the fish to the nose
To say these words.


Hilltop behind hilltop,
A mile of green pungas
In the grey afternoon
Bow their heads to the slanting spears of rain.

In the middle room of the wharepuni
Kat is playing the guitar, -
"Let it be! Let it be!"

Don brings home a goat draped round his shoulders.
Tonight we'll eat roasted liver.

One day, it is possible,
Hoani and Hilary might join me here
Tired of the merry-go-round,

E hine, the door is open,
There's a space beside me.


Those we knew when we were young,
None of them have stayed together.
All their marriages battered down like trees
By the winds of a terrible century.

I was a gloomy drunk.
You were a troubled woman,
Nobody would have given tuppence for our chances,
Yet our love did not turn to hate.

If you could fly this way, my bird,
One day before we both die,
I think you might find a branch to rest on.

I chose to live in a different way.

Today I cut the grass from the paths
With a new sickle,
Working till my hands were blistered.

I never wanted another wife.


Now I see you conquer age
As the prow of a canoe beats down
The plumes of Tangaroa.

You, straight-backed, a girl,
Your dark hair on your shoulders,
Lifting up our grandchild,

How you put them to shame,
All the flouncing girls!

Your face wears the marks of age
As a warrior his moko,
Double the beauty,
A soul like a great albatross

Who only nests in mid ocean
Under the eye of Te Ra.

You have broken the back of age.
I tremble to see it.


Taraiwa has sent us up a parcel of smoked eels
With skins like fine leather.
We steam them in the colander.
He tells us the heads are not for eating.

So I cut off two heads
And throw them out to Archibald,
The old tomcat. He growls as he eats
Simply because he's timid.

Earlier today I cut thistles
Under the trees in the graveyard,
And washed my hands afterwards,
Sprinkling the sickle with water.

That's the life I lead,
Simple as a stone,
And all that makes it less than good, Te Kare,
Is that you are not beside me.

He Waiata mo Te Kare: A song for Te Kare (the object of my desire)
wharepuni: meeting house (though this is not the usual word, wharenui)
kono: food basket, again not the most usual word, rourou.
riwai: potato. Amusingly, this is because the commonly-grown Victorian variety was "Levi"
meat that stuck to the stones, i.e. "should have bought fish and chips" hangi food!
inanga: "trout" greenstone - has pretty ripples through it, like a fish.
"taku ngakau..." my heart is yours.
Te Atua: God.
"The Tribe" - Baxter's commune group.
pia beer
whare: house
kina: sea-urchins, a delicacy (I've not eaten them though.)
Te Kare o Nga Wai - Te Kare of the Waters (weeping, possibly.)

Stairway to heaven and tears of the albatross are both tekoteko (grass-stalk panel) patterns.
pakeha - anyone who isn't Maori.

tuatara: wiki it. They are strange and fascinating beasts.
porangi: madman
tutua: a nobody.
"I have walked barefoot..." the North Island is known as Te Ika a Maui, Maui's Fish. Auckland is at the tail, Wellington (capital) at the head.
pungas: tree-ferns
E hine: girl
Tangaroa: sea-god
moko: facial tattoo. Now undergoing a revival.
Te Ra: the sun
Taraiwa: driver


I'd like to have heard Jacqui's side of their marriage, but she has been very reserved. And I'm sure Baxter was as full of shit as anyone. However, this poem just does it for me. It speaks of a true and deep love. (Though perhaps not one that brought either partner much happiness.)

Arohanui to you all.



Emily J. said...

Thank you, Otepoti, for posting all these poems. I've really enjoyed them. This one is particularly heartwrenching.

Did you study the Maori language or have you absorbed these words by living in proximity to the culture?

Otepoti said...

I'm glad you enjoyed them! I have a few more favourites still to post.

I just tested my husband Peter on the Maori words above, and he knew "whare", "moko", "tuatara", "kina", "pungas" and, of course, "pakeha" (he is one and so am I.) This would be an average level of knowledge of Maori language. Most people would also know "iwi" (tribe), "whanau" (family), "waka" (canoe), basic greetings, "kai" (food), "puku", (stomach) "tapu" (sacred), "marae" (meeting place). These words are all well-embedded in our vocabulary, but grammar structure really is not, so most NZers couldn't originate sentences in Maori. This lack is what might still drive Maori language to extinction.

I have a little more understanding of grammar, and so could probably function at the level of a Maori-speaking small child. This is wholly thanks to total immersion courses run by Maori-led institutions for the strengthening of Maori knowledge. Wonderfully, the courses are available - free - to anyone with a yen to learn.

What a terrible loss it would be if Maori language were to vanish. I feel sick at the thought.

I think I have to cheer myself up by posting a link to one of my favourite hymns - "Ka Waiata ki a Maria" (I will sing to Mary).

Here it is: enjoy the authentic pronunciation here:

and here, the tasty harmonisation sung by an American choir:

mrsdarwin said...

These are beautiful -- so full of longing and love and loneliness.

Eliza said...

Hi there,

I've just happened upon your group because I was searching for He Waiata Mo te Kare. It looks wonderful! I recently finished Middlemarch for the first time (wonderful!), and my husband and I have spend time discussing how faith is portrayed in Wolf Hall and Bringing up the Bodies. So I am very interested! Are you guys still going? Are you based anywhere in real life?

Many thanks,