Landings – Paul Radcliffe
A scaredy-cat – Vera Dong
Uncharted waters (circa 1814) – Alex Reece Abbott
Drifting – Trish Gribben
Biblical floods – Nicholas Fairclough
Last time on the run – Annette Edwards-Hill
Awa – My Rivers – Susan Barker
In the desert, it sometimes rains – Marjory Woodfield
Guest Editor Iona Winter, on selecting her top picks
Kia ora koutou, Flash Frontier, for the invitation to select highlighted stories for the latest issue AWA.
Aotearoa is a land imbued with an intrinsic connection to rivers, creeks and streams – most of us know at least one that we feel linked to. As with any body of water, the selected stories flowed onto and over the page, and via this ebb and flow touched on cycles of life, death, rebirth, and transition that linked, in clever ways, to awa. Those that tugged at me the most, like a taniwha circling below, lyrically explored natural flow versus the impact of humanity, often with deep reflection and aroha. Each story contrasted the others, building on interpersonal and observed relationships with te ao tūroa.
They illustrated patterns that, while not always beautiful, were interconnected. These stories breathed, alongside the waters they were birthed from.
Misery is a river but really it is a fountain and the spray is a squall moving southeast across the northwest windows of your temples.
Misery is a fountain but really it is a ghost and the counterfeit wet-sheet air hides your constellations and clefts in its folds.
Misery is a ghost but really it is a pedlar and a dollar buys you baubles of paste that you glue
to your thoughts.
Misery is a pedlar but really it is a raven and you are only this – an image in corvine eyes.
Misery is a raven but really it is a scroll and you are three illegible words beginning with illuminated ells.
Misery is a scroll but really it is a river and the river remembers the rain itself, not what the rain resembles.
The door hangs still so long its hinges rust. No voices, just bird calls punctuating the vacant air: kaka’s morning whistle, kawau’s midnight cries.
The old valve radio flickers to life then dies, sits silent, brooding.
Dust settles, dishes pile up in the sink. No one to clean for, not one child to open
a jar for, not even some sad sack to comfort and cook for.
My hands seek the warm flesh of a lover, the close embrace of a friend, the familiar
feel of family, then fold inward on each other’s sorrow.
I stand on the back steps, stare down the wind. A dark band of cloud descends.
Restless birds land on open ground, bicker, break out in raucous squabbles; a hawk picks over a rabbit’s remains.
Night falls early. Meteors meld mid-flight. I hear the rustle of the earth turning,
feel the onward surge of water flowing to the coast.
From every seeping, trickling, dribbling, leaching, molecule of matter: water
dripping, channelled in rivulets, streams, gullies, rivers, out to the open sea.
I wake to the whisper of nine bright sisters in the predawn sky. A thin sliver of moon
hangs between two shining planets, tracking a line to the eastern horizon.
My heart stirs at the solstice, subtle shifts prick, change is afoot. Out of the wintry earth, new shoots, green koru, tight-sprung, ready to unfurl.
More than silt and water
Annie hoses shit from her gumboots. It flushes down the grating and flicks up behind her knees, planting speckle kisses like melanoma moles. Rain falls.
In the shower, water bubbles through her hair, streams across blue-veined breasts, cascades over a silver-threaded belly and down to the plastic-moulded floor, down the drain. Rain falls.
Annie tugs on her boots to move the stock. She witnesses the birth of creeks and streams. They sluice down hills, uproot scrub. Rivers rush towards the saline womb of the sea, taking with it the soil of Mother Earth. Annie slides down a bank slick with milky clay to release the dogs’ chains.
She squats to piss, wipes hair from her eyes, watches her waters join the tears of the sky, stir with the soil of the earth, recalls the breaking of waters before each daughter emerged loud from her womb; the gush of her daughters’ urgency.
The car windows trap the steam of dogs’ panting breath. Rain drowns the radio babble. Was it forecast to be this bad? Why didn’t the council…? How did we… – her daughters’ warnings had sailed by her until now – …allow it to happen?
Rain falls. Annie is trapped between washed-out bridges. Nitrogen, phosphorus and faecal microbes wash around her gumboots. She phones her daughters one by one and promises — or is it too late now? —to lift their voices above the waves.
Far away, muddy rivers and ocean embrace in a silvery union more than silt and water.
Rivers, rivers, Awa
Anna Livia is my awa
S J Mannion
I loved the darkly shaded parts where the trees bent to the water and the bushes thickly clustered. The cool damp earth and water smell, even the occasional stink of shite as some loaded nappy sack floated by. The stench of humanity in city waterways is also a kind of comfort. One time, I saw daylight refracted on the water, it glimmered and glowed, as if the stars of the sky or crumbs of the sun laid themselves down on its rippled cloth. Another time, I saw a one-armed doll float by with half her hair torn off and two holes where her eyes should have been. Such a tormented looking thing. Staring and spinning. I dream of her still.
What if he’d turned and smiled before he’d slipped sheath-like into dark water? Before it folded him within itself, tumbling and wrapping him in silky weeds, luring him down with the beckoning swirling fingers of sombre currents, tempting him with the secret caverns of idle fat trout. His feet lengthening to flippers, his face opening to gills, his sleeves fusing to fins. His treasured hat bobbing away jauntily, superfluous in his new subaquatic life.
Some facts about why my life sux
5. My mum’s dead. Yup. You’re probably wondering why that wasn’t at the top of my list, well most of the time I don’t want to say, write or even think it. Awa’s mum said this week is Matariki, so we can do something special to remember Mum. Hopefully Dad will join in – I doubt it though – he’s so sad he doesn’t see me sometimes.
each wave eroding the bank
A deep breath. Standing in front of an audience is not my favourite place in the world. Hands clasped fast on lectern, back straight as the brother advised.I look over the words, large clear font, deliberately spaced to slow me.One hand moves to soft thick paper. Watercolour. My comfort.Silence draws long, gathering the room. Taking it and them in.
And then, looking out. It starts. Words, at first a trickle, begin to flow in a steady stream, moving sustenance in and out from this mouth.
Waima. White water. Spreading her ripples across the whenua in a long-worn path.
My father was a speaker. His deep waters fed out updates on fish and rivers, his tones translating local news across airways into eager homes and bars.
Another deep breath. Āe rā, my dad. Our waters flow well today.
Making stuff up
From June’s decrepit wind chimes, they heard Waimakariri boulders rolling in a storm. Sam put his tools away and began to mark out an area for mosses.
Down the river
The poetry collection Down the River was a huge hit in their new home, on Tristan da Cunha.
Now Taua has gone, and every day when I visit Roimata, my tears flow, joining with all the tears that have gone before.
Rivers and fairy tales
It nourished, entertained and inspired me. I love my awa. Perhaps, in this love, I’ll find time for fairy tales.
The word on the riverbank
Suddenly Mum is crying, large, silent tears. Gran reaches up to wipe them away. “Do you know, Beth,” Gran says to Mum, “I think that when it happens, it’ll be like a journey on a river. Taking me back to the river I came from, perhaps. And that’s not so bad, is it?”
Tangiwai (weeping waters)
The river flows beneath us.
I was pleased to see Dad that night, especially since he’d been dead seven years. I had emigrated. Dad never visited. Health intervened. A tunnel stretches under the runway at Wellington Airport leading to eastern suburbs. At one end there is a grassed rise and a bench looking out over the runway. It was late. I approached the tunnel. I recognised a familiar figure. A distant glow became an airliner. I sat by Dad. He turned his head. He looked as he had done when I had last seen him. In life there was no interest in the supernatural. This seemed a good time to mention the afterlife. Dad spoke first, asking about my son. I mentioned he had taken three for 11 for his school. Dad wished he had seen it. A helicopter descended. Dad watched. He spoke as if we were round the kitchen table. How’s the boy, girlfriend ok, still got the cat … normal things. Discussing cricket stats with your dad’s ghost doesn’t make an everyday evening. I asked how he got here. He said it was arranged. Better leave it. He went on.
“Thing is, I’m waiting for your mum. She’ll ask about you.” He stood. I shouldn’t follow. I watched him turn into the tunnel. I waited. Another airliner roared down the runway. Impatience overtook me. I ran down. I saw a tubby figure far off. It would be a long way home.
For both of us.
Vera Hua Dong
Two kids fly through the quiet streets on a large bike. They are dripping wet, the girl sitting sideways at the back, covering one knee with a tatty white vest stained with mud and blood, the boy, topless, accelerating standing up; if he sat down on the saddle, he could not reach the pedals.The boy makes a swift, stable stop at the gate of a hospital. The girl struggles down with one leg. “Little sis, let me carry you,” the boy bends his back. The girl hesitates, climbs on.
“Are you afraid of pain?” the ER doctor asks. She shakes her head, her ponytail shares the same opinion. The doctor cleans the cut on her knee. It’s small but deep. “How did you get the cut?”
“My fault,” the boy says, “I promised to teach her swimming in the Hao River…”
“No,” the girl speaks loudly, “I was too scared to float, so I knelt in the mud at the bottom of the river. I am… I am… such a scaredy-cat.”
“No time for anaesthesia, I am afraid. Just two quick stitches,” the doctor says.
The girl looks away.
“I am sorry, sis.” The boy hugs his sister, blocking her view to her knee and the doctor.
“Well done.” The doctor puts a muslin pad on the cut. “You are the bravest ‘scaredy-cat’ I have ever come across.”
The girl smiles, wiping sweat from her forehead. She turns to her brother. “Would you teach me swimming again?”
Uncharted waters (circa 1814)
Alex Reece Abbott
Undergrowth tangled with vines and thick roots force him to take the long way round.He has learned the hard way that this mission life is not his comfortable Oxfordshire village. London warned him: entanglement is a tidal river here, turning at any moment, catching him at his peril. But he loves these people, their ways, their wild, eery land too. Weather changes at the drop of a hat. Dense bush. Tracks often churned to mud. Raging rivers.
In his heart, he suspects Aotearoa will remain beyond full understanding as… well, human nature. Still, he aims for something more complete.
A gushing creek sweeps away the last of the winter rains. Without centuries of knowledge that the Māori have acquired, almost every visitor carries news of the New Zealand Death. Men, women and children too, travelling the uncharted coasts and washed away by the oceans, swallowed by the lakes, claimed by the rivers. Last trip, he misjudged the river’s speed and depth and was carried into a deep waterhole. Near drowned.
The kauri grow a hundred feet tall and thirty foot round, radiating strength and purpose. He pauses in the shade, wraps his arms around a giant, hoping to absorb those qualities. God’s will… or some other force… something native, perhaps… He draws himself upright, sustained a little longer, sure some vital force is rising, flowing into him from the earth, from the rivers. Real to him as the soft, greasy rein in his hand, like kiekie it binds him to this place.
“Watch out for the marshmuggers!”“Don’t worry. They’re maneaters,” Gary said as Jan sat trembling on the edge of the rubber dinghy, lifejacket firmly belted, eyes anxiously scanning the banks of the murky green-greyish Trisuli River. “Sure to be gender specific.”
Marshmuggers! Those alligator-like camouflaged creatures she had seen sunbathing under scruffy sal trees the day before. No one in their right mind would risk a bite from one of those.
She longed for home. She longed to get her right mind back. Ever since the joints under the giant daphne trees with their naked pink branches dancing a dervish dance around her, Jan felt something had slipped in her mind. She felt on edge with her trekking mates. She felt they had changed before her eyes. A kind of craziness seemed to grip them. They never talked of home or husbands as they trekked; not even their children.
Goodness knows how Gary could joke about gender-specific marshmuggers. Goodness didn’t know, didn’t know a thing. Whoever came up with that stupid idea? Who was Goodness anyway? Here, where gods galore cavorted with anything that moved from milk maids to elephants. Jan felt closer to a devil who knew, a devil who darkened hearts and drank blood spilt from goat sacrifices.
Jan clung to the dinghy “drifting down to India” in the sluggish flow, thinking of the shining eyes awaiting her. The stories she would tell.
The awa is too big for it to be called an awa anymore. It’s not a meandering snake, it blankets the whenua and it’s fattening before our very eyes. Now it’s huge, as immense as The Bible and other large books that have too many words in them for people like me.
Last time on the run
I took Dave out for a last ride in his car. His mother wasn’t that happy about me taking him out of the house but I told her we’d only go to the river and bring him straight back home.I propped Dave up in the passenger seat, popped a ciggie in his mouth and opened a can of beer. Dave held the can of beer on his knee.
Dave’s car made a deep grumbling noise as I started it. We drove past the tannery, the tavern and the police station. I wanted to hang Dave’s hand out the window, middle finger raised, but there were cops out the front.
I called out “last time on the run,” and the cops waved.
Dave stared ahead, not showing any emotion.
We turned off onto the dirt road down to the river. It hadn’t rained all summer and the river was a dry trickle. We stopped and did up Dave’s seatbelt. He wouldn’t be seen dead with it on and I’d left it off out of respect. On the gravel I put my foot down and turned the steering wheel hard.
Even buckled in, Dave jolted from side to side and ended up slouched, beer splashed on his jeans.
Dust was still rising from the carpark as I drove back onto the main road.
I took him home. Lifted him from the car and returned him to the open coffin inside.
He hadn’t opened his eyes the whole time we were out.
Awa – My Rivers
In the desert, it sometimes rains