Tuesday, September 2, 2014

candle by Hinemoana Baker


By the time I reach the basket of rose petals
held by the young girl with the green sash
there are none left. Still, she holds
the basket out to me

like an air steward offering sweets
in the last fifteen minutes of the flight.
I breathe in the smoke
of myrrh from the censer
and breathe it out towards your photograph.

If this were a waltz it might go something like:
in space sound don’t travel and everyone floats
won’t somebody light my candles

It would be sung in the voice you sang in
when you sang Johnny Cash
and there would be a visual element, of course
a silent film of a free diver
frogging down from the sparkling surface
to the place where the very water
becomes the sinking anchor tied to your feet.


The stone with a muka rope
tied through a single chiseled hole
the one we’ll give a name to when it washes up
a thousand years later in the shape
of an island white with gulls.


We wrote words on pieces of paper and stuck them to our foreheads.
My mouth was on the plastic tap sticking out of the plastic bag.
Later I used my lips to free the sound of an insect from you.
I miss you (buzz). Pass me your lighter.

When I opened the door there was a cake on the front porch.
Someone had made patterns of waves in the off-white icing.
A single word in capital letters sang itself in chocolate.

Oh where is the cradle and where is the crime
Won’t somebody light my candles
There’s fire in the chapel and ice in the rhyme
Won’t somebody light my candles


Is it possible to perform this word? To own this word?
To kick this word once in the face and want to do it again?
Is it something one can acquire, like land or collectibles?

Oh yes, yes it is a veritable killer whale of a word
creamy and foamy in its black and white propensities
and its refusal to speak English.


I am trying to leave you behind, my love
I am trying to leave you behind

The boat was a mouth, the word was a whale,
the moon was a flying fish, the swoop of a letter.
I miss you, it’s like a cave in this mouth.
It’s a terrible saxophone solo.
It’s what passes for a lie down.


from ‘waha | mouth’, Victoria University Press, 2014, posted here with the permission of the author

editor: Mary McCallum

waha | mouth
Hinemoana Baker's collection, launched last month is already being reprinted. An astonishing fact for a book of poetry in this country. It must surely make her a bestselling poet which is so rare as to be almost an oxymoron. And this wonderful woman who lives on the New Zealand's Kapiti Coast is not just a poet on the page but a poet of the mouth – a wonderful reader of her work, and a singer, too. waha | mouth – perfect. 

'candle' is Hinemoana's favourite in the collection. I asked her to send me her favourite and this is the one that arrived in my inbox not long after midnight. I'd been remiss in not contacting her earlier and in not buying the book – what was I thinking? I waited too long and the first print run simply sold out. An exciting thing to happen, and a tribute to the wonders of this wonder woman. 

In this poem, 'candle', is a mouth: a mouth that is a boat, that hauls in or rides alongside words as big as whales, that has in its recesses a cave of grief for a former lover who's died. A mouth that – with this person still alive and breathing – did it all: breathed, sang, named things, drank wine from a plastic tap, had sex, ate cake, smoked. And now I guess, blows out a candle – or lights one? – and tries to rest. 

It's so hard to write the poem of grief or absence, to make it approachable and fresh, and not to push the reader too hard to feel the deep upwelling ugly thing. 'candle' is powerful for its restraint and its ranging unexpectedness. For its cavernous, versatile waha that does everything except cry. I am hanging out for the whole collection now. Find it here.

Hinemoana Baker
credit: hinemoana.co.nz
Hinemoana – she of the top hat – is the current writer in residence at Victoria University of Wellington's International Institute of Modern Letters. She publishes and performs, has released 5 CDs of her music and poetry,  edited an anthology and teaches creative writing. Hinemoana is descended from Ngāi Tahu in the South Island, and Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Toa and Ngāti Ati Awa in the North. 

Her first book of poetry, mātuhi | needle, was co-published in New Zealand and the US in 2004. Actor, writer and artist Viggo Mortensen's publishing house Perceval Press co-published the book, which features paintings of Ngāi Tahu artist Jenny Rendell. Her second book of poems: kōiwi kōiwi | bone bone was published by VUP in 2010.

Hinemoana's first album, puāwai (Jayrem Records 2004) was a finalist for the NZ Music Awards and the APRA Silver Scrolls Māori Language Award. More on Hinemoana and her music and poetry publications here. And you can hear her singing ...

When you've read 'candle' please head into the sidebar to find a host of other wonderful poems by the thirty poets who are Tuesday Poets. They're poems either selected or written by them.

This week's editor Mary McCallum is a publisher with the new Wellington publishing house Mākaro Press which publishes poetry as part of its annual Hoopla series as well as individual titles. Mary is a poet herself, a novelist and children's writer. Her most recent book is 'Dappled Annie and the Tigrish' (Gecko Press 2014). 


Anonymous said...

Right on, it's a wonderful poem from a great collection.i

Catherine said...

Lovely to see this, I have just bought the book, was there a second printing or did they save some for the Christchurch Writers' Festival, I wonder?

Mary McCallum said...

There's been a second print run Catherine :)

Michelle Elvy said...

A breathtaking poem -- what surprising, unexpected ways Hinemoana has with words and images. This is a poem to savour and cherish. Thanks for sharing. I'll keep this one close -- and feel it for a long time.

smooz said...


Harvey Molloy said...

What an incredible poem. I was also too busy to buy the first edition.