have come to Manihiki
dropped sick on the boathouse floor.
Home in this lagoon-side open-windowed house,
I have left vikavakava in a bowl on the table,
nu in a bag by the door.
The cinder reef, southwind waves,
swarms of mosquitos,
tin sheets drying fish in the sun and coral-cobbled drive.
Washed by the high tide
but closed to deep-keeled boats and white and black-tip sharks,
the lagoon is a constant breeze,
the waves stretch across five miles to three feet in windward
shirts nailed to the wall swaying,
paper held to the table to write against its steady scream,
until it dropped,
and steaming for four days,
wrapped awake in a wet sheet at night against mosquitos,
waiting for the wind,
the high coconut fronds moved mosquitoes to shelter ocean-side,
to sting children with scabbed legs from scratching,
the other side of the landing-strip island just visible through
windless and still.
The rusty-roofed low sheds over the tended graves
rattle in the clattering wind,
rattle with the pile of tins in the yard,
bright-coloured pigs clipping grass out front
where playing rugby Mike ripped his motorcycle-torn arm open,
brought flies flapping in a great rush.
Living beyond the verge,
cast there by the hurricane village,
for silence they said,
a sense of peace,
some people lived apart.
Some lived also in the centre,
generated light streaming in the evening from their islanded
motus were preserve,
even Porea, the saline pond in its centre sacred,
frigates beating against the constant wind,
abandoned since missionary guns greeted the Ariki
and burned the marae,
built their white church on the burn.
Safe from the hurricane that waved the rotting whaleboats
over the Rakahanga lagoon
(Too lazy to pick the mature shell,
Rakahangans burned the powa shells on the reef,
sterilized the atoll,
no powa grow there now)
coconut palms stumps on Palmerston,
foundered the ship-timbered wooden church in the bush
(The fifty children of one man,
the Marsters still endure,
an old man in an Admiral uniform holding sway,
graves amongst the palms)
old coral house stood immovable,
surrounded by those that traded the cool of the kikau
for hot cinder blocks and expensive tin to bake in
brought by steamer from Rarotonga.
Watching the sea flatten and empty,
I finally saw the Rarotongan ship return
carrying banannas, oranges, crates of private goods,
ran to the boathouse to join the crowd, the anchoring.
Twenty years now since I came home to Manihiki.