The uprising

Selected for Best New Zealand Poems 2014


Here we are a skinny country
in the largest ocean on earth
spell-bound, windswept, lashed.
The land is like a canoe heading south
to an icy continent or heading north to equatorial islands.
No one seems to know.
On Tuvalu the ocean is rising, in San Francisco
the ocean is rising, in Sydney the ocean is
rising, in Nagoya the ocean is rising
while here, in Paekakariki, outside my window
the Tasman Sea, moon-bound, rises and falls.
It breaks up on the sea wall and falls.
The land is like a sea-bird but where
are its wings? The land is like a fish.
The fish of Māui, hauled up from the sea floor, writhing.
The ocean is a road, a table and a bed.
It takes our bodies up to air and floats them.
The ocean is an open question.
The ocean is an open sewer. So far
it takes what it gets: toxins, dead zones,
blooms, blasts, oil, waste, radiation…
Our country is asleep – dreaming of a gull
that circles the Pacific, and circles every island.
Our country has forgotten where it lies.

On Antarctica the Pacific is rising,
in Majuro the Pacific is rising:
people leave when they cannot stay.

In Lima the Pacific is rising,
on Nukunonu the Pacific is rising,
in Paekakariki the Pacific is rising.
Around the rim it calms, feeds and livens
human beings while we, its offspring – resourceful
and distracted – give back plastic and acid.
Today the sea came gently to the sea wall
and pulled back into itself
in the overall global uprising.
The whole indivisible ocean,
that has no motive and no name,
fits over the earth like a blessing
and slips around, between and over
the territories and nations we have made.
Currents, drifts and creatures come and go.
It shows up outside my window and,
though spell-bound and moon-bound, is unbound
with a swell and momentum of its own.
Because we have emerged from it perhaps
we have a mind for its envelopment and treachery;
its weight, sheen, depth, saltiness and flow?
Our country is a park. We have the high
ground and the low ground. Our mountains
are peace flags and we’re free
to break out of bush, flax, pingao
or any dead-end ideology 
onto a charged and open-ended coast.
The land is like a knife, out
of its sheath and glinting in the sun.
I’d like to hold that pointed knife.
I’d like to speak with that knife.
I’d like to save a home, a tribe
and a heritage with that knife.
And all I can do is rise:
both before and after I fall.
All I can do is rally,
all I can do is write.
I can try to see, and mark,
both where, and how, we are.
All I can do is plant,
all I can do is vote
for the fish, the canoe, the ocean
to survive the rise and fall.
All I can do is plead,
all I can do is call…

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