Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Maori Jesus


James K. Baxter has said that a poet is "the sore thumb of the tribe . . . a bad smell in the nose of good citizens."

If that was his mission statement, I think he managed to live up to it.

Of course, I have The Maori Jesus in mind . . .


The Maori Jesus by James K. Baxter

I saw the Maori Jesus
Walking on Wellington Harbour
He wore blue dungarees.
His beard and hair were long.
His breath smelt of mussels and paraoa.
When he smiled it looked like the dawn.
When he broke wind the little fishes trembled.
When he frowned the ground shook.
When he laughed everybody got drunk.

The Maori Jesus came on shore
And picked out his twelve disciples.
One cleaned toilets in the Railway Station;
His hands were scrubbed clean to get the shit out of the pores.
One was a call-girl who turned it up for nothing.
One was a housewife who'd forgotten the Pill
And stuck her TV set in the rubbish can.
One was a little office clerk
Who'd tried to set fire to the Government Buildings.
Yes, and there were several others;
One was an old sad queen;
One was an an alcoholic priest
Going slowly mad in a respectable parish.

The Maori Jesus said, "Man,
From now on the sun will shine."

The first day he was arrested
For having no lawful means of support.
The second day he was beaten up by the cops
For telling a dee his house was not in order.
The third day he was charged with being a Maori
And given a month in Mount Crawford.
The fourth day he was sent to Porirua
For telling a screw the sun would stop rising.
The fifth day lasted seven years
While he worked in the asylum laundry
Never out of the steam.
The sixth day he told the head doctor,
"I am the Light in the Void;
I am who I am."
The seventh day he was lobotomized;
The brain of God was cut in half.

On the eighth day the sun did not rise.
It didn't rise the day after.
God was neither alive nor dead.
The darkness of the Void,
Mountainous, mile-deep, civilized darkness
Sat on the earth from then till now.


I first read it in 2004. And after all these years, it's still my favourite Baxter poem and it still makes me feel like a "good citizen."


Otepoti said...

Thanks for posting this one, E. It is a great poem.

(Paraoa = bread, and mussels are gathered by all sorts of people, and steamed, and eaten with bread and butter.)

Baxter was one of the people who jerked us out of our comfortable assumptions that OUR race relations, unlike those in OTHER countries (cough, the US, cough) were just hunky-dory. He made us uncomfortable, and he made us think. Things were never quite as good as we believed.

I think the whole Treaty of Waitangi process can be credited to Baxter and others like him, who fair shouted at us to take a look around, and ask, if things between Maori and Pakeha were so good, why were Maori things poor and despised, and why were Maori people disproportionately poor, mad, bad, imprisoned and under-schooled.

Things are somewhat better now, and Aotearoa New Zealand is a more interesting place for it.

Otepoti said...

Actually, it's not with the US so much that we compared ourselves, but with Australia. We like to think that our race relations are much better than theirs. This may well be true. An Aboriginal lady stayed with us once and told us that the common word for "policeman" in the East Coast dialects is "linchu" - because they come along and they lynch you. In Maori, it's just "pirihimana" - a straight transliteration. Thankfully.

Pentimento said...

Fantastic poem, E. Thank you for posting it.

Enbrethiliel said...


Otepoti, whenever I watched or read the news while I was there, I did get the impression that many Kiwis believe things are better off in New Zealand than in the rest of the world. It's certainly not that old complacent view of local race relations, but a wider international view. It was related to the idea that New Zealand is still a very young nation and so hasn't made the huge mistakes other older countries have made and in a unique position to learn from those mistakes and avoid them entirely.

And it wasn't just the native-born Kiwis. One of my tutors was a naturalised citizen who had come from Cambodia when she was already an adult. I remember that after another international student shared a sad story about some relatives of hers dying in an armed conflict, my tutor addressed the whole room and said: "Aren't you glad that we're all in such a peaceful country?"

Raymond McIntyre said...

I know this is thread necromancy but I do love James K.