Rest in peace, Hone Tuwhare

Toroa ~ Albatross

Day and night endlessly you have flown effortless of wing
over chest-expanding oceans far from land.
Do you switch on an automatic pilot, close your eyes
in sleep, Toroa?

On your way to your homeground at Otakou Heads
you tried to rest briefly on the Wai-te-mata
but were shot at by ignorant people. Crippled.
You found a resting place at Whanga-nui-a-Tara;
found space at last to recompose yourself.

Now, without skin and flesh to hold you together
the division of your aerodynamic parts lies whitening,
licked clean by sun and air and water. Children will
discover narrow corridors of airiness between,
the suddenness of bulk. Naked, laugh in the gush
and ripple — the play of light on water.

You are not alone, Toroa. A taniwha once tried
to break out of the harbour for the open sea. He failed.
He is lonely. From the top of the mountain nearby he
calls to you: Haeremai, haeremai, welcome home, traveller.

Your head tilts, your eyes open to the world.


I will admit I know almost nothing about Hone Tuwhare the man, but his poetry has been hugely influential to me.   I grew up in the 1980s, the time of David Lange, the Oxford Union debate, the Rainbow Warrior, WMDs, ICBMs, MAD, and the end of ANZUS, and I think Tuwhare’s No Ordinary Sun was read by every child.  What an awakening that was!  The teacher gave it to us to read, and then asked us what it meant.  The meaning was obvious to me but where in the poem did it state that it was about nuclear bombs?  That poem probably made me realise the power, the energy, the versatility of words.  I hope his words never die.

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