Tuesday Poem: “Ka Mate” by Johanna Emeney

Ka Mate

A tan boy with seaweed hair
is playing drowned on the beach,
lying face up, letting lines
of tired waves break over him.

He is clever. He listens, knows
when to hold his breath and when
to let it go. He has passers-by
craning necks while his parents
watch from deckchairs, in on the joke.

He is composing a poem on the tide,
its old rhythms threatening:
Watch me live. Watch me die.

Auckland poet Johanna Emeney just released her first collection of poetry, Apple and Tree, through Cape Catley Books. Cape Catley says: “this is a fresh, contemporary poetry book for both ‘literary’ and ‘non-literary’ readers. Poems to listen to in the car, copy into diaries, stick on fridges and send to friends … these are Volkswagen verses.”

Jo, who is also doing a PhD at Massey, has kindly let me use “Ka Mate” as a Tuesday Poem. I enjoy the way her poem lets a reader enter the world shared between the boy and his parents. It is lightly sinister, if a poem can be such a thing, and I think it captures the way a child thinks about death.

For more Tuesday Poems, check out the hub.

4 thoughts on “Tuesday Poem: “Ka Mate” by Johanna Emeney

  1. First off, I love the sounds of this poem and the tidal feel of the rhythms e.g. ‘lying face up, letting lines
    of tired waves break… ‘. Secondly, I love its simple commentary on the human condition – life breaking over us, outwitting it for a while but still not knowing what will come next, in sight of others we love: living then dying. Great to see this poet here Sarah, thanks.

  2. I’ve come back several times to look at this poem, and like it more and more. I love the imagery, and the sweep and depth of the references.

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