he wonders why the sea took
his kids and whether his ancestors
had anything to do with it or even
whether he believes in Tangaroa
big fingers numb fumble knots
he thinks of his friend the pakeha girl
with green eyes and satellite boys
who circle hope and fret
she's seen the world but still
eats kina and hugs him for the present
'though when he gets home he gets it
in the neck
heck he says it's aroha don't you see
not the other he wants to say she's
the age that Sue would have been
but he's not that dumb
and thinks instead perhaps it's time
he got to the point where
the sea smells like fish heads or
the fresh shucked juice of kutai
but it's a cold day on the rocks as
the wrinkled sea slides and coils
around his feet and rain knocks
at his parka hood he wonders
where his kids are and if they're warm
and whether she's curled in front of a fire
and why it's so hard to tie knots
with the rain in your eyes.
1. None of the characters in this bear any intentional resemblance to real people, living or dead.
2. Tangaroa: god of the sea.
3. Pakeha: the definition is sometimes contentious, but it generally refers to people of European descent; however, the range of interpretations is broad and the word is considered by some to encompass New Zealanders who have no Maori whakapapa (loosely meaning genealogy). The origin of the word isn't known, although some interesting suggestions (as well as fanciful theories) have been put forward. The Wikipedia entry on 'pakeha' (accessed 31 October 2007) seems to offer a reasonable summary, but if you're keen to understand the concept better, I suggest Michael King's Being Pakeha Now (2004) (although I haven't read it).
4. Kina: the sea urchin (sea egg), Evechinus chloroticus. A delicacy (apparently), particularly for Maori.
5. Kutai: mussels, particularly the New Zealand greenshell mussel (Perna canaliculus), rock mussel (Mytilus edulis), and blue mussel (Mytilus galloprovincialis).
Beach detail near Pencarrow Head, Eastern coast of Wellington harbour.
Update (31 October 2007): edited the note about the word "pakeha". (Thanks, Anne-Marie).
Photo and words © 2007 Pete McGregor