Hone Tuwhare died today. As was the case with Ed Hillary, I'd been bracing myself for this for some time. I wrote this poem a few years ago.
what words could ever say
what you ask for. for him.
it’s worse than wrenching winter
mussels from wild rocks wet
fingers numb, cut and the sea
saying one day, one day mate i’ll
claim y’ back. fed you all these
years the saltsweet kai moana;
kutai, kina, fishheads to get eyeballs
rolling, the black-muscled foot
food for your soul. not just
that lipsmack and belly i’ve fed.
You think, sea, the victory’s yours
as you eye him up alone and barefoot
on the final coast the same wind
rarking up his hair, your combers, rolling
and sliding under the flexing wings of
toroa back from your midnight heave.
his only land between his toes
his world a whorl of words one’s lost
to emulate spiralling inwards around
reflection. You think the tide will turn
believe your smack and thump, your
kelp-coil surge and suck will claim him
seafood, land and all, a feed of muscles,
slurp him down and belch him back—
Sea, you forget his words
Kai moana: seafood; kutai: mussels; kina: sea urchin; toroa: albatross.
1 & 2. Evening on the Wairarapa Coast, January 2008.
Photos and words © 2008 Pete McGregor