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John Pule: Poems


When I try to sleep,
my tongue walks away with
the ants. I taste their sugar.
I try to leave with the sun.

I wanted the glow from your eyes
to show the way
but the moon said: I’m not the sun.

I make a last attempt to dig through
my ribs to find avian cells in my lungs.
If I could find wings in my left ventricles
I’d lift a war-torn country to heaven.

Helpless to alleviate
the rising saliva of misfortune
I try to eat the remains of a hospital.

What if there was that one god out there
to look at my maps and say:
I know where you are?

Could I then wait for the sea
to soak my tired hands

tired of holding you
tired of waiting



tomorrow we leave
this island

a tree was planted on my tongue

it grew to encompass
my entire world

I ate a cloud

I ate an ant
I had an

to eating bats
the pea’a
is a rat
on the bodies
of men

who eventually
took flight
with the wings
that belonged to the bat

who was deceived
who was lied to
by the rat

to loan its wings
and never came back
so the pea’a is

about embellishment
of truth
of deceit
between the bat and the rat
and who can tell the best story



I kneel before the sea
bow to drink
nutrients at the first gulp
instantly I knew my genealogy

the sea is an enormous giant in my blood

to stand in the sea long enough
with stones as anchor

the transfer of salt into my veins

oxygen from the citrus trees
that want to fuel my life

The sun opens the heart
and the moon closes it

Polynesia is the great Va

Where to go to 2011
John Pule and Gregory O’Brien
relief etching
132 x 164mm
printed at Cicada Press


The moon is not a shark
the sky is not a mountain
and that hibiscus is not an ant
and that door is not a bird

the cloud is definitely not a ladder
the road is a simple petal
and that leaf is really a cup
and that bread is a guitar

so let us pray that dream
is really about your hair
and those happy rooms in your eyes

is only your hands
releasing tui into a sack of wheat
to become one beautiful ocean



after years of watching
it is my heart being carried
up a mountain
followed by an ambulance
in front were wings
hauled by several men

I dreamed those wings were for me

When I was born, capillaries grappled
for a hold onto the world: trees, stones,
fire felt my pain
but never rain

Rain is what my uncles and aunties
carried in their pockets

Then the sea became a great issue

The sea must be simple
like maths to understand
the beginning of the aorta

From here onwards my mouth became busy
catching the cascade of water from
the pituitary
I stood up for the first time as the ship
pushed the horizon away from my tongue

With my mother we boarded the Tofua
and desperately the mucus of my body
clung to Liku

The sea secretes leukocytes into the body
and brings the stars closer to the eyes



On my first morning on Rangitahua
I listen to Orpheus sing the sun up.

Two men are at the island’s edge capturing
the morning’s gorgeous saliva,
burning a likeness of the gold stream into cameras.

Last night’s wine exfoliates
a reddish carpet from my fingers,
circles the tall grass, over the out-house,
and settles under the tui’s tuft.

It is in moments as this, hitting the cockroaches
from my hair, that the day instigates a new song must be sung.
I make my way down a skinny path, pass the flag post,
to reach the grevious coast,
already the sea is hard at work, perpetuating a different
language, eats here, its tongue foraging amongst the oval stones
for throats that can understand the havoc of history,
the spine stretches from Tauranga all the way to Ata,
and the ashes can be tasted here, the vertebrae, the link
to all Polynesian nations, house names of royalty,
voyages, and of great violence, crashes through these oceans.

I stand in the sea and mix my skin with stones and sand,
baptise my head with a thousand years of Polynesian Landfalls;
my eyes, so used to glass, is jewelled verdant-serendipitously on
contact: Iridescent bodies fuse their wings into leaves of dreams;
trees find the kainga in my mouth and penetrate
the deepest emotion to make roots;
the ocean coughs up
plastic debris, yellow, blue, green joins in;
and I leave, up the same way, strewn with shells
and the bones of animals shining in the path’s exhaustion.
It is true, a heart made of kauri,
is an oblique seed dreaming always of the moon
and when released, stay behind to
drink ancestral fruit laden rain.

for once.
I mean no disrespect,
all I ask is that you see how much
corruption is taking place,
how we mere humans,
on land without a rudder,
must convene even our faith
and love for these far flung isles.

Storms have changed time in this manicured field,
a small halal infested with trees, mud and boulders splits the air
strip; distorting features of memory and damaged senses;
even pissing in the bush stupefies the senses;
the orchard welcomes us at the reservoir’s request,
quickened quilts of sacred nikau stripes,
of perfumes secreted as the opened oranges;
of silence because the forest has only the tui to spread
pollen and spill nectar.

The sea in this part is calmer,
the cliffs falling apart, the sea’s ferocious
appetite, a manava of mana-va status,
and of great space to look into,
to travel in,
to sit and for once be quiet,
observe and say: If I could find the place
where my father buried my pito, I will
build a shrine for my mother.

rumours abound that the first voyagers charted this land
as a station.
I hear no rumours in that stone, nor in that pohutukawa, that nikau,
nor in the foam at the waves demise,
what is indented in the bark and the soil are
sculptured truths.

Dead tuis litter my walk back from Hutchinson’s Bay,
the Australian I’m with stops at every dead bird,
pulls out the wings, smells her
fingers for death, rotates the body to reveal white bony
architecture, and I believe that insects run from the light
in the same way secrets are above all afraid of breath.

I leave and up ahead I circumnavigate
a giant fallen tree, my feet sink into ancient alluvials,
the age of the air, the hair of hills, the fluctuation
at the bees unfulfilled inquiry, fallen leaf, branchy contours,
spilt nectar, karaka, all these lead me back,
pass a dump of metal structures, insignificant sheds;
street lamps, passion fruit, guavas, vie for territory
on this land.

Just beyond the lawn, the colonial house, the moths
and the garden, the union jack casts a territorial shadow across my

Star navigators (towards the Kermadecs) 2011
John Pule and Gregory O’Brien
relief etching
245 x 355mm
printed at Cicada Press