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Kathleen McLeod

"What my blood would tell me if I touched you."

Kathleen McLeod is a Māori wahine and an anarchist from Aotearoa. Ko Taupiri tōku maunga (Taupiri is my mountain). Ko Waikato tōku awa (Waikato is my river). Ko Tainui tōku waka (Tainui is my waka). Ko Waikato tōku iwi (Waikato is my tribe). Ko Ngāti Mahuta tōku hapū (Ngāti Mahuta is my sub-tribe). Ko Taupiri tōku marae (Taupiri is my marae). Kathleen is a published poet and playwright, living and working on the unceded sovereign lands of the Jagera and Turrbal nations in so called Australia. Her work has previously been published in the anthology Chorus by Saul Williams, Banango Street, Three Word Chant and Sunlit. She was a co-writer on the play Schimchong: Daughter Overboard, which premiered at World Theatre Festival in Brisbane/Meanjin in 2016. Her poetic mythology is concerned with ancestral grief and personal wounding, embodiment, healing and intimacy.

Ohia (to long for)

We are moving towards each other now. There’s snow on the mountain and
the sun slowly melting it. A fissure in the ice appears and exposes grass my
tūpuna walked on before the colonisers walked here. The glaciers I walked
on as a child shrink back from the world. A forest without birds waits in
silence. I sit in the sunshine cross legged and look out over Parua Bay and
the blue is the only colour I need to breathe or live, it’s so bright I am blinded
for a moment. A circle of women emerges and I start to see their faces, as
mine ages.

Your eyes change colour sometimes and I’m afraid you’ll see me notice. I’m
afraid we don’t have enough time. What do I know of time, each lifetime that
we’ve overcome and met in? This is the last test for all of us, I want you to
know how important it is to get it right. I don’t rush anyone or anything. I
have been healing at the pace the glaciers melt. Cheek to cheek on a bed of
ferns. Chin to chin, nose to nose, hongi. Then I will see your eyes and your
lashes, the curtains of the veil.

How far below the ice do we have to go to reach the true tikanga. How far
into the silence to hear the Atua and our tūpuna speak it to us. To resurrect the 
truth

of the sacred. How proud and pure we were before colonisation,
disease, rape and war and the Tohunga Suppression Act. What the birds
knew and where they went. What my blood would tell me if I touched you.
The pulse of my thumb against your lips.

Wading into the river at a shallow point and my fingers dislodging a piece of
pounamu. Hewn by hundreds of years of water, and inside I feel your
heartbeat as I close my fist around it.

I was never moving away from you. I was always waiting for you to return to
me. I sit by the river and watch the kāhu circle, a pair. The karakia of the
kāhu calls out over the mountain, When the time is right you will know love
and you will know spring and the ice will keep melting and the rest of the
birds will return and there will be nothing for either of us left to fear
. In the
summer I will come back from my journey and I will cook kūmara for you.

 

Glossary


Ohia (verb) to long for, desire, dream of, hanker after, set one's heart on, wish for, yearn for, pine.

tūpuna (noun) ancestors, grandparents.

hongi (verb) to press noses in greeting.

tikanga (noun) correct procedure, custom, habit, lore, method, manner, rule, way, code, meaning, plan, practice, convention, protocol - the customary system of values and practices that have developed over time and are deeply embedded in the social context.

atua (noun) ancestor with continuing influence, god, demon, supernatural being, deity, ghost, object of superstitious regard, strange being.

The Tohunga Suppression Act 1907 was intended to stop people using traditional Māori healing practices which had a supernatural or spiritual element.

pounamu (noun) greenstone, nephrite, jade.

kāhu (noun) a large brown hawk with long-fingered wings which feeds on prey and carrion and is common on farmland, tussock land and swamps.

karakia (noun) incantation, ritual chant, chant, intoned incantation, charm, spell - a set form of words to state or make effective a ritual activity. Karakia are recited rapidly using traditional language, symbols and structures.

kūmara (noun) sweet potato.
 

 

Statement about this work: This prose poem is from a larger body of as yet unpublished work about the trauma, aroha (love) and spiritual growth experienced through deliberate practices of decolonisation. My writing includes words I commonly use in my language te reo, which I am learning in order to better articulate cultural and spiritual knowledge and practices. This poem talks about two people who have a journey of spiritual growth to undertake together if they become lovers, written from the perspective of a mana wahine (Māori woman) who longs for love and truth. Her spiritual purpose is to honour her tūpuna and learn tikanga, much of which has been lost, or the truth of which is obscured and no longer practiced or taught openly, due to the violence of colonisation and assimilation. As a mana wahine, it is part of her collective duty to uphold or restore the balance of Te Ao Mārama (the world of light / the natural world) as it rapidly changes physically and spiritually through environmental devastation and ongoing colonialism.

Editor's note: 

 

Ice and water shape this piece as well as the landscape inside it. Over and over, there is this image of ice and glaciers melting, becoming water, and it changes as it reiterates from climate change to healing to a heart thawing with spring. And the water shapes stone, blinds, and appears as blood. The piece holds so much changing distance, bodies drawing nearer and farther apart. But the water and ice, changing themselves and spaces and into each other, are ultimately one entity. And that, despite the longing, brings comfort.

- Arianne True