Tuesday, September 21, 2010

My Soul's Companion by Doug Poole

(painting by Penny Howard)


Entering the estuary Oyster Catchers & Red-billed Gulls swirl overhead then reel away. Estuaries expansive shadows green- ochre saltwater dappled with sunlight reflects the mangrove arbor. Miromiro dart unseen into the mangroves. Piwakawaka song; a sense of being observed. Creek bed swells then grimaces with the tide. Land crabs scuttle for shelter as the flat floods. High on the bank amongst the Mangrove arbor rests the soul courier: Rienga to Hawaiki; soul companion of Te Tagata Whenua.


The souls last footfall, the journey to Reinga. The tears of Te Whanau;. The wailing dirge of the Karanga. The first fall of rain on the skin of Te Whanau. The soul & the Kōtuku journey to Reinga, to She whose name shall not be said; She that will keep our soul. Maui, would have cheated but for her comeuppance. Kōtuku is the great one passing, the heart knows. The last of a generation passing through Miru to Her open arms.


Okarito Lagoon, Waitangituna Stream meanders through a Kahikatea swamp. Black bill & green skin the nubile birds. Males showboat on platforms, nuptial plumes flaring. Neck erect, clacking bills for consideration. Engaged she entwines her wings, neck, bill, with his; lovers hold close. Preening an act of love.


Nests built of fern and sticks amongst the Kahikatea arbor. In the crowns of tree ferns. Feathers crowned the heads of chiefs. Victorian modiste took the Kotuku to near extinction. Fashioning hats from nuptial plumes. Once worn as adornment, highly prized & pure. Your grace rare but hardly demure.


O my soul’s companion, before I depart, I shall watch the falling tears mingle with grandchildren’s laughter.

O my soul’s companion, Follow the river to boat housed memories, the sails melody; the sounds of life: prow cutting salt water.

O my soul’s companion, let me walk in the last light, my grandmother’s land, hand in hand with you. One last sunset with you.

O my soul’s companion, In the falling light you rest your sorrow laden head. the match head moon burnt for such a short time.

before sunrise, I will breathe on your neck.

This wonderful poetry-prose cycle is by Doug Poole, an Auckland poet of Samoan and European descent. The image is by Penny Howard, Doug's artistic partner who is of Maori (Ngapuhi) and European descent. The coupled painting and poem were part of a recent exhibition, Parlour Birds, looking at inherited memory and narrative using the metaphor of Victorian living room furniture.

I love this work for many reasons. Firstly, and most importantly, my reaction is visceral: the words are full and rounded, images that can be felt ("the first fall of rain on the skin"), smelt ("the match head moon burnt"), absorbed ("the prow cutting salt water"). I read this work after returning from a trip to Okarito Lagoon, one of the last sanctuaries of the Kotuku (white heron) - where my partner proposed to me. So it's probably not surprising that my first reaction was so strong! But even now, when some of that new emotion has faded, I find this work still speaks to me, on many levels.

It's the multilayering of the poem which is another delight. Like Penny's exquisite paintings, this poem moves between spiritual and legendary references, darting like the piwakawaka between life and death, love and selfishness. This poem brings to life the forgotten legends, suggesting that in our daily lives there is an echo of the past, a sense of timelessness. It's a solemn poem at times, but that is balanced by its lyricism and moments of joy.

Finally, as I know Doug and Penny personally, it's a privilege to witness the maturing of a collaboration now spanning over three years and at least three shows plus a number of publications. The exploration of Penny's Maori and Doug's Samoan heritage and their shared European ancestry has been fruitful indeed. If you haven't yet come across their work, consider yourself introduced - and watch out for more in the future.

This week's Tuesday Poem editor is Renee Liang, an Auckland poet. Some of her poetry (and various other rants) can be found on her blog Chinglish. For more Tuesday Poems from the rest of the TP community enter our live blog roll in the sidebar. 


Tim Jones said...

I'm glad you chose this poem, Renee - I know of Doug as an editor rather than a poet, and wasn't aware of Penny's work: this is a great way to be introduced to both!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful and inspiring!
This poem makes me want to wander around the South Brighton Estuary and see if the Godwits have arrived.
I love the painting and it is a perfect companion for the poem.