Marama’s basket of kumara – Himali McInnes
Reasons why I called in sick rather than go to the mihi whakatau for new employees last Friday – Jack Remiel Cottrell
Matariki – Teoti Jardine
Te Whānau Mārama – Heather McQuillan
Father, daughter, grandson, kite – Evie Jay
Tatari (Waiting) – Jeff Taylor
Tō waha – Alex Reece Abbott
Little Sparks – Sue Kingham
Low tide – Paul Stothers
Reading the Signs – Sophia Wilson
For the Winds – Marty Beauchamp
Connected – Oshadha Perera
Marama’s basket of kumara
It has rained for forty days. Marama is trapped inside her house like a firefly in a jar. Her heart is rolled in tar, sticky with ghosts. No one calls or checks in on her. Will these walls sag on top of me like wet cardboard tonight, she wonders?
The weather lady is wearing a dress that shimmers like the Pacific and shows off her nice ankles. She’s a different type of water altogether. She says it will be the wettest Matariki in ten years. Events tonight will be cancelled.
Marama sees mould blooming, a dark constellation on the walls. Greenish drips of fluid slither along the ceiling, coalescing into squeamish globs in the corners.
She remembers the kūmara she grew when she was young. For her beautiful tamariki, before they sprouted wings and flew away. For anyone who was hungry.
I fed so many, and now there is no one to feed me, she thinks. My kūmara were fat and fleshy, golden like squeezed suns in the chilled earth. They were life itself.
Night falls, a thick purplish quickening. Silence. The rain has stopped.
She pulls on her gumboots and stands in the steaming garden. Tamariki are flying kites and lanterns in the night sky, they rise and rise like small golden eyes, and she knows it is time.
Tonight she will fly too, with her basket of kūmara.
Reasons why I called in sick rather than go to the mihi whakatau for new employees last Friday
Jack Remiel Cottrell
- When I did kapa haka at primary school, one of the leaders asked who in the group was Māori. I raised my hand and a teacher told me not to be silly.
- When I was 11 my cousin Amy, who attended kura kaupapa, laughed at my accent after I said a karakia.
- In my first year of uni the RA asked if anyone on our floor was Māori. When I said yes, a guy yelled, “What tribe are you from, Ngāti Ginger Ninjas?”
- The aunties at my marae have always told me I don’t know anything. I’m not sure if they’re right, but I believe them.
- Two years ago, my journalism class had a lesson on te reo Māori in the news. We prepared our mihi, but when I spoke, I tried to sound more Pākehā so no one would think I was pretending to be something I’m not. Then I sat down and burned with shame.
- Last Wednesday, I told the organiser of our mihi whakatau that I had been to pōwhiri before because I’m Māori. He laughed at me.
- Because I didn’t want another reason.
The ancient eyes, without judgement, see all.
New-born eyes greet the world with wonder.
Between the ancient and the new lie visions.
Treasured memories are gathered there.
The looks of love plunged into. Drowning
where eyes are happily consumed.
Our Tūpuna taught us the tohu of these eyes.
Their dawning, a time for celebration.
Te Whānau Mārama
Dad tears out his eyes and flings them into the sky. We watch for them to fall. An octopus mist curls from the swamp to shroud our vision. Leaves drip. Feet crackle ferns. In the distance, the questioning quee of a lone ruru.
By the time we blend into a handhold, Dad has gone. We trail blankets and huddle on the porch in darkness.
Uri says, “Maybe he’s gone to get Maccas.”
My brother has no sense of distance, time and space. I make a mug of warm milk. We dunk wine biscuits.
Before dawn we see Dad’s eyes. An open basket spills a long trail of light and at the end, just above the dunes, are two new stars.
Two days we search but the whole farm is still and all the way to the beach there is not even the breath of him. Each night, though, his eyes watch over us.
‘How will he find his way home without eyes?’ Uri asks.
‘He’ll grow new ones,’ I say.
I know the pattern. First the memories roil up, then the tearing at his body to free the bird trapped between his bones, and then he sleeps.
Our bellies rumble on the third evening as the high leaves signal his return. His approach is warm-breeze conciliatory. Tears pool in his new-born eyes. He promises a trip to the city and Maccas.
Ruru flies silently by on fringed wings.
Father, daughter, grandson, kite
He said, “The whole thing leaves me cold. There, I’ve said it. Call it ‘politically incorrect’ all you like. That mystical waffle about stars. All right, Jen, you go on about the wonder and meaning of it, but you’re a teacher, so you have to, don’t you?”
He picked up steam. “Most ordinary people find Matariki boring. The only interesting thing to happen around Matariki, that I can remember, was the whale arriving in Wellington Harbour that year. I mean, people got excited about that. And then the usual suspects began talking about how ‘spiritual’ it was. Ruined it all. As if whales would know about Matariki.”
“And,” he went on, “really, what makes Matariki special? You keep talking about ‘planting’ and ‘harvesting’ and ‘connecting with family’. But people can do those sorts of things anytime, can’t they? And don’t get me started about kite-flying. Children can fly kites any day of the year, can’t they? All last summer, young Liam and I raced around with kites.”
“But, Dad,” Jen said, “aren’t you coming to the school kite-flying?”
“Of course I am,” he said. “You know I am. Liam and I worked so hard making that whale kite. I’ve promised him it’s going to fly so high! High enough to reach the stars, I told him.”
“That high? High enough to connect heaven and earth?” Jen asked.
“Well, yes, I suppose you could say that,” he said.
Jen took his hand. “Dad,” she said, “welcome to Matariki.”
The boy hangs back, reluctant, kicking at the black sand. She’s at the water’s edge in the moonlight, still as a statue, staring out to sea in that old nightdress with the flowers. Strands of seaweed rope around her bare ankles in the foam.
The air reeks of her sadness, like someone has cut out her heart and run off with it.
“Hey Aunty? You’ve been out here a long time, eh? It’s cold. Dad’s got some kai ready.”
Her tormented eyes turn. “I’m not hungry, Rangi. And you know why I’m here.”
“Yeah. It’s Robert. You’re waiting for him.”
“Your uncle always took too many risks. No phone. No radio.”
“But it’s been a week. Why tonight?”
“Because it’s Matariki, Rangi. Look out there. Just above the big island. See those stars? That’s a symbol of hope. That old outboard might’ve given up, but he’s got oars. And he can catch fish for food.”
“So you think he’ll come back, Auntie?”
“Our tīpuna were once the world’s best ever navigators, and they only had the Southern Cross, Māhutonga, to guide them. They called it the anchor of the great sky canoe and they knew how to read the ocean swells and currents. They found their way by the stars, the moon, the sun, the clouds, the winds, and by watching birds.” She turns to him again. “Yes, Rangi. I reckon he’ll find his way back.”
“Okay, then. I’ll go get the kai and wait with you, eh?”
Alex Reece Abbott
Make up your bloody mind, Kezia, you already had new year! he’d growled.
Now twelve hours south, shivering, she drank in the inky three-sixty-degree panorama from Maungawhau. In the shadow of the highest volcano, the city twinkled, saturated with neon and sodium and LED, a toxic blaze. Ablaze. Blue lights pulsed along tarmac arteries, red and white tracers streamed.
Burned barren, the celestial map was draped in a gauzy veil, hazed out of sight. No planets or constellations in the bleached heavens. No stars to guide her way. No new moon. Kezia envied Tupaia, the master navigator, with his dark, dark skies. His bright Morning Star.
Once, the albatross was a go-between to the heavens. Nowadays, confused by man-made light, migrating birds crashed. Gone yonks, she’d found her way home, yet since her flight had landed, she’d felt alone, lost. Not a tourist, not a visitor, not a local yokel. Yearning to feel her childhood wonder, she scanned east to find divine Matariki, to meet the eyes of the god. The brighter the star, the more productive the crop.
Seven sisters? One would do. Her kete of hopes harvested, her dreams and wishes gathered and preserved, she repeated her mantra to young Hiwa. This. Move. Will. Be. A. Success.
And why couldn’t she have two new years? Two fresh starts.
He was twelve hours behind, a lifetime away. Who said she had to choose? Tō waha! Mind made up, Kezia looked towards the first fruits of her new year.
On Saturday evening at the couples’ retreat, Jack and I fled outside before the intimacy session began.
“It’s such a clear night,” I said. “Let’s go stargazing.”
Jack flicked on his phone torch and strode two paces ahead.
Our boots crunched on the gravel road. As I tightened my scarf, the smell of wood smoke and pine mingled with the scent of the damp earth.
I called out, “Does the Southern Cross look upside down to you?”
He stopped and tilted his head. “It is for part of the year. Did I ever tell you I once did an astronomy paper?”
“No.” Who was this man?
Jack walked back and put his arm around my shoulder. With his free hand, he pointed to a bright cluster.
“See there? That’s Matariki. If we had a telescope, we’d find hundreds of stars in that group, not just seven.”
How long had it been since he’d touched me like this?
“Doesn’t the galaxy blow your mind?” he gushed. “We observe stars as they were thousands of years ago; it takes that long for their light to reach us. We don’t know,” he swept his hand across the sky, “how many of them are still alive.”
I discovered glow-worms under a rocky outcrop on the way back. We crouched together, mesmerised by their gleaming sparks.
Shuffling closer, I took his hand and gave it a squeeze.
Weather-beaten boots salvaged from an old dump crunched down on periwinkle then sunk into brown sand. The estuary was alive with gulls pecking at the remaining flesh of a decaying snapper. Sandflies ate dead lice. Families satiated on cheap sausage made their way in from frothy surf. Chicken bones stripped of their meat got packed into Tupperware containers. Overflowing station wagons reset their GPS and returned home to warm beds in warm homes. Tama unpacked a thick woollen blanket from a dishevelled rucksack and took a seat at the high-tide mark.
Julie joined him and puffed out her chest, pointing to the chunk of cheap metal that hung around her neck.
“See… I am a girl,” said Julie.
I know you’re a girl, don’t have to wear jewellery to show you’re a girl.”
“Yeah, but it proves I’m not a boy,” said Julie.
“Yeah, well you’re a boy that’s a girl,”
“What does that mean?” replied Julie.
“It means you’re even more special than a necklace.”
They huddled under the blanket; it was home for the night. Long chats faded into a deep purple sky. As sunrise neared, Tama woke and gazed up. It was six months before Puanga would appear. Every morning Tama would count down the days. He knew that when the New Year came, it was another day closer to the possibility of sleeping in a real bed.
Reading the Signs
I never learned to read the stars. But cyberspace reads famine and plague, inferno and flood, violence unleashed.
At your bedside, I struggle to interpret portents under an unfamiliar low-roofed sky; cold, unnatural stars – green and red – glowing signals on the life support system, numbers, flashes in the dark. I hear the rasping rise and fall of your chest, the inhale-exhale of machinery breathing for you – rhythmic sounds poised at the abyss of alarm.
The staff talk in low, kind tones from behind plastic barriers. They speak of closing horizons, sea levels swelling inside your chest cavity, flooding secretions. They anticipate that, ineluctably, the delicate, irreplaceable islands of your lung tissue will go under.
Your hand is familiar, beloved and strangely foreign beneath the glove. I search your face for signs behind the tapes and hollow cylinders. Your eyelids are closed, eyes sunken in shadowed orbits. Your skin, pallid and drawn, reveals extreme depletion. Scattered over your body’s landmass, the violence of tubes, bags and needles. And you are on fire with a fever that even drugs cannot quell.
Outside, the wintry night is fresh and wind-swept. The constellations are bright and gentle, the Matariki cluster, tender star spill.
I inhale, filling my lungs with clear, invigorating air. I breathe.
In. Out. In. Out.
Over and over, I imagine I am breathing for you.
For the Winds
The sand still warm under my bum. Winds on-shore as always with the winter-cold night coming, running towards us, making the smallest shells skitter in front of the waves.
“The eyes of God,” Mum said quietly. I was day-dreaming about the fish in the waves, suddenly wishing I had all-seeing eyes. She nudged me, “Remember the names?”
“The winds; one day they’ll carry you all the way up there.”
“Hello Pohutukawa,” she said quietly. Pohutukawa down the bottom, for her Mum and Dad.
“Good one. West. The new year; adventure. Like your brother in Japan now.
“Waipuna-a-Rangi, further again. Rains. Africa? Wildebeest and crocodiles.
“Tupuarangi up North, a little East, for food in the trees. Oranges? Those California ones you love to turn into mouthguards.
“Tupuanuku further South, food from the soil. South America? All those lovely roast potatoes.”
“Yep, for the sea. A little closer, Australia? One day you’ll catch a barramundi.”
“I thought that Waihi was for the sea, our star?”
“It is, maybe snapper, and scallops.
“See how, no matter where you go, I can see you, and you can see me, ‘Nga-mata-o-te-Ariki’.”
Big Ben boomed a slow six. I was waiting on the 97 bus, coming slowly to sway me over the Thames.
I turned the bone amulet at my neck, read the inscription for the thousandth time.
“Ururangi, from Matariki, at Waihi, Aroha nui”.
Waihi, my Waiti. She would be sitting on the beach, waiting on a hug.
The young astronomer was having a soothing shower when he remembered it. Wait. Was that today? How could he forget it? His heart started beating the sound barrier as he started packing his bag with the special pack he kept at the very back of his closet. In minutes, he was at the observatory, unlocking the doors – thankfully Mr Roberts had given him the set of keys before he set off to Australia. The reflector telescope was set up after some moaning and groaning. He wanted to call others to see this phenomenal occasion, but he knew they were either on their phones or working overtime. Not being able to wait any more, he stole a glance at the telescope. He felt his heart beating in harmony with what he was seeing; his whole body was absorbed, his soul synchronised with it.
A swish of colours devoured his vision, prosperity reaching a record high. Memorising who left them and celebrating what they have, a moment of happiness. Celebration. Whiffs of delicious moments, tastebuds dancing, the whole body in rhythm with the feeling. Kites of life flying as satisfied glances land upon their collections; a year’s work: successful. A delightful image, waiting to be explored. The sky clear and in it, in the low horizon, overlooking and protecting, Matariki.
He looked back from the telescope, to see the whole town gathered behind him, cheerful smiles on their faces, holding each other’s hands with strong and determined grips.
The track to the inlet is narrow; you must walk single file and take care.
Blackberry brambles wrap thickening arms through wood slats of a broken bench.
A faded yellow ribbon dangles from an overhanging branch.
The bach has a tomato red roof.
Three rusted padlocks nestle into layers of baby blue on rotting wood, once the boathouse door.
A rowboat facedown on the rumpled lawn has lost its arms. Its rollicks are empty and quiet.
Four oars have fallen like pickup sticks.
The sky is achingly empty, arching from hill top to hill top.
The tide is out; the mudflat exposes its belly, again.
Small dots in the distance. A woman and child.
Turquoise croc shoes and bare feet squelch on oozing mud.
A crab scuttles down a hole that can’t be seen.
Cockles that can no longer hide lie in full surrender.
Sea lettuce, iridescent green, litters the mud as if flung with a careless hand.
Wisps of dragon breath hiss from the boy’s mouth.
The red roof, tiny from here, beckons from across the lagoon.
A downy white feather is trapped by a tendril in sticky mud; it trembles like a sentient creature, knowing what’s to come.
Small bubbles. A creep of wet. A trickle of water.
The sky is holding its secret.
Seven sisters align. They have learned to be patient.
Who will see the offering when the curtains pull back on the darkness?
Matariki readies to pour into the black silk of full flood.
The lights of Matariki
She strung the fairy lights up on the hallway’s ceiling, balanced carefully on a ladder, each time the staple gun fired with a satisfying kick.
“They’re magical,” said the six-year-old.
“Like the stars of Matariki,” she replied. But not really, she thought. At least though he can see these lights in winter, not like at Christmas when the sun stays up past his bedtime.
The fairy lights would be turned on many times that June. The six-year-old always was delighted.
The lights were joined by a glitter-encrusted paper star made at school for Matariki.
“Mrs Upton said it’s the Māori New Year.”
“Yes, I like that idea,” she said. And a time to remember our dead, she thought.
One night she forgot to turn off the lights before going to bed and woke during the night to see an eerie glow radiating under the bottom of her bedroom door. She wondered out loud what it was, as she had also forgotten there was no one to reply.
Then she remembered everything, and got up to turn off the lights, but instead lay on the hallway floor and looked up at the night’s sky.
Surrounded by long-passed friends and family, cold winds of loneliness engulfed Maddy. Depressed, she had escaped up Cemetery Hill to huddle amongst the headstones, fruitlessly seeking answers in buried memories.
She hungered for fellowship, just as her stomach desired the steaming hangi, but she couldn’t join the villagers’ Matariki celebration below. So many newcomers; young, confident strangers transplanted into her world, upsetting long-established order, yet belonging to this land more than she ever could. Maddy feared inadvertent racism; better to stay away than make a blunder.
Stars, like a thousand shiny specks, gazed at her. She wished she knew their names; yet another failing, in a lifetime of failures. Was it true that the dead looked down from heaven? Where was paradise? She felt for the pill bottle in her pocket. Maybe now was the time.
Singing wafted up the hill, softly calling, stirring her bones in ways she didn’t understand.
She watched as a lone figure climbed up to her. His hand reached out in friendship.
“Come join us, Maddy. Our gatherings are not the same without you.”
A seed of hope stirred. Rising, she made the enormous decision to brave the Matariki celebration; to dip a toe into this strange new era, where the old and the very old might meet to form a new.
Empowered by his supporting hand, Maddy took her first step into the future, asking quietly “What is Matariki?”
“So you’ve learnt about Matariki at school, eh?’ Nana Tukaki, who knows heaps because she’s nearly a hundred, pokes at her fire. ‘Nine stars, not seven! Seven Sisters is the other side of the world.”
She gives the look only kuia give us kids, making sure we’ve got our taringa open.
She counts off names on her fingers.
“Matariki the mother, Pōhutukawa who carries our dead across the sky, Tupu-ā-rangi who looks after kereru and berries and things that grow above your head, Tupu-ā-nuku who looks after our kumara and potato, things that grow underground, Ururangi who controls the winds, Waipuna-ā-rangi the rain, Waitī who looks after our freshwater kai, Waitā our kaimoana, and Hiwa-i-te-Rangi – the wishing star. You tell her your dreams and hopes for the new year.’
“Tell me those names again, Nana.” I pull out my phone and start recording. This is way better than colouring in stars or making bookmarks in class.
“Tonight when we look up at Matariki,” she raises her head and one arm “and you see how each star is – bright or dull, maybe not there at all – and you know it’s the star of plantings, or rain, or whatever, it will tell you how these things will be in the coming year. You have learnt to read Matariki.”
I look at Nana Tukaki with her twinkly blue eyes. She is way cool. One day she will be my star.
In sparse winter landscapes of multi-hued browns, birds keep their movements swift and true.
That morning, after dropping the kids to school, Kali had been tempted to take the car and drive into the frosty shadow of the road, to see where the slide might lead. Instead, the frozen whenua begged her feet to step over its cracked lips and walk the track. Beyond the hum of the substation, in a sheltering grove of stripped birches, she quickly found herself undone. Korimako songs echoed through the valley on loop. She forced herself to listen, because she needed to hear the quiet strength of Papatūānuku, in amongst the darkness.
She’d gasped when he lifted his hand to the dog.
He looked over at her, and his gaze seared tracks along her torso like a firebrand, reminding her of his potential.
She heard the whispered words. It was time to show him what she was capable of.
Hangman’s noose supplejack coiled behind her while she stood and observed her breath blow strands of hair. Fresh mānuka blossoms dotted the emergent green. Kali imagined in the past she might have crawled into such a twisted-undergrowth-refuge. Not now. As the light dimmed, she drew her gaze upwards to the whetū, where the tupuna whispers became amplified. Her arms extended, in wordless awareness of what had gone before. He had to go.
In sparse winter landscapes of multi-hued browns, birds keep their movements swift and true.