the tuwhare special

posted by Michele

Hone Tuwhare went to Jerusalem in November 1972 to farewell his friend James K Baxter. He wrote what became a well-known poem about driving overnight to get to the tangi, picking up three young men along the way and putting time and place into context as the sun came up at Jerusalem that morning. The poem is called 'Heemi' (Deep River Talk: Collected Poems 96) and it ends:

Joy for the brother sun chesting over
the brim of the land, and for the three
young blokes flaked out in the back seat
who would make it now, knowing that they
were not called on to witness
some mysterious phenomenon of birth on
a dung-littered floor of a stable

but come simply to call
on a tired old mate in a tent
laid out in a box
with no money in the pocket
no fancy halo, no thump left in the old

Several of the contributors to nzepc's e-journal ka mate ka ora #6, a Hone Tuwhare special issue, recall the poem in their own tributes to Tuwhare. Robert Sullivan has assembled the rich mix of critical essays, memoirs, poems and photographs just now launching in the September issue. Yes, it's late: there was a much bigger take-up than expected to kmko's call for Tuwhare material, but it's worth waiting for: 8 essays, 3 sets of archival photographs and 25 tributes plus an editorial by Sullivan and a poroporoaki (farewell) by Hana O'Regan called 'He tītī me te waihoka pōhutukawa / Mutton Birds and Red Wine'. Much to savour, much to ponder. Here's a gem from Jean McCormack, who married Tuwhare in 1949:

Calling the ex at seventy-nine

He's in the hospital
in Balclutha
eighty-two now
heart trouble, etc...

I'm reasonable,
high blood pressure
now under control
watery eyes when I go out
in the cold
but that's minor

Who is it he says..
Who? Spell it!
Louder this time…J E A N…

Oh! JUNE! JUNE! (delighted)
(Those names from the 1920s! But who is June, I wonder...
haven’t heard of that one..)



We talk for a while
as much as is possible,
he asks after the sons, the mokopuna..

He tires
says good-bye
but I hear no clicking off.
I hold the phone

Then I hear faintly, the quavery but
melodious voice..

My heart is sad and lonely, de da, de da, de daaa...

Hone Tuwhare at Jerusalem, 1972
Photograph by William Farrimond