Finding Sepela: 22 February
I am driving through the river/ that is my road/ to find my daughter/ there are black sea creatures/ eating white hippos/ big as cars/I drive on the footpath/ the drowning of wildebeasts/ whole herds of them in Breezes Rd
I get to the Aranui traffic lights and put my hand to my chest/ I swear to her/ drive with my hand on my heart/ look into the dust cloud/ blacken my eyes
there are giant worms/ under the ground/ as big as Cairo/ they eat the fish and chip shop/ I promise her/ her little ears/ so far away/ her heart/ the sacred dome/ the creamy marble/ the white antelopes
five days go by/ and still I drive/ all on the roadside age/ a woman pushes a pram/ a cat peers out/ a rabbit/ a bird/ I pass them/ all women wear bare feet and walk/ rhino/ elephants/ trains of them lie/ in Phillipstown/ where they fall/ it is catholic/ this dream/ it is total
the house of saints is not brick and mortar/ but still it falls/ everyone is leaving for their home/ in the sky/ Japanese/Chinese/ Kiwis/ and everyone/ see them flying home/ bright babies/ through concrete steel and glass
I promise my daughter/ and run to Barbadoes/ the holy sisters are fallen/ look up through the broken window/ god the mother has turned her back away/ she looks down on us/ she sends us white and blue
My daughter is three/ she shelters under the battle club/ she’s hides inside the ground/ the enemies of god/ circle on the backs of buzzards/ they rain bricks on the bus depot/ the primary school/ the preschool
I snatch her up/ like a football/ I sprint the slowest steps/ it is underwater/ this dream/ it is eternal
Tusiata Avia is a poet, performer and children’s writer. Of Samoan-Palagi heritage, she lives in Christchurch. Her first collection of poetry, Wild Dogs Under My Skirt was published in 2004. Her solo show of the same name premiered in 2002 and has toured nationally and internationally. Her second book, Bloodclot, was published in 2009. She held the CNZ–Fulbright Pacific Writer in Residence, University of Hawaii, 2005. She was the 2010 Ursula Bethell Writer in Residence at the University of Canterbury.
'Finding Sepela: 22 February' is one of five poems by Tusiata in the latest issue of JAAM that all deal with different aspects of the Christchurch earthquakes. The others are great too, but this is the one that struck me the most. She makes the experience so immediate, but also so mythic. One of my favourite bits in the poem is: 'there are giant worms/ under the ground/ as big as Cairo/ they eat the fish and chip shop'. I can feel the unreality of the whole experience, and the desperate tug to get as fast as you can to the people you love. And then the relief, when she snatches up her daughter. It isn't all over, but that part of the quest is.
Along with Tusitala's poems, poems about the quake and its after effects by Fiona Farrell and Kerrin P. Sharpe open the issue. They are, as Anne says in the editorial, 'Christchurch writers who bear testament to the solidarity, bravery, and artistic spirit of the people of that city.' She also says: 'It is my hope that, once houses, streets and businesses have been re-established in Christchurch, there will be something - many things - to commemorate the collective grief and survival, such as the poetry wall the people of Sichuan province erected after their 2008 earthquake; and that forums such as JAAM will have been the places where writers first documented the earthquake, and that these documents will be some of their imaginative possessions.'
JAAM 29 has just been published and, with the help of other kind folks, I'm in the process of getting them to all the places they have to go. This issue was guest edited by Anne Kennedy, and you can read more about it here in this blog post I've just written: http://jaam.wordpress.com/2011/10/10/jaam-29-unleashed/.
And then you could pop over to the Tuesday Poem blog, and read some more Tuesday poems: http://tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com/