As our ancestors did before us we claw
at ourselves and each other, we swell, seize up,
snipe and bitch, hating each other for cytosines
and thickenings, for the errors of general practitioners,
for long nights awake without medicine. You scratch
so hard you bruise yourself. I give away hours of night
to the next yellow day. My mother remembers the rash
that raged across her back and the fleshy heels of her palms.
It vanished the day she said those words, under her breath,
while stacking kindling in the shipping container
we used for a woodshed. We left two weeks later.
My father is all for aloe vera and manuka honey
and us coming up for a break. I pulverise an old
carrot in the screaming juicer. You get a ten-dollar
haircut. The sun comes out like a fucking miracle.
Hinemoana Baker is a writer, musician, and producer, and in 2014 she was the writer in residence at the International Institute of Modern Letters. She is descended from Ngāi Tahu in the South Island, and Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Toa, and Ngāti Ati Awa in the North.
The poem ‘malady’ comes from her third collection waha | mouth, which was published by VUP in 2014. It is such a generous collection; Baker’s poetry is lyrical and intellectual, tough and everyday, surprising and deft. As a poet I had many ‘ah!’ moments when I appreciated the care and craft that went into these poems. Both Paula Green and Booksellers NZ have written, in my opinion, spot on reviews of waha | mouth.
I think ‘malady’ appealed to me because I read the collection just before Christmas, that traditional time of family togetherness. If you’ve read my poetry you’ll know I sometimes write about the difficult relationship I have with my father, which in essence is writing about my relationship with myself as so many of my traits I’ve inherited from him. Baker’s cracking last line made me laugh — some days just walking out onto this green earth feels like fucking miracle.
For other Tuesday Poems check out the hub.