The Situation: Albert Wendt

The Situation 2020

Tēnā koutou katoa

‘The Situation 2020’ is a kind of Poet Laureate's Choice of work from Aotearoa New Zealand poets for the Poet Laureate blog. Essentially, it will be a portfolio of poetry, posted over the next while, from a range of poets whose work I have enjoyed reading recently: interesting poems for interesting times.

— David Eggleton

And so it is

we want so many things and much

What is real and not? What is the plan?

Our garden is an endless performance
of light and shadow  quick bird and insect palaver

The decisive wisdom of cut basil informs everything
teaches even the black rocks of the back fence to breathe

Blessed are the flowers  herbs and vegetables
Reina has planted in their healing loveliness

The hibiscus blooms want a language to describe their colour
I say the red of fresh blood or birth

A lone monarch butterfly flits from flower to flower
How temporary it all is how fleeting the attention

The boundary palm with the gigantic Afro is a fecund nest
for the squabble of birds that wake us in the mornings

In two weeks of succulent rain and heat our lawn
is a wild scramble of green that wants no limits

Into the breathless blue sky the pohutukawa
in the corner of our back yard stretches and stretches

Invisible in its foliage a warbler weaves a delicate song
I want to capture and remember like I try to hold

all the people I’ve loved or love
as they disappear into the space before memory

Yesterday I pulled up the compost lid
to a buffet of delicious decay and fat worms feasting

Soil  earth  is our return  our last need and answer
beyond addictive reason  fear and desire

Despite all else the day will fulfil its cycle of light and dark
and I’ll continue to want much and take my chances

 —Albert Wendt



 Over the Waitakere the sky darkens and darkens

In its belly the faint blink of lightning
Barely audible thunder a few seconds later
Then thick rivulets of rain weave down
the bare branches of the kowhai beside him

Isabella  Te Wera  Tehaaora  Hohepa  Ashley  Tahu  Sina 
Caleb  Moengaroa  Amelia  Orlando  Maika
His mokopuna’s names slip  sparkle and burn in
the heart of his tongue  an incantation
which lifts him above the storm

He turns his palms upwards
but the storm doesn’t care to read them
Storms happen and the kowhai loses its leaves
according to the pacing and intention of the seasons
What is there at the end of leafing?

Some of his mokopuna will grow into prophetic readers
some will stumble early into the irresistible darkness
some will help wash and prepare his body for cremation
Outside his umbrella cover he extends his hands
Icy raindrops tattoo his palms but he can’t read the patterns

The caves along the rugged range of his history
 are stacked with carefully labelled files of loved ones
and the intruders he can’t exile into oblivion:
His father in his khaki work clothes is suddenly beside him 
whispering  ‘the storm has no power and will end shortly’

Fundamentalist faith  eyeless analysis and courage had been
his father’s basis of navigation with an all-knowing God
as central pivot of the Star Map he had made them all live by
until he was in the ultimate court and he couldn’t decipher
in speech his Map’s purpose and the dawn of the second coming

His mother has been a decisive eloquence over the sixty years since
she died of cancer and became his most precious presence
Always he has desired her understanding of the heart’s
whispering darkness and her acceptance of the future
and the unhealable pain of separation

The dark above the Waitakere has melted away
The rain has ceased but his hands are numb with cold
The bare branches of the kowhai are sleekly black with wet
The choice is to be here with his mokopuna and parents
The continuation is that of alofa and forgiveness

Isabella  Te Wera  Tehaaora  Hohepa  Ashley  Tahu  Sina 
Caleb  Moengaroa  Amelia  Orlando  Maika
Luisa  Tuaopepe …. the incantation will continue
to shape  soothe and unread his present

—Albert Wendt

Albert Wendt biography

Smiling Samoan man.
Albert Wendt. Image Raymond Sagapolutele

Maualaivao Albert Wendt is considered internationally as one of Samoa’s, Aotearoa’s, and the Pacific’s most influential novelists and poets. He has published numerous novels, and collections of poetry and short stories. He has won many honours and awards, including New Zealand’s highest honour, the Order of New Zealand.

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